The Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society in partnership with KHUG 97.5-FM invited Croatian harmonica blues player Tomislav Goluban and Kelly Zirbes, lead singer of Kelly’s Lot, to perform at the Smokehouse on Main on Thursday night.
The SCV Blues Society is a group of individuals who appreciate the music genre and put their efforts into keeping blues music alive within the community.
“I wanted to help them. That’s why I booked this gig tonight, so that I could bring Croatian blues to Santa Clarita and put a spotlight on the Santa Clarita Blues Society,” said Zirbes. “These blues societies are all over the country and in Europe. They’re the ones keeping the blues in the forefront.”
Goluban met Zirbes a couple of years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. They recorded original songs together and then Goluban invited Zirbes and her band to tour with him in Croatia over the summer.
“They came (to Croatia) and told me, ‘If you ever want to come to see us in Los Angeles, do it,’” Goluban said.
Goluban was nominated for the Josie Music awards in Nashville, Tennesee. The award show recognizes independent music artists and their talents once a year.
His nomination initiated his visit to the U.S., and although he didn’t win an award this year, he said he was happy he had the chance to witness and live the experience. He then made his way to the Golden State to visit Zirbes and her band.
“We’re just having a great time, making music and our friendship even bigger,” said Goluban.
After he arrived in California, Goluban and Zirbes planned to perform five gigs, one of them being in Santa Clarita. Their goal is to form connections and keep blues music alive.
Goluban’s biggest musical inspiration, Sonny Terry, known for energetic harmonica blues music, influenced his taste and approach in the genre.
“(He) hooked me to that kind of music. The first time (I heard it) I didnt know it was the blues because in Croatia we dont have (a) blues tradition,” said Goluban.
Zirbes’ inspiration to make music stems from her mother. “My mom was a singer and I used to listen to her play music and singing when I was growing up, and it was the blues.”
She began her musical career as a singer and songwriter but didn’t begin to perform until after forming connections with numerous musicians who all shared a passion for blues music.
Zirbes traveled to Croatia in the summer with the musicians of Kelly’s Lot and has been continuously building a connection uniting international artists through their love of blues music.
“I love the whole idea of it being international musicians trying to find each other,” said Zirbes. “It’s nice to see the blues going everywhere.”
Goluban’s creative process doesn’t have “any kind of rule,” he said. He plans on releasing a new album next year but with completely new people he meets along the way during his touring and travels.
His favorite song to perform live is “Mr. B,” an original song from his second studio album released in 2007 featuring Little Pigeon’s ForHill Blues. It’s an instrumentally rich song that gets the audience to simmer down with its soft tunes, but when he’s looking for applause from the audience he likes to improvise on the harmonica the way Sonny Terry influenced him to do.
After he is finished traveling the United States for three weeks, he plans on going back home to rest and continue to tour as a musician for a band and dabble into rock.
Goluban has released 14 albums, founded the Croatia Blues Forces national blues society and competed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Zirbes has released 15 albums and has earned international acclaim by charting on the American Roots Music Report.
Together, both Goluban’s and Zirbes’ specialties had the Smokehouse audience dancing and bobbing their heads, appreciating a musical genre that currently doesn’t get a lot of mainstream attention.
The SCV Blues Society will be hosting a competition at the American Legion in Newhall on Saturday. The competition offers a cash prize of $2,500 and a chance to fly to Memphis, Tenessee, to represent Santa Clarita at the 39th International Blues Challenge. For more information, visit www.scvblues.com.