Robbin Kapsalis: “a polished vocalist with a deep, sultry alto delivery.” - Blues Blast
The first thing you notice when Vintage#18 hits the stage, is Robbin Kapsalis’ white glass beaded fringe dress and white knee-hi boots as she sways on stage creating a hypnotic visual with the soul foundation of her voice: something between a Gladys Knight and Anita Baker. Then you hear the band behind her, and you think, ‘wow, this is something else.’
Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks says, “Robbin is a whirlwind of soulful excitement backed by one of the tightest trios in the trade.”
Vintage#18 lays a low, steady groove allowing Robbin’s vocals to breathe. Sauntering and sexy with a mix of blues rhythms and soul grooves fuel a blistering performance of the D.C. based soul-blues band. After attending a concert, DJ John Porter of Richmond, VA’s WCVE declares, “Vintage#18 is a band you have to see live to appreciate their level of performance.” According to The Alternate Root, “Robbin Kapsalis delivers vocals that slink through a smoky haze of Soul.”
Performing together since 2013, the band sharpened their sound and performance chops in clubs throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. In 2016, they represented the Central Virginia Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee and afterward immediately began to work on their debut album Grit (2017). The band’s performances have generated quite the buzz throughout D.C and beyond. DJ Nick “Dr. Nick” Johnson of Washington D.C. radio station, WPFW declares “Their onstage performance, with Robbin’s boundless energy, will leave you breathless.” The band soon found themselves opening shows for The Nighthawks, Billy Price, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Albert Cummings, Selwyn Birchwood, and Coco Montoya.
From various open mics and jams around the D.C. area over a year, Robbin met drummer Alex Kuldell, and after sitting in together at an open mic, she knew she wanted to perform with him. “Though I didn’t have any band members at the time, I asked him if he’d be the drummer. He agreed and a year later, I met our guitarist Bill Holter at a blues jam. Bill brought our bass player Mark Chandler to the first rehearsal as a band in 2013, and we’ve been performing together since,” laughs the vivacious singer. Alex is a professional drummer for the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, an active duty military band and The MacMillan Pipe Band. Bill and Mark have been long-time players in various groups around the D.C. area.
Vintage#18 is Robbin’s first band, believe it or not, was cooked up by many conversations between her and Bill Holter. By taking cues from the past like groups from Motown and Stax, they made sure the sound, the look, and the stage presence are always in place. As for the sassy white dress; Robbin found a company to customize white dresses with glass beaded fringe and added the white boots, so it stands out against the all-black clad band members. “We always are dressing to impress; and no matter the venue, we’re always dressed. The audience and venue dig it, and some promoters have even confirmed if I will be wearing the dress,” Robbin states.
Robbin Kapsalis was born in Chicago but raised in Atlanta by her older sister due to her mother’s alcoholism, and there she was able to focus on her schooling and just being a carefree kid. Even though she didn’t stay in Chicago that long, she was able to soak up some of the music that her Aunt Ida Bell would play in her house. “We would dance in her living room to Sam Cooke, Betty Wright, and any blues album she could borrow. My older brother Ben introduced me to the music of James Brown, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and all things Parliament and Funkadelic.” That’s when Robbin learned she desperately wanted to be onstage.
Growing up in Atlanta, Robbin briefly sang alto in our church choir, and while her family teased her for the low sultry voice, she didn’t let that get in the way of her dreams. Her influences range from Sharon Jones to Koko Taylor to Tina Turner, and don’t forget Ray Charles and Parliament!
As life gets in the way of dreaming, Robbin had gotten married, bore two children, and had to let the singer’s dream sit on the backburner for a while. But she would soak up and enjoy going out by seeing the shows in the ATL and still singing and dancing in her living room. As life would unfold and refold, sadly, her first marriage did not have a fairy tale ending, “My first marriage ended due to physical abuse, which resulted in a brain injury. A subdural hematoma which doctors later described as a slow bleed, since it discovered until months after I left my husband,” laments Robbin, she continues to tell her story to this day.
“I was living and working in Greece (for the Department of Defense) at the time the injury was discovered from what I thought were extreme migraines. The base shipped me off to Germany for emergency surgery, which included an unexpected partial craniotomy. I spent 45 days recovering in the hospital, where I learned to walk and talk again. It would be at least three years before I was rid of the headaches and seizures that followed. For sure music was a comfort, but I had no confidence that I would ever be able to do anything beyond listen.”
Still unable to follow the dream of performing in some capacity due to her recovery and a dissolved second marriage, Kapsalis came back to the States and Atlanta. She decided to focus on work and do some much-needed self-care. A few years later, she relocated to the Nation’s Capital, and by then it was just her and her alone. The new environment, in a new city, gave her some confidence that something could happen; “I was an empty nester, with my dream of music still on my mind especially since I’d been seizure and headache free for so long,” recalls Robbin. So, after unpacking boxes, getting to know her new city, she set out to see if she could get this music and stage idea out of her head and into reality. One day at a time, for sure and each time she kept meeting and singing and meeting and singing until that fateful night when she sat in with Vintage#18 drummer, Alex and knew she wanted to play with him more and her dream of singing on stage was coming true.
“To this day, I still dance with a mic stand in my living room because its more than just singing to me. I can still feel the dents in my scalp from my surgery, and they serve as my daily reminder that anything is possible!”
About Vintage#18: the birth of GRIT
Vintage#18 self-produced Grit and a framework were in place before most of the album was written. One of the goals when they first started writing, was to make sure that their sound didn’t fit solely into a single genre. Blues, Soul, and other familiar elements appear; however, they’re mixed in a way that brings unexpected experiences for both listeners and dancers. This idea worked well in live settings, so the album was approached the same way. The collection features the unique sound of Bill Holter on guitar (a.k.a. #18), while the groove is laid down by Alex Kuldell on drums and Mark Chandler on bass with sultry vocals by Robbin Kapsalis.
Grit delivers soul and passion along with very personal songwriting from Kapsalis and tight musicianship from Holter, Chandler, and Kuldell. Kapsalis oozes soul in the opening track, “Diamonds Are Optional” and “Is This Too Good.” The seductive “Love Hangover” has become a club favorite, showcasing smoky vocals and intricate guitar throughout. The album features their cover of “Million Miles,” a Bob Dylan classic, which is given the slow blues treatment by Holter’s searing guitar, with Chandler and Kuldell holding a delicious groove. Their ZZ Top cover of “Just Got Back From Baby’s” highlights the band's level of musicianship; Blues Bytes declares "This one positively burns with Kapsalis’s soulful delivery and Holter’s six-string fireworks." “Poor Me” is a throwback tune for the broken-hearted delivered with power and raw emotion, showcasing pure soul from Kapsalis.
The album reflects the band’s love of classic 60’s Soul and Blues, featuring a mix of originals as well as two covers (ZZ Top and Bob Dylan). Grit debuted at #5 on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Soul Blues Album Chart and held the #1 spot for six consecutive weeks and has floated in the Top 10 since its release; also charting #17 on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Blues Albums. The band received their first industry nod in early 2017 - a Blues Blast Music Award Nomination for New Artist Album Debut.