I finally saw J.S. Ondara at the 8×10 Club last night. The show was originally scheduled for May, but got rescheduled because as he told us last night he got invited to tour with Neil Young for a few dates. I had been very confused when I bought the ticket because I was able to buy it off of his artist website, but the show never appeared on the 8×10’s website. I felt like I had a ticket to some mystery show. I was planning on just showing up to see if there was in fact a show, but finally the day before the 8×10 finally sent out an email saying it had been rescheduled with the new date.
It turns out the date was just a couple of days after the Newport Folk Festival where J.S. Ondara was also playing. At Newport Dawes came out and sang about 5 of his songs with him, so I was joking about inevitably being disappointed last night when he didn’t bring Dawes with him to join him for half his set.
He didn’t need Dawes. He was amazing all on his own. It’s kind of funny because it almost seemed like he was two different performers. At Newport he really didn’t say much of anything. He just sat up on stage and played his songs. He certainly had the audience rapt with his music and drew a very large crowd to the smallest stage at the festival. As one review of the set I saw said people were so quiet you could hear banjos tuning at another stage.
That was not so last night. He talked a lot between all of his songs. He’s a great storyteller and very funny. He had the audience laughing all night. I suppose part of the difference is wanting to fit as much music as possible into a short festival set vs. needing to fill the 90 minutes he was probably contracted to play at the 8×10 when he only has one album full of songs. Some artists tend to fill that time with cover songs. He filled it with stories. Although he did do a Nirvana cover as one of his encore songs. It sounded so different I didn’t even realize what it was until the lyrics in the chorus finally tipped me off.
I wish the audience had been as great as the Newport audience though. I was surprised that the club was only about 1/2 full. I really would have expected that he’s gotten enough press at this point that he would have sold out the show, but I guess not. There was one super drunk woman right in front of the stage, who could barely stand up. I was like it’s Tuesday night and you’re in your 50’s. Why are you so drunk? She was loudly “singing” along to all the songs, which was super obnoxious given how quiet J.S. Ondara’s music is to start and how few people were there. I was not right next to her and she was often drowning him out.
Aside from a few obnoxious people in the crowd, the show as great. If you’re unfamiliar with J.S. Ondara he is from Kenya. He moved to America 6 years ago to follow his dream of becoming a folk singer. He was telling us last night that he loved Bob Dylan and didn’t really know enough about America to know where to move when he decided to come here and since Bob Dylan was from Minnesota he chose to move there, which given the weather was a big mistake. His first full length album appropriately titled Tales of America is all about his observations of America and Americans in the time that he’s lived here. It’s definitely in my top 5 albums of 2019. It was great to hear him play all the songs from it last night and to hear him tell stories about writing them. I look forward to seeing him again in the future some day.