On Stage: Vanessa Collier keeps busy close to Chadds Ford home

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Vanessa Collier

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the spring and the music industry went into freeze frame.

As a result, Vanessa Collier’s touring schedule has been decimated – in the real meaning of the word. Since the spring, she has performed about one-tenth of the shows she normally would have.

For Collier, a resident of Chadds Ford, the pandemic forced her to abandon a spring/summer tour after just one show and to push back the release of her new album. It also wiped out a blues cruise in the fall on which she was scheduled to be a featured performer.

Fortunately, Collier has been able to perform several live shows in outdoor, socially distant settings — including recent Keystone State gigs at SteelStacks in Bethlehem and Willow Glen Park in Sinking Springs.

On October 24, she will have the opportunity to play a show at a venue that is the closest to her home – an outdoor matinee concert at Candlelight Dinner Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org).

Ironically, one of the last shows he played before the pandemic shut things down was about one-half mile south of the Candlelight Theater at the Arden Gild Hall.

“I played a show at the Arden Gild in February and a few other shows after that,” said Collier, during a phone interview. “My last gig was March 12 – the first show of a Midwest tour. We played Mojo’s Boneyard in Evansville, Indiana. That same day, the NBA and MLB stopped their games.

“I realized it was serious, so I said to my band – ‘let’s play this show and go home.’ I love to talk to people after my shows. I just like chatting with my fans, but I couldn’t do that. Instead, the show ended and I had to head back to the Green Room. I like hugging people, but I didn’t want to put them at risk.”

Being flagged by the pandemic brought a lot of emotions to Collier.

“It felt like a lot of loss,” said Collier. “I got home and three days later had to put my dog down.

“At first, I thought it would just be a few weeks with the pandemic, but it just kept getting worse. I lost a tour and had a cruise cancelled. Plus, I support a band of five and I haven’t been able to support them. It’s been incredibly frustrating.”

Collier’s outlook is a lot brighter now.

She released her new album “Heart On The Line” on August 21 – an album that has received rave reviews from music critics and fans alike. And she has been able to perform live — albeit at a reduced rate of frequency.

Collier is still grieving for Jessie, her beloved German Shepherd who crossed over earlier this year just shy of 14 years, but she has found solace by adopting two rescue dogs. She went to Indiana to pick up Dakota, a German Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog/Catahoula Hound mix. She also welcomed a two-year-old rescue Catahoula/Cattle Dog mix from Louisiana – appropriately named Jazz.

Still in her mid-20s, Collier has toured all over the world numerous times and has released three solo albums. With searing saxophone solos, soulful vocals, and witty lyrics, her songwriting features a blend of blues, funk, rock, and soul.

Collier’s impressive vocals and stinging saxophone work saw her light up stages as part of Joe Louis Walker’s band in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, her debut album “Heart Soul & Saxophone” won her accolades as a “Best of 2014 Blues Breaker.” In March 2017, she released her sophomore album “Meeting My Shadow.” Collier’s latest album “Honey Up” was released on July 6, 2018.

Collier is primarily a sax player, singer and songwriter but is also well-versed in playing clavinet, flute, electric organ, and percussion.

“When I was little, I really wanted to play piano,” said Collier. “I don’t know why. I started taking piano lessons but didn’t like the teacher, so I quit after six months. I saw someone playing sax on television and fell in love with it. We rented a sax for me when I was in fourth grade. That was in school. Then, I studied with a private instructor for a few years.

“Then, I took lessons with Chris Vadala, who played sax with Chuck Mangione. I studied with him for seven years – classical, jazz and funk. He started me doubling on flute and clarinet. I still play those instruments. Mainly, I play sax — tenor, some soprano and some baritone.”

Collier’s previous album “Honey Up” was released almost two years and was nominated for Blues Music Award (BMA) Contemporary Blues Album of the Year.

“That album did well right from the start,” said Collier. “It was a Top 5 Billboard Blues Album and was well-received by radio deejays.”

Collier was nominated in 2017 for a Blues Music Award in the “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year” category. She also won first place in the “Lyrics Only” category of the 2017 USA Songwriting Competition. In 2018, Collier was nominated in two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year.”

In 2019, she was again nominated in same two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental – Horn.” She claimed first place in the “Instrumental – Horn” category.

“Honey Up,” which had a three-month residency on Billboard’s “Top Blues Albums Chart,” provides a good look at Collier’s influences.

