Grown-Up Blues Kid Plays for Future Children’s Theater

Children in elementary school often proclaim what they want to be when they grow up. An examination of one’s adult friends, however, reveals the sobering truth: few children become firefighters or doctors. And if one of your buddies happens to be an astronaut, congratulations. Blues and rock phenomenon Jonny Lang made his decision in 6th grade. 

“I loved basketball when I was in school. I played a lot of basketball,” Lang said during a phone interview Tuesday — when he was on his way to Disneyland with his family. But Lang also loved music, and grew up singing with his father and sisters. “My dad sat me down one time and said, ‘You should really choose one, and focus on that,’ so I chose music and tried to focus on that.”

It’s been some years since he made that choice, and Lang, 30, has gone on to live many a musician’s dream. He’s since won a Grammy, recorded a multi-platinum CD, and toured with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Blues Traveler and numerous more. Lang grew up on a farm outside Fargo, N.D., where his parents routinely played Motown, rock and blues records during his youth.

When he was 12, his father took him to his first concert, The Bad Medicine Blues Band, when Lang’s innate desire to be a professional musician was solidified.

“When I saw the guitar player, it just freaked me out, and I decided, I want to be like that guy,” Lang said of guitarist Ted Larsen. “I’ve always loved music and dreamed of doing it for a living, and having that be a career. I never thought I’d play an instrument, really, because I loved to sing. But when I saw him play the guitar, I just got the bug.”

Shortly after the concert, Lang began guitar lessons with Larsen and joined his band a few months later, which was renamed Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang.

Lang will perform a benefit concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Cascade Theatre. Tickets range from $42 to $76 (limited VIP supporter tickets are available for $102). Proceeds of the performance will go to local children’s health organizations as well as the North State Children’s Theater project.

The children’s theater will continue Redding’s trend of green architecture. In August, the new Redding School of the Arts campus will open for the school year. Slated to be “LEED platinum certified” (the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest rating of green construction), the school will be one of only a dozen in the nation. As an addition, the local nonprofit Foundation for Promoting Arts Education is working to raise funds for an adjoining, LEED platinum certified, 800-seat community theater on the campus.

“This is our kick-off event announcing the building of the children’s theater,” said Daria O’Brien, who sits on the board of the foundation. The theater project is estimated to cost around $14 million, but O’Brien is optimistic about the level of support for creating it. “I have no doubt it’s going to be built,” she said.

She went on to dispel rumors that the theater project will be relegated only to Redding School of the Arts. “This is not really about RSA. This is the north state’s children’s theater; it’s for all groups, or for those that couldn’t afford to use the Cascade or Convention Center,” she said.

In addition to Lang’s contribution to local children’s projects, RSA students will be painting a mural at the Shasta Community Health Center, O’Brien said. “We also wanted to do something to give back to the community; we wanted to brighten up the lives of the kids at the community (health) center.”

Lang will sign a guitar and poster, which will be raffled off immediately following Friday’s performance. Local active group Redding Catalyst will help with raffles, concessions and an information booth. Lang’s last performance at the Cascade sold out. Tickets for Friday are selling fast.

“There’s some excitement. We only had him about a year and a half ago, but people loved the show previously,” said Jeff Darling, general manager of the Cascade Theater.

Darling went on to mention what he sees as two groups of ticket buyers for this performance: those who are supporting the charity aspect, and those who want a good show. Since advertising for the children’s theater began recently, much of the public might not be aware of the reason for what are seemingly high ticket prices. What many also might not realize is that Lang is performing for $15,000 less than what he normally charges, O’Brien said, to help increase proceeds for the children’s theater and local health organizations.

Early in his musical career, Lang took to the vices of the industry – namely, drinking and smoking pot, which led to more illicit endeavors. From 1998 to 2003, Lang went through what many call his “Five Years of Silence,” when the father of his then-girlfriend Haylie died. It was then Lang turned to Christianity and relinquished his destructive habits. The transformation altered his musical approach. Into the soulful blues for which he had become so noted, Lang began to weave hints of Gospel style.

He and Haylie (they will have been married 10 years in June) now have three children: twins Raimy and Saylor, both 3, and six-month-old Rennix. Having children has been a source of change for Lang. “It literally changes who you are. It’s one of the few things in life that can really do that … your whole outlook on life changes and so where you’re coming from creatively does as well, just inherently.”

Lang’s experiences have helped put his perspectives into perspective. When once he wrote and played the music because it was enjoyable for him, he now makes songs that make an effort to relate to other people, he said. He treats music with respect, noting that it can change somebody’s life. Being part of those moments or experiences for others, he said, is a driving inspiration.

Freelance writer Josh Corbelli lives and works and plays in Redding. He’s always for a good idea, and he’ll be at Friday’s performance.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Joshua Corbelli

likes to write stuff on paper, and that makes him a happy little jellybean. Reach him at joshua.corbelli@gmail.com. Or don’t. Your call.

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