Hermosa Beach Summer Concerts Por Favor, Hermosa Brett Dennen conjures California by way of shimmer and shine
Hermosa Beach Summer Concerts
Por Favor, Hermosa
Brett Dennen conjures California by way of shimmer and shine
Brett Dennen’s folk music conjures the spirit of Southern California — light, happy, the essence of summer — though its influences derive from places as distant as Africa and the Caribbean. His tunes are catchy. His melodies make you move, and his lyrics of love and loss, hope and heartbreak, make you feel.
“I love Brett,” Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb told Huffington Post. “He’s a lineage of Paul Simon, and I love Paul Simon. There is truth with his pen. He has the humor and wit and weight all in one fell swoop. He’s doing it for the right reasons and what you hear is him being him…In his darkest songs, he still has a light. He sees and hears the good in humanity. Even the really slow stuff creates uplifting and danceable songs.”
Twelve years ago, Dennen was gigging in coffee shops and playing his guitar around the campfire as a counselor for The Mosaic Project, a Bay Area nonprofit, focused on teaching kids about peace. He’d just graduated from UC Santa Cruz and his only long-term plan was spend his life creating — to feel, communicate, and learn through making art and music.
“I didn’t really have dreams that were all spelled out,” he says via phone from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he’s just played a free show in the park. “I was just kind of going for it.”
Homeschooled and raised in Oakdale, California — a town of 20,000 whose slogan is “Cowboy Capital of the World” — Dennen is comfortable with a lack of structure. He was a creative kid, sensitive, an empath, adept at communicating more through art than through speech. His music achieves a wondrous, almost Shakespearean quality. It manages to carry substance while maintaining an exuberant lightness of being. It’s well-meaning in an almost childlike way yet sharply, poetically crafted. A fan wrote on Facebook recently that his new album, “Por Favor,” released in May, will make the world a better place.
After hearing Dennen play a show in 2004, an adviser to iTunes sent Dennen’s self-produced eponymous CD to influential DJ Chris Douridas at radio station KCRW. Six record deals and nationwide fandom followed. Now 36, the folk singer/songwriter has toured internationally and performed with Jason Mraz and John Mayer. His songs have topped digital charts and been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s About A Boy. Rolling Stone Magazine called him an “Artist to Watch.”
Celebrity can overwhelm an artist who doesn’t do what he does for fame. Sometimes Dennen thinks about gigging in coffee shops — then, he was free. There was no conflict between his art and its commercial value; it was just his art. In his obscurity, he somehow felt greater confidence.
“I’ve seen the way the music industry is and I’ve seen how hard it is and I’ve worked really hard,” he says. “And I just know it gets harder, because I think you just get older and you understand the reality…The doubt is put in my mind for a reason: to remind me to stay in the moment, and to consider myself lucky, and to not take anything for granted.”
To deal with the rigors of touring and commercial production, he focuses on remaining open, to life and to inspiration. He seeks, above all, to follow his muse. Dennen is inspired by all things beautiful — songs, books, movies, conversations, stories, and particularly the landscapes of his home state.
“California has it all,” he says. He likes the mountains and the ocean best. When he isn’t touring, he lives between the Sierra Nevadas and Venice Beach. Dennen was in Hermosa Beach last month to see his friend Donavan Frankenreiter play at Saint Rocke. He’s looking forward to returning to Hermosa Beach.
“I love,” he says, “a sleepy beach town.”
Brett Dennen will perform August 7 as as part of the Hermosa Beach Summer Concert series. The Walcotts open. Show starts at 4:30 p.m. south of the Hermosa Beach pier. ER