“With jazz, the first person I was turned on to was Cannonball Adderley,” said Collier. “Other major influences were John Coltrane, Junior Walker, and Maceo Parker. Vocally, I started with Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and that morphed into Norah Jones and Bonnie Raitt.”

Now, Collier is ready for “Heart on the Line” to take off.

“We had recorded the basics for the new album back in February,” said Collier. “I had planned to put the vocals on it during the Midwest tour even though it would have been hectic. When I came home, I had a lot of time. I put vocals on. I put horns on a few tracks. I spent time with the mixing. It took longer than I had planned. Like my previous albums, it’s definitely a mixture – blues, funk, NOLA – but this one goes rootsier.

Collier recorded the album in January at Hearstudios in Camden, Maine and released it on her own label – Phoenix Fire Records.

“It’s the same studio I used for ‘Honey Up’,” said Collier. “I used the same engineer – Mark Wessel. He was a professor I had at Berklee for a course in music production. He really captures each instrument as it sounds in the room and is absolutely wonderful to work with.

“Mark has also engineered and/or mixed albums for The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Duke Robillard, and many more. Ben Fox was the assistant engineer for these sessions and was a great addition to the team.

“The scheduled release date was May 15 and it got pushed back to August 21. The Grammys are continuing as planned and I wanted it to be out in time to be Grammy-eligible. I love this record. I was able to put a lot of me into this record. Also, I’m going to be doing another record soon and I didn’t want to be sitting on two albums in the can.”

On her Facebook site, Collier offered insight into the making of “Heart On The Line” —

“I’m so extremely proud of this record and thankful to the wonderful musicians who played on it: Nick Stevens on drums, percussion, and shuitar; CC Ellis, Scot Sutherland, and Cornell Williams on bass; William Gorman on keys; Laura Chavez on guitar; Doug Woolverton on trumpet, and Quinn Carson on trombone.

“It’s hard to put into words how wonderful Laura Chavez is. She’s an incredible guitar player knowing just what to play (and what not to play) in the cracks. Simple, elegant, funky, and one of the baddest guitar players as a rhythm player, and especially amazing when building her solos. I am grateful for her playing which glues the rhythm section together, and perhaps, even more so, for her friendship over the past few years.

“William Gorman has had my back more than once and he gets the big picture. He is one of the finest organists and keyboard players I’ve had the pleasure of playing with and I’m inspired by his desire to constantly learn. It’s been a joy to play with him over the past few years.

“CC Ellis is a true gentleman and a wonderful bass player. I have loved his perspective to jump in and learn a record note for note first before changing it in his style. We’ve listened to a lot of cool records together in the van and definitely analyzed production components as a favorite pastime.

“Nick Stevens has been a longtime friend and I’ve always admired his hard work and persistence. Nick is an incredible drummer and percussionist, who brings a thoughtful approach to the music and wicked good drum sounds. Just very thankful he’s been on this journey, almost from the start!

“Scot Sutherland plays on a few tracks on this record and is a fantastic bass player. I have admired Scot’s playing in other groups and finally got a chance to sit in with him and Kevin Burt at last year’s BMAs. We toured Spain and the Midwest together last year and he just comes through night after night layin’ it down.

“Cornell Williams also makes an appearance on the title track, ‘Heart On The Line’, laying down some awesome New Orleans bass lines for this song.

“Doug Woolverton has one of the best trumpet sounds I’ve ever heard and stylistically can play anything. Doug has put some fantastic lead parts on both ‘Honey Up’ and ‘Heart On The Line’ – and, on this record, he puts some incredible solos on too.

“Quinn Carson is a friend from college and I always loved his sound and professionalism when working with him in a big band or in studio sessions. Quinn is an amazing and thoughtful player and really a wonderful person with a huge, phat trombone sound — the dueling trumpet/trombone solo on this record is awesome!

“Richard Mendelson has mixed and mastered the last two of my records and is an incredible mixing and mastering engineer. I had Rich as one of my college professors for Critical Listening and for mixing classes and I always loved his mixes and his style of teaching. Rich put a lot of extra care and attention in each of these mixes and in mastering the record.

“It is a joy to hear his mixes, as they are often exactly what I hear in my head, made better with his amazing ear for detail. Tremendous thanks to Jason and Bob at Hearstudios for having us back to record again in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen or heard. I hope we can make this a regular thing.”

