Donavon Frankenreiter plays Belly Up Aspen on the way to Jamtown
If You Go …
Who: Donavon Frankenreiter
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, March 11, 9 p.m.
How much: $32-$60
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Donavon Frankenreiter has been making good-vibes rock and folk music as a solo artist for 15 years. His loyal following has grown since his signature 2004 hit “Free,” recorded with his mentor — and surfing buddy — Jack Johnson.
But after Frankenreiter’s spring tour, which stops at Belly Up Aspen on Saturday, the singer-songwriter is joining up with a new band.
The current solo tour is cat nip for the Frankenreiter faithful, offering a retrospective of his solo career. In intimate shows, he and his two-man band will pluck from his eight records, with his frequent songwriting partner Grant-Lee Philips opening the shows and doing a song or two with Frankenreiter. (Frankenreiter’s 14-year-old son also will join for a song or two in Aspen.)
Running through late March, the laid-back solo tour is something of a warm-up for Frankenreiter’s next big project, a band called Jamtown that he’s formed with Cisco Adler and G Love. The trio recently finished recording its first record. They’ll be on the road this summer with Jack Johnson. Frankenreiter has collaborated with Adler and G Love throughout his career, but until Jamtown came together, he’d never taken songs from conception to completion with them.
“That’s the first time I’ve sat in a room with G Love and with Cisco, and we actually wrote songs together rather than a song being done and jamming on it,” Frankenreiter said from home in Hawaii. “I wouldn’t say it’s simple, but it’s fun writing with people you really admire and want to hang out with because you like what they’ve done prior.”
The project traces its roots back about eight years, to when Frankenreiter and G Love began talking about making an acoustic record together.
“We were going to call it ‘The Barbecue Record,’” Frankenreiter said with a laugh. “The idea was that it’d be this acoustic record you could put on if you were having a barbecue.”
They planned to do some cover songs, to bust out some new versions of Frankenreiter and G Love tracks, and maybe write a few new songs.
“We talked about it forever,” he said.
Fortuitously, they asked Adler to produce it and to record it at Adler’s studio. When they got there, something more than tossed-off barbecue background music started coming together.
Before they knew what had happened, the trio had written 10 songs, with all three singing, harmonizing and playing guitars.
“It turned into this surprise,” Frankenreiter said. “It was a beautiful mistake. We didn’t plan on any of this happening. At the end we said, ‘Man, this should be a band.’”
Thus, Jamtown was born. Frankenreiter had been working on some new solo material — his last solo record was 2015’s “The Heart” — but funneled it into Jamtown, which is where he sees his creative energies going in the foreseeable future.
“For me, it’s never been easy to write a song, but it is fun when you can collaborate with people because it does give you the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other people rather than just sitting in a room by yourself,” he said. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. … It felt nice and refreshing to have a new project with new music, and one where not everything is resting on your shoulders by yourself.”
Frankenreiter has been an Aspen favorite since early in his career — he’s played Belly Up and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival, along with the late great 7908 Songwriters Festival at the Wheeler Opera House. His thoughtful, positive spin on rock is a natural fit for the Colorado high county.
A California native, Frankenreiter, 44, was a pro surfer from his teens through most of his adult life. Surfing competitively, he’s the rare rock star who didn’t have to pick up a guitar to be cool. His breezy attitude, bushy mustache and vagabond sartorial style has unexpectedly drawn the attention of the fashion world — the tour bringing him to Aspen is produced, in part, by the California shoe label Sanuk. Frankenreiter’s spring tour is running through ski country, with four dates in Colorado along with stops in Park City, Utah, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He’s bringing his whole family and, as you might guess, the singer-songwriter is getting in plenty of time skiing and snowboarding on the tour.
“We love it up there,” he said. “We get to ski or snowboard or something during the day, which is a nice change from being at the beach all the time.”
Despite being a creature of the beach — and writing the occasional surf-themed song — Frankenreiter, as a musician, isn’t one to fetishize nature or wax philosophical about the inspirational power of the outdoors.
“I don’t know — you get inspired by your surroundings, but I get inspired being in the big cities, too,” he said. “Being a around a lot of chaos can inspire you, too.”
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