Blues guitarist Quinn Sullivan has been honing his craft for the past 18 years. But he is anything but a grizzled old bluesman of rock and roll cliches as he is still weeks away from celebrating his 21st birthday.
The guitar prodigy first burst onto the national scene 15 years ago when he performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show at the age of 6. The New Bedford native is set to write another chapter in his career when he headlines the first-ever Berkshire Blues & Brews Fest at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on Saturday, March 21.
The festival will be a homecoming gig of sorts for Sullivan, who still lives at home in New Bedford in the house he grew up in.
“It’s always fun to play for Massachusetts crowds,” he said in a phone interview. “Massachusetts in general is such a fun place to play because everybody gets down and they always have so much energy. A lot of my family and friends come out to those shows all the time, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Sullivan has gained notoriety on the blues scene in recent years as the protege of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy. The blues legend invited a then-8-year-old Sullivan onstage during a concert at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford in 2007.
Guy subsequently took Sullivan under his wing, inviting the young guitarist to serve as his opening acts on a series of tours over the last decade.
“Meeting him that night really changed my life,” Sullivan said of that fateful night 13 years ago. “I didn’t know that the minute I met him, but looking back at it years later, it truly means everything to me that I’ve gotten to work with someone of that status as an iconic person and guitar player. The amount of influence that he’s had on so many guitar players and musicians throughout the years is completely groundbreaking. I feel super honored and grateful to know him.”
Sullivan has performed around the country with Guy, including an appearance onstage at Madison Square Garden during the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2013.
The 83-year-old Guy has praised the precocious young musician as the next great guitarist in the long tradition of electric blues music, telling the Washington Post that Sullivan “May be the most gifted guitar prodigy on the planet.”
Sullivan has released three solo albums, including his most recent release, 2017’s “Midnight Highway”, featuring three songs co-written by Sullivan and producer Tom Hambridge.
For the past 18 months, Sullivan has been working on his upcoming fourth album in Los Angeles, which the guitarist says he hopes to release by the end of the summer.
Sullivan is taking greater creative control over his forthcoming album, as he says he’ll receive a co-writing credit on every song on the new album, which was his goal heading into the project.
“It was something I was really thinking about consciously,” he said. “I wanted to become more of a writer and be more involved in the musical background of what I’m doing.”
At the Berkshire Blues & Brews Fest, Sullivan will headline a night of music that will include a host of blues bands including the Williamstown-based Misty Blues and the Albany band Waterloo Clyde. The teenage band Born IV Blues, also from Williamstown, features a group of second-generation blues musicians.
“It means a lot, it really does,” Sullivan said of headlining the event. “I’m humbled to be asked to play this festival and to headline it is a really huge deal for me. It’s not every day where someone asks you to headline something. So I feel like I owe them a great show and I’m going to try my best to do that.”
Tor Krautter, programmer for the Berkshire Theatre Group, said the concept for the blues festival has been percolating for several years and that the right lineup finally came together to move forward with the event.
“We wanted to keep it as regional as possible,” Krautter said. “But we also wanted to bring in somebody with a bigger name in that genre. He (Sullivan) is very much an up-and-comer and getting a lot of recognition in the blues scene.”
Ticket holders will also get to enjoy a beer tasting from a number of Berkshire breweries as part of their admission fee as Wandering Star Craft Brewery from Pittsfield and the Dalton-based Shire Breu-Hous will be among the local breweries pouring craft beers at the event.
“The regular bar will be open and people can purchase any drink they want at the bar, but they can come for the first two hours and sample beers from local brewers,” Krautter said. “You can go and get a small cup of the different brews that each brewery has.”
The night’s musical lineup will feature a total of six acts.
Sullivan will close the night with a set courtesy of his four-piece band from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
Because of the alcoholic component of the night’s festivities, the festival is a strict 21 and over event for all attendees, ironic considering that Sullivan will not turn 21 until five days after the Berkshire Blues & Brews Festival.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody and playing for them,” he said.