“The Best Gig I Ever Saw” is a new weekly column, which will see us ask a musician to chat about their favorite concert thus far. This week, it's beloved blues artist Janiva Magness.
In the winter of 1971, seeing Otis Rush would wind up becoming a touchstone of the life I lead today. It awakened something I didn't even know was inside me. Watching Otis and his band perform connected me to the human race, even if the feeling was fleeting at that time. Seeing him pour so much of his heart and all of his soul into that performance at a seedy nightclub in Middle America on some random night on the calendar gave me something that still resonates strongly today. Otis showed me the power of being able to connect with other people through music that is sent into the world with skill, passion and, above all, honesty. This has become the goal for all artists that I know: connection.
Witnessing this firsthand when I was just 14 was like attending a master-class session on life itself. I was imbued. Loud, clear and direct. I got the message he delivered.
My life has never been a straight, uninterrupted line toward anything. I've always been someone who has taken a step back while pushing forward. I have been split in two by conflicting emotions, which I think is true with a lot of people. But in my case, chronic depression and loneliness. Yet, alternately, I'd be on fire, powered by something so strong and deep inside me that made me shout, “Fuck this, I will never give in.” For me, that, after all, is what the blues is all about. Besides the fact that it sounds so good and makes a body want to move, it is the reason I love the music so much. We suffer. We feel pain. But we persevere. We find a way to overcome. We prevail victorious.
Human beings can be extraordinarily resilient. The idea of overcoming pain and heartache seems universal to me. If it wasn't, the blues would not have been around as long as they've been or beloved as much as they are. I have Otis Rush to thank for that, no doubt. Best. Gig. Ever.
Janiva Magness appears with Moondogg at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, at Saint Rocke.