Freestyle: Listen up for Justin Townes Earle

Mar. 6, 2015 | 0 Comments

Justin Townes Earle is coming to Honolulu, thanks to Buffalo Records. (Photo courtesy Big Hassle Publicity)


Justin Townes Earle is coming to Honolulu, thanks to Buffalo Records.


I have a feeling we’re going to look back at this decade as glory years for live music in Hawaii.

Thanks to the effort of music-lovers with heart and soul, we have created havens for acts with different-sized draws: in-your-face and compact (The Station, Downbeat Lounge), club-sized (Anna O’Brien’s); dancehall/mid-sized (Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s); and cavernous (The Republik).

We’ve been getting a bounty of shows by both local and touring acts to match, and there’s a lot to keep track of. So don’t sleep on the music that Buffalo Music is bringing to town.

Coming up: Japanese artist Arisa Safu with Hawaii bluesman Tavana on March 22; Justin Townes Earle on April 24; and Hot Tuna on June 28.

Justin Townes Earle (Courtesy Bloodshot Records)


Presented by Buffalo Music

» Where: Anna O’Brien’s, 2440 S Beretania St.
» When: 8:30 p.m. April 24
» Cost: $20; $15 advance tickets available
» Info:

I’m most excited about Justin Townes Earle, because he is a rising star with singular storytelling ability, not to mention a legacy of musical talent, inherited pain and transcended addiction that resounds in his songs.

Earle, 32, may first sound familiar to you via his surname. He’s the son of well-known country/Americana artist Steve Earle (“Copperhead Road,” “Terraplane”). But the father, who famously did jail time for possession of heroin and cocaine in the 1990s, didn’t have much presence in the younger Earle’s life.

Justin Townes Earle ultimately has walked his own road, and he’s earned his own critical praise, building respect steadily with each tour and recorded release.

Earle’s latest and sixth full-length album, “Absent Fathers” (Vagrant Records), was released in January, a companion piece to last year’s “Single Mothers.” Both have been praised for a new-found maturity that allows him to express what he terms a “more rational” anger.

In his teens and 20s, Earle was first a punk at heart, then a self-destructive, story-telling country/folk/Americana rocker. Now married and sober, his music reflects a deeper, charismatic self-awareness and humane honesty. Recorded live with a four-piece band (two tracks with only Earle and pedal steel player Paul Niehaus) and no overdubs, the album has an immediacy that is hard to shake.

As a solo performer, Earle’s music is equally attention-getting. At his best, his music is piercing and unforgettable — bare yet defiantly vulnerable.

Singing “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now,” the title track from his then-new fourth album, Earle told an audience at South by Southwest in 2012: “This is without question the meanest song I’ve ever written. And I’m glad. I hope it hurts, and I’m glad if it does.”

I suggest you hear him for yourself, and see if his music doesn’t cut through to you.

EVEN SOONER, Buffalo Music’s show with Japan’s Arisa Safu may surprise you: This singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist belts out some powerful blues. In 2013, she released her first solo EP, “ME,” and also performed at the Fuji Rock Festival for a second time.

In December 2013, she released her first full album “Chasing the American Dream,” and soon afterward moved to Los Angeles. She performs frequently in both the U.S. and Japan.

Safu and her touring drummer will appear with Tavana at 8:30 p.m. March 22; tickets are $8 in advance and $12 at the door. Safu and Tavana will perform their own sets, as well as play together. Expect some cross-Pacific improvising!

HOT TUNA, with two shows in Honolulu on June 19 and June 28, will appear as an acoustic duo. Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals) and Jack Casady (bass) are original members of 1960s psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane; the duo started Hot Tuna in 1969 as a side project to play gospel and blues music that they loved.

Now 73 (Kaukonen) and 70 (Casady), they are still going strong. Their June 19 show at the Mamiya Theatre will be a “talk story + live music” event, with stories from the ’60s in the first half and music to follow. There’s also a straightforward concert planned for June 28 at Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, with shows on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island in between. Get more details and tickets at
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.


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