The tunes and the barbecue will both be smokin’ when Sam Ness brings his alternative-folk vibes back to Rochester this Friday night. He’ll be playing a relaxed outdoor show on the patio at SMOAK BBQ from 6 to 9 p.m.
Ness came into his own as a performer when he spent time busking in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he’s also played in Cambodia, Thailand, the U.K., and New Zealand. When he’s not globetrotting, Ness calls Madison, Wis., home.
Ness promises his show at SMOAK BBQ will include original music, but also recognizable covers and some good stories, as well. He took some time to answer questions for 507 Magazine readers.
How'd you get started as a musician, and how long have you been playing shows?
My first love was musical theater! I got started with that in middle school; about the same time, I started learning to play guitar. I started writing songs in the eighth grade, and started playing open mics when I was 16. I landed a weekly show at a venue in Madison, WI, and started branching out from there. As soon as I turned 18, I took a one-way ticket to Scotland. I quickly ran out of money, and started performing in the street to survive. I enjoyed it so much, and spent about a year traveling around Europe and the U.K. busking (street performing) before I came back to the States to work on a first record.
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How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it before?
My music has a lot of twists and turns as far as genre, even through a live set. Sometimes it's quiet and lyric-based; some shows turn into wild dance parties. Most of my musical influences have been quiet, indie-folk artists based in rainy England, so I think a lot of that shines through.
What effect has the pandemic had on your music?
I lost a lot of my summer shows due to the pandemic. I lost a few big tours leading from the release of a new record in March, so that certainly was a big hit. But it's not all bad! More than any other summer in my adult life, I've been able to slow down a bit and see my friends, fish, and be a "human being instead of a human doing," as a good friend of mine likes to put it. I've written and recorded a lot of new material, including my most recent single; a COVID romance (called) "Six Feet Away."
You’ve recorded several records and released one just this past March. What can you tell us about those recording projects?
My most recent album, titled "Down the Road," is a record I did live in the studio. A lot of my live set is centered around a "loop pedal," a way of making a full band sound, but live with one person. My favorite track from that CD is called "Muddy Feet." It's a tune about a dream I had. The goal of "Down the Road" was to capture my live sound in a studio setting so people can take the show home with them. My other albums, "Whispered on the Wind" [Madison Area Music Association Awards 2018 Alternative Album of the Year] and "Lullabies & FaerieTales" are more centered around a band.
Do you like your barbecue sauce served on the meat or on the side?
The sauce at SMOAK is honestly so good I could just eat it on its own (and they're not even paying me to say that). I typically get a few sauces and put them to the side. It's too much of a commitment for me to put it right on my meat, even though I know I'll love it. No question as to why I'm a songwriter, I suppose.
If you go
What: Sam Ness live at SMOAK BBQ
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28
Where: SMOAK BBQ, 2291 Commerce Drive NW, Rochester