SOULFUL RENDERINGS: Jonny Lang headlines Saturday’s Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival

Because of Hurricane Matthew, the Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival has been rescheduled for April 23.

I’m my least favorite topic,” Jonny Lang jokes about himself over the phone last week during our half-hour interview. Yet, 15 minutes into our call, he doesn’t hold back his excitement on the new record he has in the works. Just as well, he’s having fun touring and looking forward to playing the 23rd annual Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival this weekend at Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area in Kure Beach.

HEAVY ON GUITAR: Jonny Lang has been busy in the studio but will take a break to headline the Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Fest this Saturday. Photo by Piper Ferguson.
HEAVY ON GUITAR: Jonny Lang has been busy in the studio but will take a break to headline the Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Fest this Saturday. Photo by Piper Ferguson.

Taking place Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9, the Grammy-winning bluesman Lang will headline Saturday at 8 p.m., while Samantha Fish will take the mainstage on Sunday at 4 p.m. They’ll be joined by several other blues and jazz groups on multiple stages, including Urban Hill, Gate City Divas, David Gerald, Snake Malone & The Black Cat Bone, Nelson & the Rock-a-fellas, Nina Repeta, and many more.

Summertime for Lang is typically filled with festivals like these and manage to roll into fall. Though he’s happy playing music anywhere (or to an empty room at that), there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that endears him to the festival scene.

“I like just about every kind of music venue,” he clarifies, “but certain festivals are a really fun place. . . . Sometimes there’s a section of lawn chairs with everyone in front, half asleep and getting sunburned [laughs]; everyone’s having a good time.”

Since first coming onto the scene as a 16-year-old prodigy of sorts, Lang has been singing, writing songs and touring regularly for 16 years. He’s literally and figuratively grown up with his music. In many ways there’s just as much that has changed within him musically as personally. Such as life, experiences turn people into who they are; it’s the same creatively.

“I’ve changed most as a songwriter,” he specifies. “I think I’ve gotten a little better at that; saying what I want to say in songs, which has been probably my top goal as a creative person. I wanted to get better at songwriting.”

“Seasons,” from the 2013 album “Fight for My Soul,” was one of the songs to first embody Lang’s growth. He describes it as a song most folks wouldn’t expect from him—one he more or less snuck onto the record. It was released as a “holiday treat” for fans. In essence, it’s much like a holiday ballad—albeit a lonesome one at times—but it goes further to explore the dying and rebirth themes across seasons. “It’s really different,” Lang explains. “It’s not a guitar-based blues or rock song.”

Lang’s been in the studio this year finishing up a long-awaited followup. Unlike “Fight for my Soul,”  he says it’s shaping up to be a more guitar-centric album. He has completed basic tracking and now is ready to polish it before a release in 2017.

“It’s kind of in that limbo stage where it’s hard to really know what it’s going to look like,” Lang admits. “We didn’t go in like, ‘Let’s try something really new and make it happen.’ To me, it is a pretty fresh feeling—the sound of it and the songs feel fresh. It feels really different and I’m excited about it.”

Lang says the album’s been a long-time coming. He struggled with the idea or obligation of having a regimented album cycle, as a lot of musicians and bands do. Recording and releasing an album, touring with it for a cycle, and then heading back into the studio to have another out by the following year can be rigorous. For him, sometimes the turnaround is quick and sometimes, like this record, it’s not.

“[Recording] is sort of propelled by the songs,” he explains, “and if the songs aren’t coming to me, I hate to force-write songs—I’ve done that. You may get good results and nobody might notice, but I feel it, and it bothers me. When it’s time, it’s time, and it’s just like a faucet and it just goes.”

While there aren’t too many specifics about his current work-in-progress, some themes Lang has been exploring in songwriting lately almost inevitably mirror current social issues that have turned to violence and fear it creates within society.

“[I’m] trying to write songs that help me process all that,” he tells, “and write them in a way that is hopefully relatable to people. There are a few songs [on the upcoming album] where you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about.”

Though he typically doesn’t share new songs on the road prior to their official release, Lang admits he’s been itching to test them currently. Right now, he is touring as a five-piece outfit, with drummer Barry Alexander, bassist James Anton, keyboardist Dwan Hill, and rhythm guitarist Akil Thompson to accompany his own.

“With this record coming out, I think we will have a background singer to add to that,” he divulges. “I can tell these are going to be really fun songs to play live. The band on this record, having them invested in the songs, too, makes it more fun for everybody.”

Jonny Lang will headline the 23rd annual Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival this Saturday, October 8, at 8 p.m. The two-day festival includes live blues and jazz all day, as well as an arts and wine garden for crafts, shopping and fine-wine tasting. Food vendors will be on site, and family-friendly events can be enjoyed in the Kidz Zone, complete with magicians, face painting, educational exhibits, inflatables, and more.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.pleasureislandnc.org/events.

DETAILS:
Pleasure Island Seafood Blues & Jazz Festival
Featuring headliners Jonny Lang & Samantha Smith
Saturday, Oct. 8, 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 9, 11 a.m.
Advanced two-day ticket: $50
Sat. only: $60
Sun. only: $25.
Children under 12: Free
www.pleasureislandnc.org

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