John Horne blows down doors at Donkey
by Scott Agee, Staff Writer Mon, Oct. 02, 2006 | 7:00 am
Coffee in hand, his well-worn Converse led him around the back room at Donkey, smiling and shaking hands. Still rocking the headset he just used to run a brief onstage sound check and warm-up, John Horne looked more like the AV kid from your old high school than an accomplished guitar player.
The back room, while a familiar host to local artists like Horne, has recently embraced a new ambiance with the addition of several colorful pieces of art, arranged along the walls, perfectly complimenting the already exciting vibe of the evening. As the audience slowly swelled, the growing commotion forced even the café regulars to close their books and take notice.
Eight o’clock rolled around, and John snuck back on stage—completely unbeknownst to the still socially absorbed audience. Cradling an acoustic guitar in his lap, he took off on a fast-paced instrumental solo by Michael Hedges, startling the noisy crowd into silent submission. Minutes later, as the final chord sounds, the stunned room snapped out of its collective awe just in time to fill itself with enthusiastic applause.
Horne’s knowledge of the guitar was simply overwhelming. His graceful ability to utilize harmonics while drumming down a rhythm on the body of the guitar allowed him to produce the sound of a three-piece ensemble while performing a solo arrangement.
Horne’s stage presence was also that of a seasoned performer. He joked with the audience about his laptop, which he had brought on stage with him for its “first gig,” supplying the effects for the evening. He apologetically explained how he hadn’t made up a set list prior to the show as he flipped through his book of songs in search of forgotten lyrics, capturing the spontaneous spirit of musicianship in saying, “What I’m going to do next, I don’t always know.” He even managed to laugh at his own expense before performing a medley dedicated to his hero Sting, admitting that it was on account of his birthday coming up.
After a couple more instrumentals and a brilliant jazz rendition of The Beatles’ “Black Bird” performed on his electric guitar, Horne called to the stage Alexandra Shostak, one of his own guitar students, who he said he’d long been encouraging to perform. She played and sang Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with subtle support from Horne, and when she finished, received a supportive applause more audible than any heard all night.
After reclaiming the stage, Horne consulted his song book once more, joking again about how he probably should have made a set list. He finally decided to finish out his solo set with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and another acoustic instrumental by Michael Hedges entitled “Fusion of Five Elements.”
Horne then called for fellow performer Otis Crockron to join him on stage. Saddling up to the keyboard, Crockron coupled a Stevie Wonder style of playing with a soulful voice, forcibly familiar to that of Seal during his early-‘90s heyday. This combination introduced a more jazz-influenced vibe to the show. Accompanied by Horne, back on the electric guitar, the duo bridged both genre and generation gaps, spanning from the Carpenters to Nora Jones to Herbie Hancock.
Their onstage banter made for entertaining segues between cuts. Accidentally ending songs rather abruptly or fumbling lyrics, they joked around about not having rehearsed anything together prior to the show—comparing their set to “Spontaneous musical combustion” or “Double-dutch.” After one song Crockron even warned the audience, “If I forget the words, don’t worry about yelling them out—I’m just going to make them up.”
The show wrapped up with Horne leaving the stage in the able hands of Crockron, allowing him to perform some of his more personal solo pieces.
A graduate of Duquesne University School of Music in Pittsburgh, Horne is fast becoming a local favorite here in Athens. Living fulltime in the city, he performs regularly around campus while also managing a growing instructional practice. He will next be performing at the Shishah Café uptown on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m.