Younger generation rocks Local Guitar Heroes night at Krannert

Younger generation rocks Local Guitar Heroes night at Krannert

Editor's note: From Tuesday night's Ellnora festival, here is a short video of Sara Hall talking about music and her first guitar.

Make way for two younger musicians with loads of talent.

And they're both women, which is refreshing.

Sara Hall and Kenna Mae Reiss performed separate sets on Tuesday night at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as part of its Local Heroes Night, a  loca-centric kick off to Ellnora The Guitar Festival, which opens Thursday night at the the center.

Backed by Timmy D and Blind Justice, Hall turned in a rousing set that began with her cover of Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee”.

Singer-guitarist Kenna Mae Reiss, daughter of local drummer Kenny Reiss, also made a strong impression on the 300 or so folks at the event, singing a couple of original songs. She also was backed by Timmy D and Blind Justice.

Tim Donaldson (Timmy D) told the audience he had a surprise as he introduced Hall as a daughter of Bruce Hall, a Champaign native who plays bass in REO Speedwagon, the rock band that got its start in the '60s in Urbana-Champaign. There's even a downtown Champaign street named in honor of the band.

After Hall’s set, Tim Frazier took the stage and quipped, “Great. I get to follow Janis Joplin.” Frazier also was a backup singer for the evening, along with Rena Day and Laurie Wilkey.

Hall, who’s 31, told me she doesn’t strive to sound like Joplin, though many people besides Frazier believe her raspy and powerful voice sounds a lot like the rock icon’s.

“That’s just what comes out,” Hall said.

Hall was at Purdue University, studying political science and women’s studies, when she and other musicians formed Upshot. She describes it as a genre-busting group that blends blues, rock, jazz, hip-hop and “lots of funk, too.”

“We’re trying to keep it as organic and old-school as possible,” said Hall, who plays rhythm guitar and is the band's lead vocalist.

If you want to hear Upshot, it performs every Tuesday evening at Bentley's Pub, 419 N. Neil St., C, as the house band. Hall also works as a bartender at Bentley’s.

The other Upshot members: Matt Zimmerman, lead guitar; Jared Manker, bass; Seth Anders, saxophone; and Aaron Wilson, drums.

It was Zimmerman who persuaded Hall to take up guitar while she was a student at Purdue. She talks about that and her first guitar in the video posted along with this blog.

Upshot had been based in major cities, among them Cincinnati and Indianapolis, before moving to C-U in March 2012.

“We wanted to live in a town we knew had a great music scene and was centrally located _ two or three hours from major cities,” Hall said. “And it had to be a college town. If you want to make it you have to be around college kids.”

Another attraction: Hall has plenty of relatives here, even though her paternal grandparents now live in Springfield. Her father now lives in Florida.

Sara Hall, who grew up in southern California and has lived in Los Angeles and Chicago, too, is pleased with the music scene here, calling it much more varied than Indy’s. She also told me she loves living here.

“The town itself is so diverse. People actually like each other out here. In southern California you don’t know your neighbors.”

I didn’t get a chance to chat with Kenna Mae Reiss. But Dave Howie, who performed with Lou DiBello as part of Local Guitar Heroes, told me he’s a big fan. Howie believes Reiss sounds even better as a solo act.

She grew up in Sidney, graduated from Unity High School and studied art at Parkland College. She’s only 19.

Donaldson curated the Local  Heroes Night lineup; he and Blind Justice were the house band for the evening.

Among others who performed were Dyke Corson, The Diva & The Dude/Kathy Harden & Andy Baylor,  Gloria Roubal & Paul Sabuco, and Brandon T. Washington.

As for Ellnora, it will feature 22 concerts, with half of them free, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Five acts perform on Thursday, which is the Opening Night Party for Krannert's 2013-14 season; admission is only $5. The fun starts at 6:30 p.m.

So far the Lucinda Williams and Zappa Plays Zappa, featuring Dweezil Zappa, concerts Saturday night and the Buddy Guy concert Friday night are sold out. Get on the waiting list. Seats always seem to open up shortly before concerts begin at Krannert.

For more on Ellnora, visit



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