Donavon Frankenreiter returns to Belly Up on Sunday
IF YOU GO …
Who: Donavon Frankenreiter
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, March 4, 9 p.m.
How much: $32-$60
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Donavon Frankenreiter has fit right in around here since early in his career, playing laid-back folk at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival, along with the late great 7908 Songwriters Festival at the Wheeler Opera House and at Belly Up, where he returns on Sunday, March 4.
Frankenreiter’s thoughtful, positive spin on rock is a natural fit for the Colorado high country.
A California native, Frankenreiter, 45, 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.
With a breezy attitude, a bushy mustache and a freewheeling vagabond style, Frankenreiter is a creature of the beach who has written the occasional surf-themed song. Most fans first heard his good-vibes approach on his signature 2004 hit “Free,” recorded with his mentor and surfing buddy Jack Johnson.
But he 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,” he told me during a swing through Aspen last year, “but I get inspired being in the big cities, too. Being around a lot of chaos can inspire you, too.”
At his recent solo shows, Frankenreiter has been doing a sort of retrospective of his career, plucking songs from his eight records.
Along with the Aspen show, he’s making stops in Boulder and Steamboat Springs. These laid-back solo spots in ski country are a break from a brewing project with Cisco Adler and G Love called Jamtown. The trio played their first shows last summer, released the single “Fool in Love” and, Frankreiter says, have finished recording their first record.
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 says. “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 nine 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 says 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 originals.
“We talked about it forever,” he says.
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 says. “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,” he says. “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. 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.”
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