Delta blues defining the bond for the duo to play Caffe Lena

“I’ve played all kinds of stuff over the years, but I’m still drawn to the blues because there’s honesty there,” Tolstrup said. “People like Mississippi Fred McDowell were farmers who played on weekends; these are honest songs about an honest life. I am drawn to the reality of this and the willingness to say when life is really hard, but also when life is really good.

“It’s a way of expressing very difficult times, but there is hope the next thing will be better,” Burnham said. “Plus, it’s very sexy in all its forms.”

Since their meeting three years ago, the couple’s approach to the blues has paid off. Recently, they won the Capital Region Blues Network qualifications to compete and compete in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, TN, January 18-22. Prior to that, however, Burnham and Tolstrup will be performing at Caffe Lena on January 7th.

They also played at IBC 2020, having won the 2019 local qualifier. This time around things will be slightly different as in addition to the competition, Burnham will be participating in a showcase of women in the blues. As they eagerly await the IBC and its possibilities, it was the impending Caffe Lena show that particularly got them excited.

“The real benefit of the event is to meet all the different musicians and everyone we meet that comes from the North East, it opens up possibilities,” said Tolstrup. “We can be pretty busy in this area all year round, but one of the reasons we do it is to grow and level up a bit and get to the other steps we want to take.

“The Caffe Lena show will be the best concert of the year for us,” he added. “Ticket-driven events, where people pay to see us, are a whole new level of experience. And it’s kind of a rehearsal of the last International Blues Challenge, we played a concert in Lena in January before going to Memphis.

The Caffe Lena show and the IBC hold special significance this year for the pair after the past two years of coronavirus-induced chaos. For Burnham in particular, singing the blues is a vital relief valve.

She is an emergency nurse, a job that has become “very complicated”. The impact of the pandemic on her profession, as well as parenting, has made it harder and more important to find time to work.

“I’m a single mom too, so it’s tough,” Burnham said. “I get a lot of joy and expression from music. It’s definitely a way for me to escape and express some of this unease.

“It can complicate decisions about indoor shows and everything, but we’re trying to make the right decisions and this year the majority of our shows were outdoors,” she continued. “The hardest part is making the physical time for it, but I put it all in when it’s time to rehearse or play.

Tolstrup agrees that Burnham faces “a tremendous amount of time and stress with his job, especially when it comes to COVID.” He also says that “when it’s time to go, she gives 100 percent.”

Burnham also sings as part of Pink Floyd’s local tribute, Dark Sarcasm, and has a wide range of musical tastes and interests. But it was in the blues that she found her comfort zone and musical support.

“When I met Mark I was going through some pretty tough things in life, my divorce and my single parenthood,” she said. “But the blues in general is a lot about the hardships of life. But when life gets tough, there’s that message of hope in the songs too.

Marc and Jill
When: 8 p.m., Friday January 7
Where: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
Tickets: $ 20 (proof of vaccination required at the door as well)
For more information on Mark and Jill or to donate to their IBC Travel Fund, visit:

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