Alaska drew Jordan Baron, as it does many young adventurers, with the promise of something completely new and different. What it ended up giving him turned out to be much more rewarding: the chance to rediscover what he already knew.
Baron arrived in Juneau a few years ago at age 22 to work as a zipline tour guide, leaving behind him a budding career as a country musician in Nashville, Tenn. Disillusioned by his experiences in the music industry and frustrated by its genre-defined constraints, he had pretty much given up his music entirely by the time he got to Juneau, and for the first month he was here didn’t even pick up a guitar.
Then, while sitting around one night at the Gold Town Nickelodeon with friends, he was talked into playing a few songs for the small crowd.
“To be honest, it was that spark,” Baron said this past week in Juneau. “It went from there to an open mic at the Alaskan, and from open mic to the university, and from the university back to the Alaskan for a full night, and it just kind of bloomed from there. As much as my music is stylistically born of the South and it’s not Northwestern by heart, this was probably my birthplace in terms of being an artist and really developing myself in that way as a person, too.”
After five months of creative growth in Juneau, Baron returned home to Tennessee and recorded his first album, The Harrison B LP. (He plays under the name Harrison B, his middle name and last initial.) From there he went “all in and full time,” and now, more than two years later, he’s gearing up for his next two releases.
Baron has been back to Alaska several times since his first visit and is in Juneau this week for a string of local shows. Last night he played at the Gold Town Nickelodeon, trading off sets with C Scott Fry during the KRNN Concert Series hosted by Katie Bausler. Then this weekend he’ll be playing at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar, with friend and fellow singer-songwriter Sam Burrous; Friday night he’ll be backing Burrous and Saturday they’ll trade roles. And then next Wednesday, March 27, Baron, Burrous, Fry and Cole Paramore will perform as a full band at the UAS REC Center. The performance, which will be recorded by Mark Alton and captured on video by Freddy Munoz, also highlights the Rec center’s role as an up and coming performance venue for local music.
REC Manager Phil Paramore was the first person to offer Baron a gig after the release of his LP, Baron said, adding that making personal connections with people like Paramore and musician Burrous is part of what keeps him so attached to Juneau. In some ways, he said, the strong bonds between community members and willingness to help eachother out is similar to his hometown in Tennessee.
“Originally (Juneau) attracted me because it was different... but the longer I stayed and the more I came back here, the more I realized that there is a lot of kindred spirit between this far part of the Northwest and the South.”
For Baron, Juneau was also the place where he was able to find the mental space to connect with a style of music that was more personal, more organic, and ultimately, more connected to his roots. Back in Tennessee, he’d been playing mostly country music, but it never felt quite right, and after being approached by professional music management companies who wanted to help him build his career, he ended up backing off completely.
“That wasn’t the type of life I wanted to live, that wasn’t the type of artist I wanted to be,” he said. “Not to say anything against it, but for me that wasn’t it.”
In Juneau he was able to stop thinking about genre, and concentrate on expressing what he wanted to say musically, using the guitar as a frame for his melodies and lyrics.
In finding his own voice, Baron said he ended up returning to the childhood influences of his grandfather, whose taste ranges from Appalachian folk tunes to old-time country to blues standards.
“He was the only person in the whole family who was really intently concerned with music,” Baron said. “Nobody else really cared – they liked it, it wasn’t like they were against it, but they didn’t have favorite artists or a particular style they cared for.”
Though the rawness of those early blues recordings that his grandfather shared with him made a huge impression on Baron when he was young, he’d gotten away from that style while pursuing country music.
“I realized that the connection I sought was kindred in that, and I wanted to be able to share it myself,” he said. ”I always wanted to come back to that.”
The style Baron eventually settled on, and the one Juneau audiences will hear this week, blends traditional and progressive elements, and pulls from a range of genres, including blues, jazz, folk and country. He writes most of his own songs.
For him the content of the music matters most, and ultimately he hopes, through his music, to connect with listeners and encourage them to make the most of their lives.
“That’s what I want to share, that’s the message I really have. I want everyone to have a purposed life. I want them to enjoy it, I want them to be able to really live their gifts. I’m just trying to do my part, share my light.”
Now based back in Tennessee, Baron says he still considers Alaska his home away from home. This spring, he’ll be making a live recording in an old general store in his hometown in Tennessee, called “Down at Browns,” and this fall he’ll head into the studio to record more new material. He’ll be taking pre orders for both these projects while he’s in Juneau; all of his albums are grass roots projects he’s funding on his own.
It’s hard work, trying to make it as a musician, but Baron says it’s one he finds enormously rewarding.
“At some point you have to make a decision that what you’re doing every day, regardless of whether it brings you glory or shame or whatever it may be, if you love it that much, then it is enough. It itself is enough, and then each day becomes enough and all of a sudden you can be fulfilled in that, you can be happy.”
Find out more about Baron at www.harrisonbmusic.com/
Know and go
Friday, March 24: Sam Burrous (with Harrison B) at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar. No cover.
Saturday, March 23: Harrison B (with Sam Burrous) at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar. No cover.
Wednesday, March 27: Harrison B, Sam Burrous, Cole Paramore and Scott Fry at the UAS REC Center. All ages. Free for UAS students, staff and faculty. $5 for everyone else.