By Tanner Kent
---- — In a 2010 interview with Rochester Women Magazine, blues songstress Sena Ehrhardt was asked how she would know when she’d finally made the big time.
Her response: When I play with Robert Cray.
If that’s true, then it appears the Rochester native and recent addition to the acclaimed stable of blues musicians at Blind Pig Records will make the big time this weekend in Mankato.
"I've always considered Robert Cray to be such a leader in contemporary blues music," said Ehrhardt, who opens for the Grammy-winning performer at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the Verizon Wireless Center’s SoundStage. "I remember listening to a vinyl copy of (Cray's seminal 1983 album) 'Bad Influence' as a young girl. ... I’m really super honored to have this opportunity."
If recent accolades are any indication, however, perhaps the honor is Cray's.
In 2011, Ehrhardt was an aspiring blues singer backed by a band led by her father, Ed Ehrhardt. During a gig in Minneapolis on the night before competing in the Minnesota qualifier for the International Blues Competition, Sena was told that the president of Blind Pig Records was in the crowd. During the band's first break, she was offered a record deal with the same label that represents such blues heavyweights as Luther Allison, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush.
Though the signing forced Sena to forfeit her opportunity to compete in the IBC in Memphis, it wasn't long before she found her back to the blues capital of the world.
With 2012's "Leave the Light On," Sena earned a nomination for best debut album from the Blues Music Awards and won the same category in the Blues Blast Music Awards. Her 2013 follow-up, "All In," earned her nominations for the Blues Blast rising star award and song of the year.
"It was her soulful voice and her riveting, energetic, magnetic act that made her presentation so compelling," wrote Jonnye Weber in reviewing Sena's performance at the 2012 Blues Music Awards ceremony in Memphis. "Yes, Sena Ehrhardt had cast a spell over that large crowd."
On her second album — which was produced under the guidance of Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines — Sena demonstrates her evolution both as a songwriter and performer.
"Storm's Coming" is a slow-burning showcase for the sultry end of Sena's range while songs such as "Man Up" and the album's title track hints at the muscular power of her vocals. Complementing a slate of original songs with covers such as "Cry to Me" and "Cold, Cold Feeling," Sena said she wanted her second album to represent a fuller, more well-rounded sound.
To that end, she said she's most proud of the album's closing track, "Dreamin' or Dyin'," an emotive ballad that Gaines helped her develop from a tune she was simply "plunking on her piano."
As she continues to tour in support of her latest release, Sena said she takes her responsibility as a contemporary blues performer seriously and has no plans to step outside that tradition.
"The blues are something that is passed down in families through generations," said Sena, whose introduction to music came as a young girl listening to her father rehearse with his bandmates. "People assume that all musicians want to play big arenas and sell millions of records. I just want to play music that moves me and connects with the crowd."
For more, visit www.senaehrhardt.com.
If You Go What Robert Cray Band, with opening performer Sena Ehrhardt When Doors open 6 p.m. Saturday Where Verizon Wireless Center SoundStage Tickets $39, all seats reserved. Purchase at the Verizon Wireless Center Ticket Office and all Ticketmaster locations. Charge by phone at 800-745-3000, or online at Ticketmaster.com.