By Steve Graham
One of the most respected blues musicians in Colorado is Grace Kuch, a 15-year-old homeschooled Fort Collins girl.
This year, the Mile High Blues Society sent Kuch to the International Blues Challenge, the world’s largest blues conference, which takes place over a week in January with workshops and, of course, plenty of live jams and showcases on Memphis’ legendary Beale Street.
“It’s all of your best music friends in a two-block radius,” Grace said in an interview in her Old Town Fort Collins living room. The room is filled with musical instruments, even though she is pretty much the only person who plays all the guitars, basses, mandolins and pianos in the house.
“She’s far surpassed my musical abilities,” said her mother, Jill. Grace’s grandfather was a guitarist, but neither of her parents play music. However, they support Grace’s career. Jill is her homeschool teacher, driver, chaperone and manager.
“A lot of our friends think we’re crazy,” Jill said.
She said Grace is gradually taking over more of her own management and booking. They both travel so often for gigs and festivals that a traditional school schedule does not work.
Grace practices a variety of musical styles, but she is really hooked on the blues. She has a passion for blues scales and chords, but she also loves the camaraderie among blues musicians, which she noticed at her first blues festival.
“I saw how amazing the blues community could be,” she said. “Everyone was super-supportive and helped me reach the next level.”
Grace mostly plays covers, but she has been working with Mary Claxton at the Music District on her songwriting.
“In this community, especially, we’re very lucky to be here because there are numerous opportunities all the time to learn and play,” Jill said.
Grace also has had opportunities to learn and play all over the country, including the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark., and a music camp in Big Indian, N.Y., where she met and played with members of the Allman Brothers and the North Mississippi Allstars.
“She has worked with so many different mentors in different aspects,” Jill said.
Her next goal is mastering the bass guitar. She is studying bass in June at the Pinetop Perkins masterclass in Mississippi in June.
Grace leads two distinct bands. She has a collective of other high school students that got together about a year ago. They play youth showcases that only accept musicians younger than 18.
For three years, she also has fronted a larger band of older musicians. Drummer David Osborne put together the group. He had been on hiatus from music but was inspired to pick up the sticks again after seeing Grace play a local show.
“They do it for the love of playing,” Jill said.
While they see Grace as the leader of the band, she said they also give her honest feedback, and she appreciates it. Both bands also help broaden Grace’s musical horizons.
“Because of all the different influences that her bandmates have, they have been playing music forever, and they are feeding her songs all the time and seeing what sticks,” Jill said.
She added that Grace is a quick learner and is constantly expanding her repertoire.
“She finds these gems and something will speak to her, and she’ll learn it like that,” Jill said, snapping her fingers.
For Grace, it all has to come back to the blues.
“I’m going to play the blues as long as I play music,” Grace said. “I don’t know if it will be strictly blues. I might venture into other areas of music but I know there will definitely be a blues influence on whatever I play.”
Jill noted that blues music encompasses a wide variety of styles.
“The (blues) umbrella is wide, and many people that don’t know the genre think it’s just the old bluesman, but there’s a huge genre especially with the progressive blues right now,” she said.
Grace is finding her niche and perfecting her style without pushing herself or her career too quickly.
“I don’t want to play a whole bunch of shows and burn myself out before I turn 21,” Grace said. “By then, I will have been in the music business for a long time but still pretty young, so I don’t want to push too hard and burn me out or burn other people out on me. I want to play and be in the community and have people see me but not push too much.”
She also is excited to remain part of the Fort Collins music scene.
“For the most part, it’s a really loving community,” Grace said. “You can work together to get through life through music. It’s not all perfect, but it’s a really nice way to connect with people on a different level.”