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Soul-blues star Janiva Magness to headline Blues & Brews fest

Blues singer Janiva Magness

Blues performer Janiva Magness and her band headline the July 10 Blues & Brews festival on South Pearl Street between Louisiana Avenue and Buchtel Boulevard. Photo courtesy of Alligator Records.

Better hope Pearl Street is as fire resistant as pearls are.

When blues singer Janiva Magness brings her scorching style and soulful swagger to the Blues & Brews festival on July 10, the effect on music lovers will be a lot like a spark on black powder. Blinding. Furious. Searing music that rips into blues the way sunshine rips into night. 

The name Magness may not conjure up images of an electric blues performer, but it ought to. She’s a savvy veteran of the form, with nine albums to her credit and a fist full of accolades — Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year in 2006 and 2007 and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2009.

More than that, she has a blues “cred” few can question: a certifiably lousy childhood that includes the suicide of both parents and consignment to 12 foster homes over two years; a hard-fought rise through the music industry she sums up in the lyric “kicked, tricked, pricked, nickled and dimed”; and road weariness from playing 150 to 200 dates a year.

If all that doesn’t persuade music lovers that Magness belongs to the blues, her voice ought to. It’s well-honed singing talent that can as gently nurse a ballad on one song as spit in your eye on the next. It’s all about honesty and “believing in the music,” she says from a road stop in Michigan. “In connecting people to it, from 60-year-olds to 16-year-olds. I serve that idea and then get out of the way.”

When Magness and her band burn their way through a second gig in Michigan, they’ll move on to dates in Ohio, West Virginia, California and Oregon before hitting Colorado for shows in Durango, Woodland Park, Longmont and eventually the 1200 block of South Pearl Street in Denver as headliner for Blues & Brews 2010.

The festival is a day-long array of eight bands and follows June’s successful, but soggy cousin, BrewGrass. Music, food and craft beer are from noon to 10 p.m. and admission is just $5.

After Blues & Brews, Magness and company move on to a blur of performances through eight other American states, Canada and a three-day side jaunt to a blues festival in Norway.

“Me and the boys, we travel city to city, venue to venue. The part we get paid for is the driving,” she jokes. “And the super funky hotels.”

A little rough for the average grandmother, but old hat for Magness, who at 53 has been breezing in and on for decades. Back in the 1970s, she lived in Denver, where she was just another teenager scuffling around Capitol Hill, working in a used bookstore and pretending she was grown up.

“I was living with a cab driver,” she laughs. “I stayed for six months.”

On July 10, Magness, who pronounces her first name JEN-a-va, will be back in town, older and wiser, reunited with the daughter she bore at 17 then gave away, thoroughly devoted to her 8-year-old grandson, Henry, and oh, yes, a certified blues star hailed by everyone from the Chicago Sun-Times to National Public Radio.

“I love the blues,” she says. “It’s great stuff. I think I was born to it. It’s been my answer for what to do with my life. I feel like it chose me; I didn’t choose it.”

Magness is working with Alligator Records these days and in April released her second album on the legendary label, The Devil is an Angel Too. So far, it’s a well-received follow to the acclaimed What Love Will Do, released in 2008.

Magness is proud of both albums, but prouder still to be a national spokeswoman for the Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation that advocates for foster care.

“There are 500,000 kids it he foster care system on any day of the week. I encourage people to talk about that and step forward. It’s totally grassroots,” she says. “If somebody hadn’t stood up for me, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

For more information visit or the Casey Family Programs site at

Also performing at Blues & Brews are: Harmonica Blowout; George Whitsell’s All Stars; Grady Champion; Lionel Young Band with Erica Brown; Teresa Lynne; Jim Adam and Jon Stillwagon; and the Clamdaddy’s. For concert details, visit


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