I WAS THERE . . . Jonah Smith @ Bowery Ballroom, 8/28/09

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The definition of success is different for every musician. At some point amid the thicket of gigs and press releases, he will ponder the quality of his sound, his style, and whether or not anyone is listening…and if people are listening, do they like it?

It’s safe to say that Jonah Smith ‘s latest album Lights On is the manifestation of positive answers to those very queries. After leaving Relix Records in 2007, Smith turned to his fans for the funding required to bypass the need for a label and drive the production of Lights On>| from idea to fruition. A credit to Smith’s popularity and humility, online donations and support overflowed from all ends. A group of D.C. fans even threw a fundraiser that raked in thousands more for the Brooklyn-bred artist and his fervent desire to create “a tribe and deeper connection” with his audience.

Last Friday, The Bowery Ballroom became the town hall for the tribe called Smith. All eyes were on the soulful crooner enveloped in the halo of light from overhead as he sat behind a dark gray Wurlitzer proportioned to his smallish frame. A number of tribe members emulated Smith’s simple attire of tees, flannels, and tastefully worn-down caps. The set list was an amalgam of tunes weathered and fresh; the ripest fruits picked from Lights On.

Attentive and loyal, the crowd fed on delectable morsels of lyrics accompanied by the ubiquitous tang of the steel guitar. Favorites like “I Feel More Like I Did Back Then” and “When We Say Goodnight” whet the appetite for Lights On soon-to-be-favorites like “Mrs. Cooper,” “Cabin Fever,” and “Gold & Green.” Track by track,Lights On tells tales of a cross-country adventure from the Dust Bowl to Brooklyn. Each story shared is a collection of highs and lows, good and bad, love and war–transcending boundaries much like Smith’s unique reservoir of American blues, country, folk, and soul.

Aside from his amazing lyrics and synergistic compositions, it is Jonah Smith’s humility and quiet confidence that makes watching him a treat. “Now’s the part of the show where I get up and pretend like I’m going to leave so you clap louder even though I’m just going to come back,” he said just before his encore. “Thank you for coming out tonight.”

If all it takes is clapping loudly to bring Jonah Smith to stage time and time again, then let that rumble turn into a roar.

Nicole Velasco

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