Chaka Khan & Shemekia Copeland

What a way to kick off the festival!

While the rest of Toronto indulged in the World Cup and NXNE, there was a small yet passionate crowd at Kool Haus to see Chaka Khan and opener Shemekia Copeland.

Copeland is a 35 year-old blues singer reminiscent of the soul powerhouses of Stax Records. Her band proved more than capable of delivering the blues, in particular guitarist Arthur Neilson, with whom Copeland has been touring with for 16 years.

As Shemekia Copeland introduced her song "Lemon Pie", she mentioned that it belonged to an album she released in 2012 titled 33 1/3. She is particularly proud of this album, she told the audience, because it was nominated for a Grammy in the sole remaining blues category. This in spite of those who insist Copeland's blues is not authentic. The title is a double entendre as it not only refers to vinyl RPM, but also to the fact that Copeland herself was 33 while recording the album

Copeland prefaced her final song with an anecdote about her grandmother's North Carolina gospel church. Copeland announced that she was about to take the audience to her grandmother's church before erupting into "Stand Up & Testify", an up-tempo rave that managed to pump a little life into an audience that was lukewarm.

As Chaka Khan was introduced, the audience's demeanor change. While the crowd could best have been described as tepid during Shemekia Copeland's performance, they were five times as excited when Chaka Khan's band was setting up.

When she took the stage, the crowd erupted. The audience of several hundred, some of whom brought chairs, stayed on their feet for the entirety of Chaka's set.

The show opened with "Keeps Me Satisfied". Chaka sang and looked as if she had come straight from the '80s. As the band shifted into "I'm a Woman", her vocals intensified, bringing the song to a rave-up reminiscent of Otis Redding's live performances.

Chaka was anything but a diva. The backup vocalists were given solos, along with every band member. At one point Chaka and the other vocalists left the stage so that the band could individually showcase their instrumental prowess.

On the subject of divas, she doesn't see herself that way. Ms. Khan told the crowd, "I'm an angel, like all of you."

The night ended with "Tell Me Something Good". Chaka divided the crowd into men and women and let the audience sing the chorus while she riffed. Although there were some issues with microphone feedback and vocal monitors, Chaka and her band handled them with poise and elegance.

After the concert, fans Annette Landoi Zer-aviv and Sandi Bauer were delighted with the performance. "I've been a fan of Chaka Khan since I was really young - preteen years" Landoi Zer-Aviv said. "Being a singer, she's been one of my inspirations. She's an amazing singer, very soulful." Bauer was also impressed. "Her range is unbelievable" she said.

While Kool Haus was not exactly packed, the evening's performances captivated the couple hundred in attendance. The blues is alive and well.

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