Portland Notes stopped by McMenamins Kennedy School last night to catch Jacob Westfall‘s “Be Right Back” show. This is his last Portland show for a few months because he’s taking off for Nashville to hone his craft, do some networking, and see what’s next.
Jacob is a young man who seems much older and wiser than his chronological age, with a music background that started at the age of 7 when he began playing the piano influenced by his older sister’s music tastes. Actually, the entire Westfall family has varying degrees of musicality, and his father still plays guitar every day at home.
Describing his music, Jacob says, “My music is a conversation with the audience—like I’m telling them a story.” He counts Ben Folds as one of his greatest influences and spent many an hour studying Folds’ albums and songwriting style. His soulful vocals have been compared to singers like Jeff Buckley and Sam Smith but with the character and songwriting style of John Mayer. With “more than a nod to Ed Sheeran,” Jacob’s solo performance is “animated by astute guitar and kinetic live looping.”
Jacob’s musical talents are many. At 9, he wrote his first song, “Midnight Bloom,” about watching the Leonid Showers with his Mom, thinking that the stars looked like flowers. In 6th grade, he took up the sax, Grades 9 -11, trying to meet girls; he picked up the drums and bass guitar, and at 17, began playing guitar. It was at this time that his father gave him his prized Takamine which he plays to this day,
Haley Johnsen, playing a solo acoustic set, opened the show. Family obligations prevented hearing her entire set, but having seen her many times, she put on a great show that was appreciated by the crowded room, and led to many album sales. Her lyrics speak of love found and love lost, feeling and overcoming pain, suffering and triumph. Haley was featured on American Idol in 2012, finishing in the top 24. After touring and coming home to perform locally, she gives back to the community by offering vocal and guitar lessons to children at the Lake Oswego School of Rock. Much like Jacob, she is in a transitionary stage, with open arms to receive that next direction for her music, while continuing to perform, and perfect her craft.
Jacob played as a four piece band, joking that members; Dylan Sundstrom, Andrew Magnuson, and Mark Muusse are available for hire. He started off his set with “What If,” the title track off his latest album. His setlist included original material sprinkled with a few popular covers. His music touches on relationships gone bad, the need for love in this political climate, to an angry response to Kesha’s current trial against Dr. Luke in a #FreeKesha song. Playing many few favorites, “Second Chances,” a song that speaks to a romance, but could actually apply to getting a second chance at most anything in life, and the beautiful and heartfelt, “Lonely,” written for his lovely lady. Addressing a time when he was bullied as a child, is the anthemic, “Movin On.” With Andrew on Mandolin, and Dylan on upright Bass, the three performed a beautiful rendition of Lorde’s, “Royals.” Bringing Haley back onstage, the two of them performed a moving version of Elvis’, “Fools Rush In”, with the band joining them for the final chorus. This was the perfect song to end the set, but like all shows, the audience demanded an encore, so the finale was a rousing, “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes.
In a recent conversation with Jacob, he reminisced about a time when his Dad told him that the latin roots of the word, enthusiasm, are God In Us, Jacob believes that no matter what “God” is to you, if you live your life with enthusiasm, you are going to be happy, and he strives to do just that. When you see a Jacob Westfall performance, you will get enthusiasm, passion, and honesty, along with a connection between this talented musician and his audience. He may be a young man, but he is an old soul in his convictions and talents. Portland wishes him a fond farewell, for now, because he will be back, and we will await his return with baited breath!