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The Powerful Shemekia Copeland Brings Blues Royalty to the Richmond Folk Fest Festival



The daughter of legendary Texas guitarist and songwriter Johnny Copeland, Shemekia Copeland, literally was born into the blues.

“When I was little I couldn’t believe it when my dad was up there performing,” she says. “Being onstage seemed so scary to me. But when I was a teenager, I had a calling. You never know what is going to happen onstage. But the more accepting you become, the more confident you become, the easier it is.”

There’s no trace of holding back in Copeland’s huge, assured, character-filled voice. During the past 17 years, she’s won multiple blues awards, been nominated for a Grammy and performed with a who’s who of musicians such as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.

Her just-released album, “On the Outskirts of Love” (Alligator), is a winning mix of originals — including two darkly humorous feminist revenge sagas — and covers artists as wide-ranging as Jesse Winchester and ZZ Top.

“It takes a long time for me to make a record,” Copeland says. “I’m careful about what I put out into the universe. I want to use my voice in a positive way.”

Such attention to detail in crafting and sequencing a record is becoming a vanishing art.

“Everything has changed, and I have no idea what is going to happen in the future,” she says. “If somebody had told me there weren’t going to be record stores, that everything was going to be digitally downloaded without people paying for any of it. I swear I wouldn’t have believed any of it. A lot of artists just want the one hit — they stopped caring about the whole record. Of course people are going to want to buy just a little piece of it.”

Copeland’s approach is the opposite of calculated commercialism. “I don’t use a set list,” she says. “I feel out the energy of the audience when I’m onstage. There are some songs we always do, but I have eight records of songs to choose from. We’re going to have a great time, and, because of that, I’m sure everyone else will too.”

Shemekia Copeland performs Friday at the Altria Stage, 8:45-9:45 p.m.; and on Saturday at the Dominion Dance Pavilion, 2:15-3:15 p.m., and at the Altria Stage, 6:15-7 p.m.


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