Until fairly recently Josiah Johnson was the heart in the folk-pop sensation The Head & The Heart. After an extended battle with drug and sex addiction he has emerged alone with just his guitar and loads of perspective. Johnson has now embarked on a new solo endeavor baring his soul to audiences large and small. His journey of sobriety and self-reflection landed him at the Firehouse Art Center in Longmont for a two-night stint as part of their Strings and Stories series. Both shows sold out with many making the trek for a chance to hear the ‘why’ from the horse’s mouth. The Strings and Stories concerts have been produced by Future Arts Foundation founder Travis Albright with the proceeds benefiting their programs. FAF recently announced they will be hosting a series of art-based workshops for children of local teachers, first-responders, and military members. They invited Paul Kimbiris accompanied by Nina Fronjian on violin to start off the show.
The Strings and Stories shows are intimate with a capacity of only about 200. They offer libations and snacks and musicians are rewarded with an attentive audience. Paul Kimbiris originally hails from Philadelphia, but has called Boulder home for the last five years. He has worked with everyone and written songs for shows like “The Shield” and “Queen of the South.” Kimbiris’ impassioned vocals were the perfect juxtaposition to Nina’s soulful violin. His songs have a narrative bend including the set opening, “Matador” which told the story of a bullfighter. “My Body Broke My Fall” was the story of a broken heart, while “Bring Out Your Dead” was a serious song inspired by Monty Python. Kimbiris’ style is eclectic and he was the perfect beginning to the night of music.
Johnson took the stage at 8:30 for a single extended set. Each one of his songs felt like a confessional including his opening number “I Had A Choice.” He wasted little time diving deeper into why he left The Head and the Heart and ultimately decided to make the split permanent. On this particular evening the stories section of the set cut a little deeper. Johnson didn’t offer excuses but he also didn’t shy away from extrapolating on how it all went down. It was a brave telling from someone who basically walked away from stardom. He wrote “I Wish I Had” about meeting with Johnathan Russell and not knowing how to talk about the past or the future. His songs were heavy and occasionally playful. “Solve Problems” felt like a letter he had written directly to someone. Johnson eventually made his way into some classics from The Head and The Heart repertoire including fan favorite “Heaven Go Easy On Me” as well as the haunting “Honey Come Home.” He closed the set with “Josh McBride” and quickly encored with “Rise Up.” HIs final song was one of hope for a better future and a better outcome. Josiah Johnson is a great American poet fighting the same battles that have beguiled the likes of Burroughs, Morrison and Joplin. Through the darkness Johnson has emerged with a new drive and a new clarity of purpose. His songs still speak to people and everyone there, felt lucky to be in the room.
Josiah Johnson – Firehouse Arts Center – 6/8/19
Set 1: I Had A Choice, I Wish I Had, Woman in a Man’s Life, Nobody Knows, Solve Problems, World’s Not Gonna End, Same Old Brick, False Alarm, Heaven Go Easy On Me, Honey Come Home, In The Summertime, Fire/Fear, Josh McBride
Encore: Rise Up