Olsen brings folk by way of Venice Beach

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 1999

When Betsy Sims brought little-known singer-songwriter Kristina Olsen to Juneau two years ago, Sims told people if they didn't like the concert, she'd personally refund their money.

She had to turn people away after 140 crowded into a room with a capacity of 110, she said.

Nobody asked for their money back. But people have asked when Olsen's coming back.

The answer is Friday night. This time Sims has booked a larger venue, Centennial Hall. The 8 p.m. concert is being produced by Sims and the Alaska Folk Festival. Local musician Tony Tengs will open the show.

If Olsen had to be put in a category musically, it would probably be folk, Sims said. But she also plays a lot of ``hard-driving blues'' and some jazzy songs.

Sims, who met Olsen at a guitar workshop several years ago, is a huge fan of the Venice Beach, Calif., musician.

``Probably of all the performers I've seen she's probably, if not the best, one of the best entertainers,'' said Sims. ``And I've seen lots and lots and lots of performers.''

``She's a really good musician. She's got a wonderful voice and (she's) very funny, just very engaging.''

Olsen, 42, has been performing since she was 16. She also describes her music as eclectic.

``It isn't like a night of blues or a night of ballads or a night of jazz,'' she said. ``It's a mix.''

She sings and plays, among other instruments, steel-body slide guitar, regular acoustic guitar, concertina and piano, if one's available. She's recorded on the hammer dulcimer with Michele Shocked and played with Rickie Lee Jones.

But, she said, ``My passion is more in the songwriter realm.''

``Each song sort of determines the musical form that it wants,'' she said. If a song lends itself to a blues format, for instance, that's what it will be. The songs range from raucous and bawdy to somber and serious, she said.

``I love songs that move you in one way or another. I love songs that contain a capsule of emotion in them.''

She's put out two new albums since she was in Juneau two years ago, so people who saw her then will not be seeing the same show, she said.

Olsen is on the road most of the time, touring 10 months of the year in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe.

Humor is a vital part of her shows.

``I find that listening to a night of music is lovely, but your brain goes to sleep in seconds and laughter is a great wake-up call,'' Olsen said. ``Then the audience has more attention for the serious material.''

Sims said Olsen's shows are not events an audience sits passively and observes. People find themselves laughing and crying.

``She's just so exciting. (You're) on the edge of your seat the whole show.''

Ths show is at 8 p.m. Friday at Centennial Hall. Tickets, available at Hearthside Books and Rainy Day Books, are $14 at the door, $12 in advance, $10 for students.

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