Samantha Fish performs at The Birchmere on Dec. 12, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
Samantha Fish knows how to make an entrance. Samantha, cutting a striking figure in a leopard print pants suit and lightning bolt earrings, stepped onstage, strapped on her cigar box guitar and immediately took command of the sold-out room during her recent performance at The Birchmere.
Growing up in Kansas City exposed Samantha to some of the best touring blues musicians in the country. Although she started out as a drummer, by the time she was 15, she had switched to guitar. Coming from a musical household (her mother was an instructor in a church choir, her father a local guitarist) eventually, and inevitably, pulled her to a career in music. Influences such as Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tom Petty, and The Rolling Stones drew her and her sister, Amanda, to the blues.
Samantha became a regular at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads Saloon often joining other blues musicians onstage. Kansas City has long been an incubator for some the country’s most expressive and unique music. So, what better way for a young musician to learn than from the best?
Those early formative years have paid off for Samantha. After 11 albums, dozens of awards, and an exhausting touring schedule that includes playing with artists like Devon Allman, Buddy Guy, and Gary Clark, Jr., she has become a formidable performer in her own right.
Watch Samantha Fish perform with Gary Clark, Jr. on YouTube:
B.B. King once said, “I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions.” Samantha has that uncanny ability to summon that connection, night after night, singing about the broad range of human emotion. Then there’s her guitar playing. Her slide work is exceptionally clean, the leads purposeful with intention; technique and execution never overshadowing raw feeling. I’d seen Samantha perform twice before and she continues to shine brighter and brighter.
Her latest album, Faster (Rounder Records), was released in 2021 but The Birchmere stop on the current Brass Knuckles tour was the latest show supporting it on Dec. 12. Opening with “Bulletproof” from 2019’s Kill or Be Kind (Rounder Records), Samantha quickly established the tone for the evening; high energy and thrilling. Her touring band was clearly dialed in, exchanging smiles with one another throughout the show. The band included Matt Wade (keys), Ron Johnson (bass), and Sarah Tomek (drums). The set continued through selections from the new album, older tunes, and a few well-placed covers. The first third of the show continued to build the tension and excitement and, by the time she performed “Kill or Be Kind,” earned her a well-deserved standing ovation.
Stream Faster by Samantha Fish on Spotify:
The middle third of the show began with a solo acoustic set of two songs, which turned down the temperature and let everybody briefly relax. Performing in an acoustic setting can be unforgiving, but Samantha’s playing and vocals were pitch perfect, particularly on “Need You More,” the gorgeous love song from her 2017 release, Belle of the West (Ruf Records). Following the acoustic numbers, the show wrapped up with a sequence of some of her hardest rocking numbers setting up the perfectly chosen encore; Neil Young’s “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.”
All Ice No Whiskey
Hello Stranger (Barbara Lewis)
Better Be Lonely
Kill or Be Kind
Watch It Die
Jim Lee Blues, Part 1 (Charley Patton)
Need You More
Bitch on the Run
Black Wind Howlin’
E: Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Watch Samantha Fish perform “Gone for Good” at Old Settler’s Pop-Up Session in Austin, Texas, via YouTube:
The Brass Knuckles tour continues into 2023. Find more dates, music, and video on her website.
Here are a few more images from Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, at The Birchmere. All photos courtesy and copyright Mark Caicedo.