RnM Promotions unplugged concert on November 17 features Jan Britten Owen, a musician who admittedly is fueled by “pinch me” moments.
“He’s been to Russia, Germany, Spain, England and Argentina,” said RnM spokesperson Mike Lara. “He specializes in music by the Beatles but he even does Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis Costello and The Rolling Stones. It’s an honor to have him here. It goes to show that even a small business in a small town can do big things. He is the real deal.”
The concert is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. at RnM Productions at 43 Sylvatus Highway in Hillsville. Those who purchase VIP tickets may participate in an informal mixer which begins at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 and VIP tickets are $15. Lara said it is a 50-seat venue so seating is limited.
“It’s going to be an intimate concert. He’ll answer questions and interact with the audience. I think it is something to be able to see an artist who has been all over the world for the price of a $15 ticket,” Lara said.
The unplugged-style concert is part of an ongoing project where RnM will bring the unplugged concerts to various rescue squads and organizations in Carroll and Grayson Counties. Proceeds from the events will go to the hosting organizations.
Lara said the concerts are still in the planning stages but could include comedians, musicians, artists and Mid Atlantic American Independent Wrestling Federation talent. The concerts could conclude in a “big bash” at the end of the season. Owen, like many devoted to the material, found the craft a hard taskmaster.
“Most musicians, a lot of musicians are insecure. I’ll get offstage after a really good performance and people are clapping and they’re clapping. Standing ovations. I’m kicking myself because I got a chord wrong or I blew a line. Wendy (Wendy Van Tilburg, his wife and manager) would say to me, ‘Didn’t you hear the applause?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah I did but I could have done so much better.’ Ninety-nine percent you did fantastic and one percent you mess up on a line. I’m like that.”
One of a series of positive of “pinch me” moments for Owen happened at his first “gig” in Buenos Aires. He knew just a bit of high school Spanish. Barely enough to get along.
“I finished playing my first set down there in 2004 I think (he did nine years in a row there). I’m thinking wow, I hope I did well. I’m sitting in the green room and all of sudden three managers came in the room and only one can speak English well. They are staring at me. I’m staring at them. I must’ve looked like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to say. They looked at me and said, ‘Jan, you are El Maestro. The master. The teacher. You are the most wonderful act to play in our Cavern Club.’ All I could utter was, ‘Thanks.’ When a musician is playing they are in the zone. So all you’re concentrating on is trying to do your best. Trying to get in a groove where you have the audience in your hands and they have you. Me, I got off stage and even after viewing the film and the two encores I couldn’t believe it. There are certain things which work against my healthy dose of loathing.”
This Cavern Club was franchised like one in Liverpool, England where the Beatles started. Owen said people look at his web site (JanBrittenOwen.com), look at the different things he’s done and think they would like to be him.
“The fact is if you want to be me or anyone who is much more famous than me you gotta go through years where you’re grinding it out. Playing at dives where people are not listening to me. They are drunk and trying to pick each other up and I’m doing a really good song, which I know is world class and there isn’t one bit of applause at the end,” said Owen. “One of the best things which ever happened to me was years ago (he is from Long Island) with a band playing Minneola. It was the middle of nowhere. We’re playing and it was one of those times in your life when the planets align for you. We happened to be playing an obscure McCartney solo track called Monkberry Moon Delight, off his album, Ram. A guy walks into the bar, looks in the room we’re playing at, stares and there’s a big grin on his face. He looked like McCartney in “Let It Be.” He cocks his head to one side in recognition and he listened to the whole song, tapping his foot and gave me the famous macca thumbs up.”
Two days later, Owen drove back to the area, found a newsstand and opened up a local paper. A cutline confirmed Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, had passed through. Confirmation they had seen Sir Paul.
“That was an inspiration for me. If it was the opposite it would have broken me. If Paul had gestured with a finger in his mouth or a thumbs down that night, I might have quit the business. I would have thought, ‘Oh my gosh that was Paul McCartney and he thinks I stink,’” Owen said. “I’m a very blessed man or whatever you want to call it with people I’ve met. One of my missions in life is to meet as many musical heroes, the people who have influenced me, changed the way I play and perform and raised the bar on the original songs I write. I’ve gotten a chance to meet them and say I became a better musician because of you. That meant so much to me to find out it was Paul McCartney.”
Owen also writes original songs, at the ready to be played with tunes from The Beatles, CCR, The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Stones, Green Day and Ron Sexsmith at the concert. Owen is slated to play at Gearhead Diner at 7145 Chances Creek Road on November 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and at Creek Bottom Brewing Company in Galax on November 24 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“I’m real excited about this (concert). They are like a small, growing company with big dreams and ideas. I’m looking forward to playing this show. They are already starting to accomplish their dreams and ideas. What I like about Mike and Rita, what they are doing and doing with the music is they have a community-friendly thing. It’s not just a hard-sell promoter. They are planning a mini-tour in the future to play to raise money to help fire departments and organizations. He has a good community feel about his business. It’s interesting. Even though they are small and just starting he makes connections. He hustles. I like the way he runs his shop, as it were.”
Owen said the relationship between a musician and an audience is different every night with no handbook or secret formula for winning a crowd over.
“You just have to do it long enough to get the instinct for knowing what to say and when to say it and when to shut up and play. You learn to be intuitive about every audience you play,” said Owen. “It’s a different jigsaw puzzle. You could play the same exact place every single night and every single night that audience will be a whole new animal. A whole different chemical combination.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.