From the age of 6, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen was entertaining people and says it is what she was “born to do.”
The Hurricane Katrina transplant from New Orleans to North Carolina will showcase her big voice by singing some blues favorites Sept. 19 at the 14th annual Blues & Burritos event hosted by Homesley & Wingo Law Group.
The event drew an estimated 1,250 people last year.
“It is the sense of community that keeps people coming back,” said Cliff Homesley, managing partner at Homesley & Wingo Law Group.
Cohen, who is in her 50s, got her nickname from the blues music she sings as well as from the electric blue hair she often wears when performing.
The former social welfare major decided at an early age that she wanted to pursue music, even though her parents were against it.
She got her first gig while she was attending Livingstone College in Salisbury. She managed to learn 30 songs in two days, she said, with the help of an acquaintance who was a piano player.
Cohen left college to pursue music and worked in the gambling industry in Atlantic City, N.J., before she decided to move to New Orleans to help open a poker pit.
She worked in the casinos for three years before she broke into the music business full time. At the time Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, she was typically performing six nights a week and dealing with 12 different agents.
“I lived in the Ninth Ward, and it (the hurricane) devastated the area I was in,” said Cohen. “You know, it wasn’t the stuff that I lost. I lost everything. It wasn’t the stuff; it was being displaced.”
East Spencer is where Cohen finally settled. She has two brothers who live nearby. Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped her purchase her current home.
There are not as many venues to sing around here, compared to New Orleans, so Cohen is branching out. She plans on leaving in November for a four-month gig on a cruise ship.
She has been to Europe and Australia, where, she said, “people love the blues and treat you like royalty.”
Besides Cohen, attendees at Blues & Burritos will hear the Part Time Blues Band, which includes guitarist Rusty Barkley along with special guest performers Max Drake and Shelia Carlisle.
The law firm pays the cost of the event, including burritos by Tequila’s Mexican Grill and beer from New Belgium Brewing Co. The firm’s only desire, Homesley said, is that attendees make a contribution in any amount to one of two local charities: Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists and HealthReach Community Clinic. The firm typically collects between $7,000 and $11,000 each year for local nonprofits.
“The main purpose of the event is to have a communitywide event where everybody feels welcome and people have a chance to socialize with people they wouldn’t normally hang out with,” said Homesley.
Cohen said she likes telling stories with her music. One of her favorite numbers to sing is “You Can Have My Husband.” It is one of those songs that has energized the Blues & Burritos crowd in the past.
“I love Blues & Burritos. The people are so nice and welcoming there,” Cohen said. “Instead of the blues fest, it should be called the love fest. You feel so much love when you go there.
“Of all the festivals I’ve done, that is one of my favorite festivals because the people are so nice,” she said. “They have some of the best musicians that are playing in that festival, and it is an honor for me to play with them.”