PICTURED: Kelly’s Lot performs an anniversary show at Ventura Beach Club on Dec. 20.
Anyone who makes a living in the music business knows that it’s hard work, long hours, tons of rehearsal and, for most, limited pay. But for the Ventura County- and Los Angeles-based pop, folk and blues band Kelly’s Lot, it’s been 25 years of fun — and they’re still rolling.
Talk about a reason to celebrate. Last month the band hit the Mint in Los Angeles to say thank you to its fan base. Now it’s coming to the Ventura Beach Club on Friday, Dec. 20, and playing its greatest hits. It’s one of those rare times you can watch a band’s transition in real time. As co-founder and lead vocalist Kelly Zirbes explained:
“The story of the night is the songs that define the band and how we got to the blues, because it does kind of tell that story. It is how we became the blues band Kelly’s Lot.”
Kelly’s Lot was put together in 1994 by Zirbes and bass player Alex (Rylance) Peterson, previously with the all-girl rock band Precious Metal.
They began as a folk-rock band and gradually changed to blues. Their first show was at the Roxy in 1994. Since then, they have produced 14 albums and traveled extensively throughout Europe.
“It’s 25 years of touring in places like France and Belgium, and we played in Spain last year,” said Zirbes. “We go to Europe once a year and play.”
While they started in L.A., Zirbes and her husband, Kelly’s Lot songwriter and lead guitarist Perry Robertson, currently live in Oxnard and play at various Ventura County blues festivals. They also support charitable causes like Ventura County based C.A.R.L. (Canine Adoption and Rescue League).
Her blues pilgrimage began early in life as she listened to music with her mother in San Gabriel.
“My mother would listen to the blues and cry to the blues,” she recalled. “That’s how I learned the blues.”
Some of those influences included Aretha Franklin, Etta James and B.B. King. But she also gave a special shout out to singers like Joe Cocker and Bonnie Raitt.
While her songs may include some pop and folk styles, her fan base has always believed she was a blues artist.
“All my fans would say I was a blues band, even though I was not a blues band,” she recalled. “They would say, ‘Oh, they play blues,’ and I would say ‘No, we don’t play blues. We play folk rock that’s very bluesy.’”
The blues style became more pronounced as she began to sing at blues festivals. She thinks the transition was always there just waiting to be revealed.
“As I started to get booked for things that were more blues, I started playing more bluesy songs and it came very natural to me,” she said. “It wasn’t something I had to fake.”
She admits that the music biz is not full-time. Most of her band mates have other work that pays the bills, but they all spend a good deal of time and money keeping the flame alive. More than dogged determination, however, music for her is also personal:
“Music for me is to express my feelings. So I think it saved my life. That is the biggest motivator for me.”
Zirbes likes to keep it real by donating her band’s time for charitable causes.
“That has helped us to stick it out because doing this type of work, I feel fulfilled,” she observed. “I don’t feel like I am being wasted. We always do at least one or two charity gigs a month. I think that has kept us having a positive attitude about it.”
And so, a quarter century later, they are celebrating the fact that an independent artist can make a go of it and be around to reap the rewards. In her case: tours to Europe, the freedom to make their music without interference and the satisfaction of playing to people who enjoy them.
“The reason I wanted to do this 25-year thing is because we have to celebrate ourselves,” she said. “Independent artists don’t get celebrated, but I have been a band for 25 years and it’s been amazing.”
Kelly’s Lot will play on Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Ventura Beach Club, 281 W. Main St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, visit kellyslot.com.