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Katy Guillen Finds Voice With Guitar

Courtesy Photo

Katy Guillen has become a regional sensation with her brand of high-energy blues rock, but her success is a somewhat unlikely story.

Katy Guillen began playing guitar when she was eight years old. By the time she was 14, she was playing open mic nights and blues jams in the Kansas City area. She says that from the moment she picked up the guitar, she was hooked.

“I found a passion in it and I found a calling. I didn’t know it was that at such a young age. But it came really naturally to me, and it was something I was good at,” she says. “It was something that gave me confidence and hope and made me feel good.”

Her early live performances were like her schooling, she says, and she adds that she wouldn’t change the experience of going to those open jams and open mics.

“At first I didn’t really understand how dynamics worked and how to play off of the musicians, and of course that’s something that you just have to learn, and once you get it it’s pretty easy," Guillen says. "And honestly blues jams are fun. They’re easy. It’s such a great way for anyone of any age to start playing with people.”

Guillen and her band The Girls have earned a reputation for incredible live shows in the Kansas City area and beyond, and the trio’s cross-section of blues and rock has meant that they can draw on a diverse audience.

“We have some friends that would normally frequent blues shows and then we’ve got some college kids, or some people that would want to go to a rock show with two or three bands on the bill—different sounding bands,” she says. “We definitely try to play to that, keeping that diversity in our sets and in our sound and in our energy.”

Guillen says that music has transformed her on at least one important personal level.

“Sometimes it’s funny because I look at what I’m doing now, which is playing music full-time and playing live shows most of the time. When I was a little girl, when I first got my guitar, I was extremely shy. I was so shy that I almost couldn’t talk to strangers,” she recalls. “I definitely wouldn’t have pictured that I would be so comfortable on stage and talking into the microphone and talking to people. I think the thing that makes it easy is that I just really love to play and then all that other stuff comes afterwards.”

Katy Guillen and The Girls perform at the Wichita Art Museum on Friday evening.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.