How many times have you watched the Grammys and have seen performers that are now able to draw at least 10,000 to each concert - yet you "coulda" seen them "back in the day," in a small venue, and for an affordable price? But you didn't. Instead, you spewed excuses: You weren't sure of their music. You really hadn't heard of them. Yada, yada, yada.Well, if you miss Delta Rae and ZZ Ward's appearance at the Vilar Performing Arts Center tonight, you'll likely have a "woulda, coulda, shoulda" moment. The music of Delta Rae has the richness of Americana music. It's a blend of gospel, bluegrass, blues and pop, touched off with a deep-rooted tradition of storytelling and folklore. Begun by siblings Ian and Eric Holljes, then joined by childhood friend Elizabeth Hopkins and eventually their younger sister, Brittany, the group set about finding its collective voice and crafting poignant songs."Very early on I felt we had found something special," said Ian, who with his brother writes the lyrics. "It was really the uniting of the four voices, a type of music that resonated with me. Just to be in the thick of it is amazing. We sing with such heart that you just lose yourself in it." In 2010, with the addition of drummer, Mike McKee and bassist Grant Emerson, a lot of the songs evolved through live performances, and the band was off and running."North Carolina folk-rockers Delta Rae caused a stir and earned a standing ovation with a set highlighted by the stunning, spiritual-sounding 'Bottom of the River,' in which dirge-like percussion was provide by drums, drum sticks and an aluminum trash can pummeled with a length of chain," wrote freelance writer Robert Lelievre about Delta Rae's recent performance at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. "This was one of those festival acts that people will probably be buzzing about for days to come."'Dirty shine'Then there's ZZ Ward - Zsuzsanna Ward - who will join Delta Rae, bringing her unapologetic blend of hip-hop, blues and pop, paired with smoky vocals. Ward got her start in a blues band fronted by her father when she was 12 and at age 16 took her first stab at rapping. Besides being an accomplished singer/songwriter, Ward can play guitar, piano and harmonica. She calls her music "dirty shine," the bone-deep wail of the blues crossed with the big-city gloss of cutting-edge hip-hop. "I grew up listening to both blues and hip-hop," Ward said. "My parents got me into the blues and my brother loved hip-hop, so I used to steal his CDs."After venturing into a hip-hop club and talking the "dude in charge," as Ward describes him, into allowing her to sing his choruses, she soon began crafting hooks for rappers and she became a songwriter in her own right. "People want to know what my music is, because they're comfortable with what they know," Ward explains. "But I'm just doing what's authentic to me. I like the stories that rap artists tell in their songs. They talk about life and their experiences and that speaks to me."'Going to be a star'Ward has an eclectic group of idols from Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and especially Tina Turner, whom she says sings in a way that "leaves no separation between her and the song." "Tina puts everything she has into her performance," Ward said. "That's what I want to do."When it comes to hip-hop, Ward's influences include Jay Z, Nas, OutKast and 'Lil Kim. These days she digs Kendrick Lamar and Azealia Banks, to name a few.Ward's been on Leno, Last Call with Carson Daly, and so far her music has been featured on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars, MTV's Awkward and promos for ABC's Nashville. Her first album "Til the Casket Drops" was released in October. The accolades keep coming in: "Have you heard ZZ Ward yet? She is going to be a star," according to NPR.But, perhaps, the Chicago Tribune said it best about Ward's music. "Its roots are in the blues, liberally spiked with New Orleans drawl. She howls and hammers on that guitar of hers, ripping into each tune like it's the last one of the set. So, what are you waiting for? Go hear her."Don't let woulda, coulda, shoulda become your mantra.
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