Brett Dennen: Barefoot and sold out in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Brett Dennen: Barefoot and sold out in Aspen

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesBrett Dennen says, "There's something - maybe because I'm barefoot, or I have funny dance moves or I don't look like a typical rock star - that puts people at ease."

ASPEN – Brett Dennen says there have been plenty of concerts at which he felt awkward and out of place.”I’d think I wasn’t cool enough, or sad enough, or angry enough, or didn’t dress the right way,” Dennen said.None of those uneasy moments, though, occurred with Dennen on the stage. Put him in front of an audience, and the 30-year-old Californian becomes, as many listeners have observed, notably comfortable in his own skin. He dances, gestures, grimaces, smiles and talks to the crowd with grace and looseness. This, he thinks, may be the key to his success – why he gave a resounding headline performance last month at the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, and why Rolling Stone tabbed him, in 2007, as one of 10 Artists to Watch. Put yourself at ease onstage, and the audience will follow.”On stage, there’s something – maybe because I’m barefoot, or I have funny dance moves or I don’t look like a typical rock star – that puts people at ease,” said Dennen Thursday afternoon, sitting in front of Belly Up Aspen and awaiting the beginning of a two-night stand that has him opening for another barefooted California singer-songwriter, Michael Franti. (The concerts, which conclude Friday, are sold out.) “I try a lot of things; I go for it. They see me as comfortable, and they feel comfortable.”Right on cue, a tall, thin, young brunette walks up to Dennen, tells her they’ve met before, and mentions the names of some mutual friends. Dennen can’t place her, but he converses with her, and lets her know that one of their mutual friends happens to be inside Belly Up at the moment. She walks away heartened by the encounter.What probably makes Dennen’s presence doubly appealing is that he would have good reason not to feel so comfortable. He is tall and walks on spindly legs, and as he walked toward Belly Up after our conversation, I noticed how knock-kneed he is. His hair is as orange as human hair can get. When he gets going onstage, the expressions he can make – well, Dennen himself refers to it as “the weird stuff.” And his speaking voice, especially when he begins a thought, can be shockingly high-pitched. In the package that is Brett Dennen, it’s all the more reason to like him.”I think it’s part of what makes people feel comfortable, or see me as comfortable – that I don’t have a typical rock-star look,” said Dennen, who grew up in northern California, and became interested in playing guitar while watching summer-camp counselors play around a campfire. “I don’t try to capitalize on my red hair; I don’t try to flaunt it. I sort of just go with it, not make it an issue.”The album Dennen is currently working on, with all the songs written and basic tracks recorded, is titled “Loverboy.””Not after the band, or the album, or the song,” he said. No, Loverboy is Dennen himself, and the title works in ways both humorously ironic and sincere. The humor is in a guy like Dennen giving himself such a boastful name.But Dennen clearly favors the more direct meanings. The album is about love, and Dennen’s experience with that; not long ago, he ended a seven-year romance.”I’ve learned a lot about love,” Dennen, who has two tattoos on his arms – “Only Love” on one, “Nothing Lasts Forever” on the other – said. “I ended a pretty serious relationship when I started writing for this record. And I’ve fallen in love a few times since then, real intense, real quick.”More than romance, Dennen’s words have, on the whole, been about compassion. Songs like “Darlin’ Do Not Fear” and “Crazy” seem intended to put their arm around the listener, to soothe them. With “Loverboy,” Dennen goes deeper and broader into the issue of love.”The records I’ve released before have all been pretty personal. But some songs are critical of my life, or critical of things we share, politics,” he said. “This one is coming more from a place of love. Whether it’s about romance, a break-up, my place in the world, it’s all about love. I’m in a place in my life where I feel good, inspired. Like a kid, like a boy. A loverboy.”stewart@aspentimes.com