Four Minutes, Four Questions Bluesman Austin Calvillo

Four Minutes, Four Questions Bluesman Austin Calvillo

A year ago, Austin Calvillo was representing Fort Smith at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

This summer, he’s opening the 28th annual Riverfront Blues Festival in Fort Smith with a performance at 6 p.m. June 22 at Harry E. Kelley Park.

While warming up for his show, Calvillo took a few minutes to answer some questions for The Free Weekly:

Q. When/how did you fall in love with music? Was it the blues or something else?

A. Well, for me, it didn’t start with blues. Growing up, music was very much encouraged in our household. In fact, we even had a karaoke machine filled with everything from Little Richard to Ray Charles. As I got older, the blues really snuck up on me. When I was 18, I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood” album from start to finish. Needless to say, I was hooked. At the time, I was really into bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, stuff like that. But when I heard the opening lines of “Love Struck Baby,” I needed more! Which then had me digging. Eventually everyone from Robert Johnson to Eric Clapton to all three Kings (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.) became a permanent place in my catalogue.

Q. Explain the blues — what makes music “the blues”? And how does it touch people in such a deep way?

A. The blues is something that’s more than a chord progression and a scale. To me, it’s one of the last great American artforms that we have left that we can truly say it’s ours. While I can never say that I went through what a lot of those great blues men did, I can say I can relate to a lot of it. I’ve been too broke to spend the night, I’ve got a sweet little angel, and I’ve been at many a crossroads in my life. I think the blues touches people that way because while we can never say we went through exactly what they did, we can say that we’ve had similar experiences. This is why the blues is not only not going anywhere, but it’s still got a lot more left in it. Because there’s still stories to be told.

Q. What did going to the Blues Challenge mean to you? What was the experience like?

A. Oh man, first and foremost the food! I don’t care what anyone says, Memphis is the reason why I can never have regular fried chicken anymore! Just being able to not only represent my area, but to be on a street so legendary and filled with history, it was truly an honor for me. Being able to go not only validated me as a blues artist, but also as a professional musician, period. It’s called the “Blues Challenge” for a reason! It’s truly a challenge, both mentally and physically. But, even for the short amount of time I got to play, it felt like a lifetime. It was a great experience, and also a great chance to copy some licks!

Q. What do you hope people take away from a performance?

A. I hope they just genuinely have a good time. Whenever I play in front of people, they’re putting their time, money and attention into me, and for me that’s a huge responsibility. I take what I do very seriously, because I really love what I do. I also hope, especially with playing covers, is that they do more research on the artist I’m playing homage to. Because that’s how they live on, through their music. And, lastly, I hope that they can see how much I put into what I do. I give every once of energy that I have, because it’s really all I have to give. When you come to an Austin Calvillo show, you come to have a good time and forget your problems for a while. And that’s the ultimate goal for me.



Riverfront Blues Fest

WHEN — Gates open at 5 p.m. June 22-23

WHERE — Harry E. Kelley Park in Fort Smith

COST — $15 per day




Riverfront Blues Fest


June 22

Austin Calvillo

The Wanda Watson Band

Hadden Sayers

Frank’s Garage

June 23

Gary Hutchison & Kirby Kelley

The Eric Mathews Band

Victor Wainwright & The Train

BRains Band


Categories: Cover Story