the reverend shawn amos
Courtesy to The Alligator

Legendary Los Angeles-based bluesman The Reverend Shawn Amos will be playing alongside local band The Shakedown this Sunday, using their music to transform High Dive into a 1960s Chicago blues club.

The North Central Florida Blues Society, which has been booking blues shows at High Dive since 2011, said it strives to bring national and international touring acts to Gainesville so that the community can see the quality of blues shows that one would typically experience in Chicago, Memphis or New Orleans.

Rob Richardson, the vice president of The North Central Florida Blues Society, said it booked Amos because he was a unique kind of performer.

“Amos is heavily influenced by classic blues performers such as Junior Wells and Muddy Waters and Memphis Minnie, but he doesn’t treat that music like a museum piece,” Richardson said. “He knows that the blues is a living, breathing thing that touches people’s souls, so he includes modern musical technology and approaches along with it.”

According to the press release, Amos has developed quite a large following. His soulful tunes from his previous album, “The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You,” resonated with audiences enough to reach No. 2 on Roots Music Report’s Contemporary Blues Album Chart.

Richardson said they were expecting a large turnout for the show from the devoted Gainesville blues community.

“I do know that those that do show up will be entertained,” Richardson said. “The Reverend Shawn Amos is a fantastic performer, and I have been hearing a lot of excitement in the community about the show.”

Amos will be releasing his next album in February. The project is heavily inspired by the freedom songs of the civil rights movement.

In order to shine a light on the many blues performers that Gainesville has to offer, the North Central Florida Blues Society gives a chance for local bands to play alongside the national touring acts they bring in.

“It helps them grow as performers and helps promote them,” Richardson said. “We have a number of very talented bands in the area, so there’s never an issue finding a quality act to include.”

The Shakedown, composed of Michelle Banfield, Frank Bougher, Keith Ladd, Sean Crowley and Randy Hensley, is a new Gainesville band that will debut Sunday.

“Michelle is most well-known for singing in her previous band, Fast Lane, an incredible funk band, but she can sing the blues as well,” Richardson said. “When we had Zora Young, the princess of Chicago blues, at the High Dive earlier last year, she knew about Michelle and called her up to sing with her. Michelle is a very soulful singer with a lot of passion and power.”

Michelle Banfield, the lead vocalist of The Shakedown, said she originally knew very little about the blues, but the North Central Florida Blues Society took her under its wing by inviting her to sing in its first annual “Women in Blues” showcase.

“The more I listened and learned, the more I loved the blues, the more it spoke to me and moved me in a way that no other music had,” Banfield said. “It feels like home to me, like where I truly belong musically.”

Banfield describes The Shakedown as a blues band with heavy rock and soul influences, as many of their songs are tried and true old blues songs that have been revamped and updated by contemporary blues artists to give audiences a bit of the classics with a modern twist.

“This band feels like my baby,” Bainfield said. “I absolutely love being a part of this very fine group of musicians who are also my friends. We are having fun and are extremely excited about the band’s potential.”

Influenced by the feminist, unapologetic voices of powerful blues women such as Koko Taylor, Danielle Nicole and Susan Tedeschi, Banfield said she is inspired by women who sing not just from the heart but deep down from the guts.

“I call myself an ‘ugly singer,’ and by that I mean I am not trying to be cute or perfect on stage,” Banfield said. “I am going to scream, sweat and contort to birth the song that fills my soul, and I want you, I need you, to feel it. Sometimes it ain’t pretty, but if it moves you, I did my job.”

As a fan of the Reverend Shawn Amos, Banfield said the band feels privileged to open for him at the first The North Central Florida Blues Society concert of the year.

“I am most looking forward to playing for people that have never seen us before. Our set is 45 minutes long, but I think it will give people a real flavor for what we do,” Banfield said. “They will definitely not be bored. I intend to ‘leave it on the stage’ as they say. I’m going to be singing like I need rent money!”

To prepare for the show, the band is playing carefully selected songs that are representative of who they are in a nutshell, including one new song that Banfield said she really loves.

“People that are truly singing and playing the blues are survivors, myself included. They have been through some stuff, and the scars make us strong and the music gives us hope,” Bainfield said. “I love being able to belt out a song, knowing that somewhere within it is my own experience that helps me connect to the song and helps the audience connect to me as a human being just like them.”

The Reverend Shawn Amos will be playing alongside The Shakedown at High Dive on Sunday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. General Admission is $15, The North Central Florida Blues Society members get in for $8 and students and veterans with ID get in for $5.