BEMIDJI – Grab the children and make a bee-line to the “Big Band Experience” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Bemidji High School Auditorium for an evening of family entertainment.
Vocalist Shaun Johnson is bringing his crisp and clear sounds and charming personality “in the spirit of the season,” with his eight-piece Big Band Experience, to Bemidji.
Generations have enjoyed the songs of the season; “held hands by the firelight,” and “walked in a winter wonderland” with band singers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra or later crooners like Dean Martin or Nat King Cole. In the past few years, popular singers like Rod Stewart have added their own interpretation to these time-honored melodies.
As further evidence of younger generations being interested in the music of the senior set, the warm-up concert for this concert will be the Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University Jazz Ensembles.
Johnson is known for his efforts to raise funds for non-profits with his big band concerts; probably most notably the Susan B. Komen Cancer Foundation. Johnson began his big band tours to garner funds for charitable organizations last year during a hiatus for Tonic Sol-fa, with Johnson as its lead singer. The group appeared here in Bemidji last October and Johnson volunteered to bring his Big Band Experience back for a concert this December.
Other organizations during this December 2012 tour include Mayo Clinic’s “Wishes and More,” “Lunch is Served” at the Sioux Falls, S.D., Orpheum Theater and “Making Strides” at the Sauk Rapids Rice High School Performing Arts Center. The filming of a live performance will be edited for use as a television program next season.
As Johnson explained, the production costs are underwritten by sponsors, in this instance Marketplace Foods, First National Bank Bemidji and Paul Bunyan Broadcasting. Proceeds from the Bemidji concert will go to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.
“These concerts are important to me,” said Johnson. “That is, to be able to do something of socially redeeming value; to give back. I do not take an artist’s fee for these shows but the musicians who travel with me do get paid.”
The early years
Now an Emmy winning singer/songwriter, Johnson has talked about his early years, singing with his sister at state fair talent shows, when they could hardly reach the microphone. The youngsters sang Sonny and Cher songs a cappella to enthusiastic crowds in their home state of Iowa. Johnson was already accepted to law school when a “happy accident” occurred and he took a different career path. The St. John’s University graduate, who studied political science and history, sang solo and with groups throughout his college years and law school became the last thing on Johnson’s mind.
One night, after a “fantastic” show, the audience “went wild” and the sound engineer accidently recorded the show. Johnson heard the energy of his performances before a live audience and produced his CD, Big Band Experience “Live.” The track list includes “Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” “Jingle Bells” and “Up on the Housetop” along with other tunes made famous by Sinatra: “That’s Life” and “My Kind of Town.”
Johnson is proud to be able to bring his multigenerational music to the stage, wearing his signature tux and bowtie with law school as the last thing on his mind.
If You Go
What: Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience: “The Sounds of Sinatra, Buble and the Spirit of the Season”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Bemidji High School Auditorium
Cost: $25 in advance at Marketplace Foods and Paul Bunyan Broadcasting in downtown Bemidji or online at bigbandexperience.com. Student tickets are $12. Tickets at the door will be $30.