Arthur Neilson

Unfortunately, Collier will not have a band with her. Fortunately, she will be joined in a duet performance by stellar guitarist and blues master Arthur Neilson.

Born and raised in New York City, Neilson taught himself to play guitar on an electric Teisco Del Rey when he was 15. After purchasing a Harmony acoustic, he honed his folk repertoire and fingerpicking skills. Then, after hearing Albert King play, Neilson has been hooked on the blues ever since.

In the 80s and 90s, his guitar work became much in demand. Neilson became adept at playing blues, rock and roll, rockabilly and country. At one point, he was gigging in seven bands, including Oxford Blues, Kid Java, Felix and The Havanas and The Guitar Guys from Hell. He also worked with guitar great Otis Rush.

In 1998, Shemekia Copeland hired Neilson to be the guitarist in her band. He has played on many of Copeland’s Grammy nominated albums including “Wicked,” “33 1/3” and “Outskirts of Love.”

Neilson has released three albums under his own name – “a piece of wood, some strings, and a pick,” “Moan & Cry” and “Hell of a Nerve.”

Collier has released four albums under her name – “Heart Soul Saxophone,” “Meeting My Shadow,” “Honey Up” and “Heart On The Line.”

Collier also is a music teacher and has been involved in various “Blues in Schools” programs.

“I grew up in Clarksville, Maryland and then graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston,” said Collier, who earned a dual degree in performance and music production, and engineering. “Right now, I’m basically just playing and teaching.”

Video link for Vanessa Collier — https://youtu.be/oams93CwIKU.

The show at the Candlelight Theatre will run from 3-5 p.m. on October 24.

Tickets for Sunday’s show are $25 per person — with different seating options.

The venue’s website posted this message:

There are limited tables available for groups of 5-8 people, but any party that is four or less will have spaces marked out in the parking lot where it can set up lawn chairs to enjoy the show.

Food (Mashburg by Wildwich) and beverages, including the Candlelight’s Sagamore Harvest Pumpkin Cocktail, will be available for purchase and a bar is available for those 21 years of age and older.

Information and Safety Guidelines –

– Required at all times when not seated
– Encouraged while seated, unless eating or drinking
– Staff will be masked
– Hand sanitizer will be provided
– There will be limited parking available in the lot, overflow parking will be at Ivy Gables.
Pathways / Restrooms / Accessibility:
– You will need to walk up a small hill / incline to use the restroom.
– Restrooms will be indoors and will be monitored / cleaned by a volunteer.
– A pathway will be marked out, following all of the parking spaces closest to the theater. The pathway will be 16 feet wide and will be marked with directions.
– There will be a 16-foot buffer area between the band and patrons to provide safe spacing for all involved.

“Our capacity for the event is approximately 120 people,” said Candlelight Theatre Operations Manager Dan Healy. “We can safely do 150 with social distancing if we move the parking.

“The spacing is at least six feet if not eight feet and the tables, which are for parties of five-to-eight, are 10 feet apart. And, the stage is more than 20 feet away from the audience.”

Other upcoming socially distanced outdoor shows in the area are still happening while the weather cooperates. 

Kennett Brewing Company (109 South Broad Street, Kennett Square, kennettbrewingcompany.com) will host On the Bus with Joe Hillman, Charlie Muench and Glen Ferracone on October 23, Tommy Froelich on October 24 and Michael Feuda and Paul Zotter (FnZ) on October 25.

Kendal Conrad

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Kendal Conrad on October 22, Nicki Sbaffoni on October 23 and Jerry Watkins on October 29.

Stable 12 Brewing Company (368 Bridge St, Phoenixville, stable12.com) will host Kendal Conrad on October 23, and Rick McSteve on October 24.

Penns Woods Winery (124 Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford, www.pennswoodswinery.com) will present Jason Ager on October 24, Jeff Kessler on October 25, and Hanna Paige on October 31.

The Bordley House (1520 Tattersal Way, West Chester, www.bordleyhousegrille.com) will host Ziggy Isaacs on October 26.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will present Mr. Mody on October 23.

Michael Yo

Punch Line Philly (33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia, www.punchlinephilly.com) will host two separate shows each day on October 23 and 24 as part of the Punch Line Philly’s Patio Series – one on the Set Up Stage and the other on the Callback Stage. This weekend’s headliners are Yedoye Travis and Michael Yo.

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