Expectation. It can teach you a lot about yourself. What we expect of ourselves, and what we expect from others are reminders of what we seek and desire, but can also bring us to a place of acceptance of what we can and cannot control.
Last weekend, Jon Bryant returned to Serenity one year after his first show at the venue. His previous show had been high energy. Jon had been met with a lively crowd, he fed off this, brought people up on stage, and the night ended up feeling like one big party.
On this night, I entered the house to find a quiet crowd, all nestled in their seats, or sinking into them for that matter. It was a relatively small group, but considering the venue hosts house concerts, this is par for the course.
Jon took to the stage, sat down and greeted the audience with a soft and gentle presence. Immediately, the expectation I had in my mind was challenged and I had to switch gears instantly. Fortunately, I responded to the subdued nature of the show, as it had been one of those nights I could have stayed home curled up in my pajamas. Jon later told me he felt the same way. I had made a commitment to be there, and I always take something away from a show. For Jon, it was much the same, he had made a commitment to us and was here to honour that.
What we often forget as an audience is what it takes both physically and emotionally for an artist to get up on stage and perform, even on the days they feel 100%, but much more so on the days when they do not.
Jon Bryant had spent the last week in the studio, recording tracks for his next album. He hadn’t planned any shows other than ours around this time because he knew he would be exhausted and drained from his time in the studio. He literally walked out of the studio and drove 5 hours to perform for a handful of people in a living room.
After the show I pulled him aside to catch up. Much to the surprise of many artists, I don’t prepare any questions and I never write anything down. My approach to these pieces is simple. I experience the show, and then I attempt to engage in a natural conversation with the artist. Sometimes that conversation flows instantly and can last for hours, other times it doesn’t and is more of a brief chat. Either way, it is authentic, because I want it to be reflective of real life.
For Jon on this night, it was clear that the days leading up to his trip here had taken their toll. He was tired, but there was something else; disappointment, uncertainty, I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t pry. If the energy had been different there were a lot of questions I would have asked that crossed my mind but the moment just didn’t seem right. I trust my instincts with this now. Sometimes the artists are ready to dig deep into anything, sometimes they aren’t.
Here’s what I will say. Jon came to us at a time of transition. He has just come through an intense artist development competition (BC’s Peak Performance Project), is starting to record a new album, is in a new relationship, and is relocating to a new city. He is an artist with a big heart, and I could feel all of these things weighing on it. Not necessarily in a bad way, there is an element of excitement and anticipation attached to change, but as we all know it also comes with a healthy dose of anxiousness and unpredictability.
When I returned home after the show, I felt a strong pull to go back to his early recordings. For the past week I have been listening to Jon’s debut album, “Two Coasts For Comfort.” Interestingly, I didn’t respond to it following the first time seeing him perform, whereas his 2012 release “What Takes You” has been on steady rotation in my home ever since. However, I have a new found reverence for his early material amid a time when he is looking to move forward. “Deaf” is one of the most beautiful songs that I have emotionally connected to in a long time. I keep going back to it day after day. There is something about it that breaks my heart but also fills me with hope. “Texas Tea” has this killer intro and a chorus that has me singing along to every word.
I have been reflecting on how songs begin to take on new meanings for artists after years of sharing them with an audience and experiencing new things in life. A love song that was so personal at one time can turn into something else entirely. Comparing how he performed certain songs a year later in terms of tempo, volume, and intensity of their delivery completely changed how they were received and interpreted as an audience. There were a few songs I barely recognized even though I know he performed them last year and I have listened to them countless times on his record. These moments reminded me of the true artistry of singer/songwriters, who continue to experiment with music they create in order to discover new layers and express themselves in different ways.
Ironically, as I was sensing this overwhelming time of change, Jon shared it was his birthday the day before. Interesting. In the spirit of new beginnings, here’s to a year filled with inspirations that fuel the spirit of this artist whose songs speak truths that are felt near and far. Happy (belated) Birthday Jon.
Jon Bryant performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on January 24, 2015 (no, he did not perform in our venue’s custom built igloo, although something to consider for a future show.).