A growing legend
Young blues guitarist Jonny Lang coming to the Big Room
Double platinum selling and Grammy nominated by the age of 19, blues singer-guitarist Jonny Lang didn’t even sound like a kid 10 years ago, when he was in his early teens and known as Kid Jonny Lang. If you didn’t know it, you’d have thought you were listening to a grown man. Lang, now the ripe old age of 24, has long been compared to blues greats Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Albert Collins. The prodigy from Fargo, N.D., who first picked up a guitar at age 13 and blasted off with it, has possessed for a decade the musical maturity—both in voice and guitar chops—of a seasoned pro.
The intimate 350-seat Sierra Nevada Big Room is one of the stops on Lang’s current acoustic tour. “This is the smallest venue he’s going to be playing by God knows how much,” said Big Room promoter Bob Littell. “It’s a one-shot deal. These days, he usually plays to no less than a thousand people at any one venue.”
“What made [Lang] a success was that he burst onto the scene with a level of maturity that belied his age,” Littell shared. “He came out of the blocks at age 17 or 18 opening for [blues greats like] B. B. King. Now, he basically co-headlines with people like B. B. King. …”
The five-piece band—including Dobro and mandolin—will be performing, as Littell puts it, in a “unique acoustic format that’s gonna give him a chance to personalize the blues, as opposed to just re-creating the blues as it’s been done before. … [Lang] is beginning to establish a musical identity other than just as a blues musician.”
Lang’s 2003 album Long Time Coming proved just that. Filled with passionate rockers like “Beautiful One,” “Save Yourself” and “Goodbye Letter” and a plaintive cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ for the City,” it showed that Lang is stepping away from his early straight-up blues work.
PBS’ Sierra Center Stage series and recent Rhino Records taping of Huey Lewis & the News at the Big Room, among other high-profile events, have brought increasing attention and popularity to the world-class venue and are responsible in part for repeated, fast sell-outs and “five or six artists a day” calling Littell to book a show in this venue that sells out for most shows.
“We could have sold 1,500 tickets for this show. … It was a classic case of supply nowhere meeting demand," said Littell.