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Tyler Kealey performs his set inside Bluesfest's Barney Danson Theatre on opening night. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bluesfest Local Highlights: Tyler Kealey

By Terry Steeves on July 8, 2016

Ottawa’s singer/songwriter and piano man, Tyler Kealey, showcased his natural-born prowess on the ivories once again, inside the pristine acoustics of Bluesfest’s Barney Danson Theatre on opening night, the same stage he played in 2012. A good deal of Kealey’s musical path was paved on the Bluesfest grounds, which began during his high school years, when he and his band competed and won a “Blues In The Schools” competition in 2000. Since then he’s had numerous opportunities at the festival to play with his band, and with other local artists on many different stages over the years.

The piano and Kealey became one living, breathing unit, as he moved and waved his hands over the keys with fluidity, and unleashed a voice that was as full of passion as the words he sang. In his songs, he told stories of his life, or personal reflections of the simplest everyday things, like how the full moon’s light lit up the road he was travelling on one night in “Following The Full Moon Light”, or of the unconditional love and protection of being a parent in “Raincoat”. He also displayed his multi-instrumental talent by switching over to play acoustic guitar a couple times during his performance. Kealey was joined by talented musicians, Steph McAlear (drums/keys), Todd Huckabone (guitar/drums/bkg vox), and Stuart Paterson (bass/bkg vox).

He showed an amazing versatility of piano influences – sometimes very Beatlesque, and others that came to mind like Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, and Marc Cohn – all with lush, moving melodies, and plenty of impossibly beautiful chord changes, as he ascended and descended across the keys with his quick fingers. He performed original material from his previous two albums in an array of topics and styles. One that gripped me was a love song he wrote in ode to his wife entitled, “Aussie Ocean”, an as yet unreleased track, which brimmed with beautiful chords, and featured the high timbres of Kealey’s vocals that rang throughout. The tongue-and-cheek, “Never Give An Angry Man A Microphone”, offered a stark contrast in its playful banter of lyrics laced in attitude, matched with an abstract, jazz/blues chord structure. Kealey unleashed some nice raspy edges to his voice as the song built into a powerful crescendo. His connection with the crowd grew during the performance, as he continued introductory narrations ahead of each song, and at times, egged on audience participation. He capped off the show appropriately with, “Last Song”, an uplifting piece about the importance of living one’s passion.

Tyler Kealey is a true performer, that loves and lives to perform, and immerses himself in the give-and-take exchange with his audience: an absolute joy to watch.