Compared with the energy at the Blind Pig, the surrounding city streets seemed unusually quiet and sleepy. The mass of people was eager to hear the relatively unknown folk singer/songwriter Mason Jennings.
With a guitar in hand and harmonica strapped around his neck, Jennings’s influences were strong and clear. Growing up in the booming music scene of Minneapolis, Minn., Jennings showed a clear hint of Bob Dylan’s storyteller mentality with his developing lyrics and vocal talents.
The intimate setting of the Pig and its impeccable acoustics aided his songs about his love life, home and experiences traveling around the country. “Crown” revved the engine of the audience with its upbeat, simple chord progressions and the conversational style of his vocal delivery.
The number of people who knew Jennings’s material and sang along with his soulful ballads and bombastic verses made the atmosphere electric for any newcomer to his music. His limited choruses and repetitive verses were hardly noticeable thanks to the contagious passion fused into the performance. The masses chimed in during “Butterfly” when Jennings questioned, “I don’t know why it is I do things like this / After all that I’ve run from / Where the fuck did you come from?”
The mood calmed when Jennings left his guitar to sit down at the keyboard. During “Duluth,” the crowd held up their lighters as he sang of marriage and unrequited love from childhood to maturity with melancholy.
While playing crowd favorites “Big Sur,” “California Part II” and “The Mountain,” his lyrics sparked the audience to respond to the ideal picture of California and life he presented. The roars of the crowd following “The Mountain” overpowered Jennings and drowned out all other noise.
Jennings’s lifeless cover of Allison Krauss’s “Down to the River to Pray” from the O, Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack, was completely out of place. The harmonizing demanded by the song didn’t complement Jennings’s monotone voice.
When Jennings finished his set with “Keepin’ It Real,” from his most recent album Use Your Voice, chants of “Mason, Mason,” assaulted the stage. His presence was impressive as he sang a fair mix of old and new songs. He responded to the thundering crowd with a simple statement, “Thank you for having so much fun.” Simple words from a man reveling in simplicity.