Sacramento singer-songwriter Katie Knipp is throwing a benefit concert for cystic fibrosis research for deeply personal reasons. But she’s not dour about it.
“I want to be positive on stage – I don’t want to put a damper on rock ’n’ roll,” said Knipp, who headlines the 6 p.m. Saturday benefit at Harlow’s nightclub. She’s dubbed the show, at which singers Sandra Dolores and Amber Snider also will perform, “Chickapalooza.”
“I always wanted to be in Lilith Fair, but I wasn’t famous enough,” Knipp said during an interview last week at a Sacramento cafe. “So this is my Lilith Fair.”
Knipp, 36, a blues and Americana artist who grew up in Concord, has wanted to put on a cystic fibrosis benefit since her best friend, Josh Dadami, died from the genetic, chronic lung disease 13 years ago.
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Dadami’s death “came as a real shock, and it took me this long (to do the show) because I am so emotional about it,” said Knipp, who had known Dadami since she was 14. “He was so positive, he had convinced me he was going to survive. ... Even when he was in the hospital, he was playing guitar in his hospital bed.”
An all-ages show with a $10 admission price, Chickapalooza will benefit the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Research Inc., which has promised to match the show’s proceeds, Knipp said.
Knipp, who is quick to laugh and slightly resembles Sandra Bullock, is a light presence who writes dark songs. Example: “Gone to Town,” which Knipp describes with a laugh as “a fictional story about a gal who murders a guy.” It’s from “Nice to Meet You,” a sweetly titled 2012 EP that also contains a song called “Parade of Pain.”
“It’s sort of a balance thing,” Knipp said. “I always had sort of a dark side to my writing, (but) I am a really goofy person in real life.”
It’s the same sensibility that prompts a gal to name a benefit for a serious cause “Chickapalooza.”
Darker material suits Knipp’s sultry voice and blues-tinged songs. Her preference for somber lyrics emerged after she was on scene for two traumatic events. Knipp was lifeguarding at Concord’s Waterworld USA in 1997 when a slide collapsed, killing one and injuring more than 30 others. On her 21st birthday, Knipp witnessed the suicide of a fellow student at UC Santa Cruz.
“It was the first time in my life where I was truly, truly afraid of evil,” Knipp said. “I actually felt an evil presence.”
Not sure what to do with her feelings, “I started reading a lot of Jim Morrison poetry,” Knipp said, wincing at the cliché. She eventually channeled her unease into song.
She graduated from college with a music degree, eventually moving to Marin County, where her Katie Knipp Band was a big draw. While living in Marin, she reconnected via MySpace with Jeremy Schmidt, a childhood friend from Concord who had relocated to Sacramento.
The two always shared a spark, but “he had a girlfriend, or I had a boyfriend,” Knipp said. This time, both were single. Knipp moved to Sacramento five years ago to be with Schmidt, now her husband.
Leaving Marin meant leaving her musical community. She’s still forming a new one in Sacramento, where she has played mostly solo shows. On Saturday, she will unveil a new band, the Heart Miners. The group features lead guitarist Ed Stoner – until recently, also co-owner of the Blue Lamp music venue – bass player Casey Lipka (Cave Women) and drummer Rose Cangelosi. Knipp plays piano and guitar.
Stoner, an accomplished blues musician, has played with Knipp for a few years, ever since she inquired about playing at the Blue Lamp and found out he played guitar. Stoner has the best tone around, Knipp said: “It’s all about the fat, warm sound.”
Knipp’s own warm singing voice differs from her speaking voice, which is higher and also missing the rasp many blues belters carry on and off stage. Knipp, who studied opera in college, said practicing proper technique has protected her vocal cords.
“I am a closet opera singer. I still do my warmups with the windows rolled up in the car.”