Saturday, May 2 at 7:30PM
Jon Shain is a veteran singer-songwriter who’s been turning heads for years with his words, his fiery acoustic guitar work, and his evolved musical style – combining improvised piedmont blues with bluegrass, swing, and ragtime. Jon won the 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, out of a worldwide field of more than 260 competitors. Shain’s most recent solo disc, Gettin’ Handy with the Blues: A Tribute to the Legacy of WC Handy, was released in January, 2018. Shain’s newest release is the gorgeous roots album, Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday Soon, recorded along with long-time collaborator FJ Ventre.
Jon grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a Merrimack River mill-town that had already seen its better days by the time he was a child in the 1970s. His family’s business was a small textile dyeing company, and he worked in the factory during the summers throughout his teens. At the same time, Shain began to discover his love of American roots music and songwriting, specifically drawn to the narratives about regular people and themes of social justice.
Shain headed south to North Carolina in 1986, to study American History at Duke University and to continue his musical journey, as well. In addition to studying with jazz professor Paul Jeffrey, he also had the good fortune to learn the piedmont blues tradition firsthand by playing in Big Boy Henry’s backing band. It was at this time that Shain also got to meet and play with John Dee Holeman and a number of the great older NC blues players. Shain’s classes in school were heavily concentrated in southern history, English, and world religions. That mixture of the academic environment and the real-world blues music is what has most informed his musical direction.
FJ Ventre and Jon began playing music together in 1982 when they met in high school. FJ went on to University of Massachusetts-Lowell, earning a B.A. in Music Performance and Sound Recording. He remained in the Boston area, performing in the city’s vibrant music scene. Since relocating to Chapel Hill, NC in 2000, Ventre has performed with his own group The Swang Brothers, as well as Chris Stamey, Rebecca and the Hi-Tones, and Matt Hill. In addition to performing as a sought after sideman, he spends his time behind the mixing board, engineering at his own Good Luck Studio and operating his graphic design firm Tadpole Designs.
Here is a video of Jon and FJ performing their song Bandits.
Kemp Harris defies categorization. He is a singer and songwriter, a master weaver of American musical styles. He’s an actor, activist, author, and storyteller, and an award-winning educator who has taught young public school students for more than 40 years.
“It’s all about communication,” Kemp says. “Everything I do.”
Born in segregated Edenton, North Carolina, and transplanted to Massachusetts, where he bounced between relatives’ homes, Kemp learned to adapt to whatever world he found himself in – a talent that has come to define him as a person and an artist. He began writing songs at 14 and recording them in college, using a pair of old cassette players to track parts, and has been delighting music lovers ever since with his earthy, soulful creations.
Kemp honed his powerful, intimate performance style in Cambridge’s coffeehouses, developing into a magnetic frontman who has shared stages with artists such as Koko Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron, and Taj Mahal. He has composed original music for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Complexions Contemporary Ballet, established a songwriting residency at Boston’s Wang Theater, and recently delivered a series of master classes at Berklee College of Music on the subject of Artists as Activists, alongside Chad Stokes of the band Dispatch and members of the dance troupe Urban Bush Women.
Here is a video of Kemp Harris performing his song Invisible.