For a good half hour, I was concerned. Not because of the Gabe Dixon Band – the jazz-pop sound was fine with me, though throw in more harmonizing, tighten things up a bit, and I would have been completely sold. My concern was the crowd…these people weren’t dancing, and the music was fairly danceable. I saddled up to the bar for a beer and realized why the audience was so tame: no alcohol served during the 18+, 7 p.m. show.
The Gabe Dixon Band, a likeable keyboard/drum/upright bass trio, played a solid short set ending in an island-flavored jam. I love a keyboard-heavy jazz-pop trio as much as anybody, but The Gabe Dixon Band lacked the depth that Dave Barnes would later bring to the stage with his guitar. The mostly college-aged crowd applauded heartily at the end of the band’s set, but it was clear that they were at Smith’s Olde Bar to see Barnes.
From the first chord of the first song, the audience was eating out of his hand. Barnes said clap, they clapped; he said sing along, they sang along. And there were plenty of sing alongs from his three albums, Three, Then Four, Brother, Bring the Sun, and his newest, Chasing Mississippi. Dozens of girls in the packed room were swooning over the bring-home-to-mom Barnes (and willfully ignoring his wedding ring). His young, loyal fan base is reminiscent of John Mayer’s early days. Barnes exuded confidence on stage, yet was continually self-deprecating – a kind of “aw, shucks” wholesome charm the fans gulped in like the air in the room.
Mississippi-bred and Nashville-based Barnes is a noticeable notch above the typical acoustic guitar-toting singer/songwriter. Encapsulating equal parts Matt Wertz, Pat Green and Mayer, Barnes’ songs are easy to listen to, easy to learn, and easy to like. As a friend of mine says, music doesn’t always have to be deep, poignant, or intensely poetic – sometimes you just want to have a good time. Barnes provides this, and his genuine, feel-good energy infects the crowd. Soulful attempts, like the song “Jackson” off new record Chasing Mississippi, silenced the room. And the retro-sounding “Someday, Sarah” summed up the show – after teaching the audience the chorus to the song he calls his “couple’s skate song,” he did the Electric Slide on stage as adoring fans cheered.