Singer/songwriter Cris Jacobs is the former front-man for the legendary Baltimore band The Bridge, a roots rock band. He will be performing live at the Gordon Center Saturday, November 5 with his solo band, following a set by Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers.
Cris is doing a deep dive with his music and lyricism these days, “looking for more meaning and emotionality to come through in my songwriting, and infusing my songs with greater relevance,” he says.
If you know Cris’s roots, you might be expecting an eclectic set of blues, country, rock, and bluegrass November 5, but “it will be all those things but not one,” he says. “I love so many different kinds of music – I can’t say I want to be blues, or rock, or bluegrass alone. I aspire to write something of substance, as opposed to when I was a singer and just wanted to freak out on the guitar. Now, as I have lived more, I have more experience to draw from, and I can use it all, untied to a genre, and just let the canvas be blank every time.”
Cris picked up his first guitar in high school at the age of 16. It was an Ibanez, the legendary guitar brand. Mom and Dad took him to Gordon Miller Music and “away I went,” Cris recalls, “that’s all I needed.” Cris practiced a bit and did a few live gigs playing Grateful Dead covers at the Pikesville High Talent Show, and it was all “very rough.”
Not until college did Cris really begin to polish his guitar chops. A student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Cris became extremely disciplined, rehearsing up to five hours/day.
“I caught the bug,” he says, “and I knew then that this was what I wanted to do for a living.”
Cris became heavy into bluegrass and placed himself in situations playing with heavy hitters in the bluegrass world including Brooklyn musician Michael Daves, heralded by the New York Times as “a leading light on the New York bluegrass scene.”
Cris was humbled by the folks he was playing with at the time: “Bluegrass requires precise fingerwork and virtuosity and discipline, and lots of practice, but it gets addicting once you start to get your chops and get good.”
The music that inspires Cris these days comes from a variety of performers from a wide range of styles, everything from Jason Isbell, a native Alabama songwriter who offers “the perfect blend of meaning and melodies,” to John Prine, Bob Dylan, Patti Griffin, Darrell Scott, Little Feat, and The Grateful Dead.
“There are lots of songs out there, lots of different writers. Sometimes songs are mystical expressions.
Sometimes songs are all about melody and groove, or the words just shape themselves into sounds in your head.”
Cris’s latest album Dust to Gold will be released October 21, 2016 (the album release party will be at the Gordon’s November 5 performance).
Playing guitar and singing come naturally to Cris, but songwriting is the most challenging art form, he believes. With songwriting, “I can create my own world with my songs and use the guitar as a compliment to that.”
“Songs come in all forms – from a guitar riff, from a phrase in the middle of a conversation. I take a lot of notes on my cell phone, cool title for songs – You never know when something inspiring is going to come, so you have to keep your antenna up constantly.”
As in college, Cris still practices guitar every day, but no longer has time for 4-5 hour rehearsal sessions; he has had to shift his focus to writing: “Now, I’m focused on songs, chords, melodies, different structures, not only my guitar playing,” he says.
Cris and his band are comprised of Cris on guitar and vocals, Todd Herrington on bass, keyboardist John Ginty, guitarist Jonathon Sloane, and drummer Dusty Simmons.
The band will perform following a set by Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers. An incredible singer/songwriter in her own right, Amy, the daughter of the legendary Levon Helm, and Cris met on a “Jam Cruise”, a music festival on a cruise ship –“a very cool place for bands and musicians to mingle and meet,” says Cris. Both Cris and Amy were asked to sit in with a band called Dumpstaphunk, and they struck up a friendship.
Of his musical career, Cris reflects, “I feel very blessed that I’ve come this far and been able to do it. I offer so much thanks to Baltimore, I’ve been a full-time, Baltimore-based musician for a decade and a half.
“I’ve stayed in Baltimore as opposed to going to Nashville, Los Angeles, or New Orleans because Baltimore is my support system – it keeps me honest and my family is here. Other places are full of transients trying to make it. Baltimore influenced and has affected my life. It helps me keep it real.”