Young blues performers prepare for Beale Street

  • Felicia Agrelius and "Jumpin'" Josh Violette shown hanging out during a show at the Swiss. (Courtesy of John Violette)

“Jumpin’” Josh Violette and Felicia Agrelius, two local blues musicians, are gearing up to compete in Memphis with musicians from around the world.

Violette, 14, is a student at Federal Way High School. Agrelius lives in Lakewood and attends Lakes High School.

Violette got his start in music when he was 8 and received a toy guitar for Christmas. Eventually his parents got him a real guitar. His father agreed to pay for lessons and Violette studied classical guitar. Jho Blenis, a noted guitarist who has played in Randy Oxford Band and other local groups, is his current teacher.

Agrelius began playing drums at age 8. Her father had a friend who played in a band and let her play his set. “I played on that set until I thought it would break,” she said with a laugh. Eventually her parents bought her a set of her own.

“I think it is cool that I am a girl who plays drums,” she remarked. “I am breaking down gender barriers.”

Violette also plays harmonica, saxophone and bass. Both play in jazz bands at school. “I am also a mean triangle player,” Agrelius said with a smile.

The two met at a jam session Oxford was hosting at Jazzbones about five years ago. Oxford encouraged young musicians to attend and participate, and many did.

Both of their fathers are active members of South Sound Blues Association (SSBA) and through that organization they have met many bands. Violette can often be seen on stage with Maia Santell and House Blend, bringing his guitar on stage to perform a few numbers.

He feels he has benefitted from such exposure to adult musicians. “I think my playing has gotten a lot better. I can learn from their experience.”

“Going to jam sessions help us make connections,” Agrelius said. “It helps learning about different styles and genres.”

Each year SSBA holds a battle of the bands competition, with the winner heading to Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge. A few years ago they added a second category for soloists or duos. Violette and Agrelius entered last year and won. At the end of the month they will head to Memphis to perform with musicians from around the world.

SSBA covers the cost for their band and duo to travel to Memphis. Washington Blues Society (WBS), based in Seattle, also sends a band each year. The two organizations have planned a Beale Street Kickoff Party fundraiser for Jan. 15 at Louie G’s in Fife. Violette and Agrelius will perform. Also on the bill are Red Hot Blues Sisters, who won in SSBA’s band category, The Wired Band, who won in the WBS band category, and Randy Norris and Jeff Nicely, who won in their solo/duo category. James King and the Southsiders will also perform. A silent auction and raffle will take place. The event will run from 3-10 p.m.

Asked why they like the blues, Agrelius said “it is the foundation of other genres.”

“Blues has a wide spectrum,” Violette replied.

Violette has been to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. Last year he participated in a youth showcase, a part of the event without judges. Last year 83 duos participated.

The duo performs covers songs. Violette said they aim to pick songs are not too familiar. When playing in the duo, he adjusts his playing a bit to compensate for the lack of a bass player.

“I like how it sounds with just drums and guitar,” Agrelius said. “It sounds more raw. It is more pressure for us, but it is a chance for us to shine.

In addition to playing in clubs on Beale Street, they also plan to attend various workshops and network with other musicians.

On stage, Violette favors polo shirts and fedora-type hats. Agrelius wears shorts and combat boots. “I do not adhere to classic blues attire,” she observed.

Do these two young players plan to make a career out of music? “Perhaps,” Violette said. Agrelius does not expect that to happen for her, although she is interested in playing in a marching band when she attends college.

“I want to be president of the United States of America,” she said. “Or an experimental psychologist. I look at playing music as a release. For me, it is more about the fun factor.”

Louie G’s is located at 5219 Pacific Highway E. Cost to attend the fundraiser on Jan. 15 is $8 for SSBA and WBS members and $10 for non-members. Louie G’s is an all-ages venue. It can be reached at (253) 926-9700.


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