Don’t let Riley Michaels’ youthful appearance fool you.
At age 18, he has the smoking guitar chops and raspy vocals that earned him an invitation to Thorold’s annual Guitar Wars this Feb. 1.
What has become a signature event for the area over the past several years, Guitar Wars will feature four of Canada's premiere blues guitarists along with Michaels, the talented Beamsville phenom, who was named best blues artist at the 2018 Niagara Music Awards.
Within seconds of stepping onstage, his passion to perform is obvious. Michaels may be young, but make no mistake—he instinctively knows how to take command of an audience.
Last week, he transformed a packed Donnelly’s Pub into instant fans with his fierce, melodic playing and heartfelt singing style.
His range of multiple types of music makes this rising new star an extremely versatile and powerful musician.
“I entered my first singing contest at age seven,” Michaels told ThoroldNews, “and then picked up my guitar. I took guitar lessons for five years and my guitar teacher introduced me to John Mayer. It changed the game for me completely. I came from being a music fan and musician to really diving deep. I listened to everything from Led Zeppelin to Twisted Sister and then transitioned into being an artist around 12 or 13. I looked at so many musicians, and the line goes right back to the blues. It’s home plate. The biggest reason I play the blues is I can feel it. When I listen to Elvis or Colin James, I get so emotional.”
Michaels can’t wait to perform alongside the multiple award-winning Paul DesLauriers, David Gogo, J.W. Jones and Steve Grisbrook on the Guitar Wars stage at Holy Rosary Hall.
Gogo is a Juno and multiple Maple Blues winner. Paul DesLauriers placed second at the International Blues Challenge and has been named electric act and entertainer of the year in Canada. JW Jones is a winner at the International Blues Challenge and Juno nominee, Steve Grisbrook was a guitar warrior in 2017. He's a Niagara favourite and has traded licks with virtually every other Guitar Wars participant since its inception.
“Honestly, I know I’m young and I’m still learning, but I’m excited to be with these guys and pick up new things from them,” Michaels said of his blues celebrity co-stars.
“I want to be the best out there one day. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but if you’ve got that in your head, it keeps me really motivated to be inventive.”
The teen artist strives to find his “own way to synthesize” his many musical influences into his own signature sound. “The way John Mayer fuses blues with pop—that’s how I want to find myself on my musical journey.”
On his way to earning a black belt in martial arts, Michaels credits the discipline for his formidable stage presence, as well as patience and dedication to constantly improving as a musician.
“The values I’ve taken from it have given me the confidence to get up on stage and perform.”
His parents’ unwavering support has also helped immensely, said the Grade 12 student at Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School in Grimsby.
Michaels added that he’s “in the process of signing a deal that will prevent me from going to post-secondary school. I love law, I like English, and I could go to school and study those, but I like music so much more. Music is never going to leave me, so I can always go back to school.”
The deal, he said, involves “Expanding my brand; artist development with a producer, so we’re in the process of navigating me as an artist and honing my skills.”
Currently, he’s playing once or twice a week in Niagara, and this summer will expand into Hamilton and Toronto.
"This kid is going places. I like everything about him. His guitar, his voice, and his stage presence," said Canadian godfather of the blues Jack de Keyzer after sharing the stage with Michaels in December.
Tickets and more information about Guitar Wars are available at www.canalbankshuffle.com