Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: Shows at The Round to feature Ambitious Romel from California, Aiden Barrick from Utah

AMBITIOUS ROMEL (June 25, 4:30 p.m., The Round)

Known by his performing name Ambitious Romel, which becomes an advantage when searching online for his music, Dejo’n Rothschild has built his brand around the dynamics of ambition, organically grown his critical mass as a creative entrepreneur.

One of the Utah Arts Festival’s Emerging Artists, Rothschild (whose performing name comes from his middle name) grew up in Bannon, California in the Inland Empire.   

Ambitious Romel.

In his formative years, he listened to a lot of R&B and rap with artists such as Usher, Tupac and Mary J. Blige. Rothschild gravitated toward the strong melodies and in college, became more focused on producing his music and mastered the skills of studio recording. Along the way, he experienced some snags with early shows (such as at South Dakota State University) but as he explains in an interview with The Utah Review, he quickly learned from them and was able to throw down his first show in Los Angeles in 2019.

Rothschild is laser focused on producing as much original music as possible. “I am already on my third notebook this year,” he says, adding that he tends toward “the old school sound, which helps me  remember to stay true to what I want to say in my songs.”

With the pandemic, Rothschild decided to use the downtime to focus on mastering the business side of promotion and booking tours, which has prepared him well, as live performances came back online. He also started producing beats, which has extended his revenue stream for his creative enterprise.

The Romel nickname started to stick with him in high school, when he played sports. But, it is the “ambitious” which has become essential to his creative core.  

Ambitious Romel.

In a CanvasRebel feature published earlier this year, Rothschild talked about his Pure Ambition series. He explained that it “is meaningful because [with] this project I pushed myself artistically and was able to learn how to produce. I call it a series because I’m going to continue dropping them.” He cited the Now That’s What I Call Music! series as an example. “The cover art would always catch my eye and I always knew there was going to be another volume coming,” he said. “So that’s where my idea initiated, but I wanted to take it a bit further. I wanted to replicate that idea so I can hold myself accountable.” Indeed, Now That’s What I Call Music! was a major success, when the first album reached platinum status.

AIDEN BARRICK (June 25, 2:45 p.m., The Round]

Aiden Barrick’s life as an indie-folk musician and songwriter has been driven by an innate love with beat poetry and spoken word performance to bring clarity and cohesion to many complicated chapters in his life.

Having recently transitioned, he pulled from his catalog the music he had produced under his birth name. In an interview with The Utah Review, he says that in his twenties, piano had been his main instrument. Raised in southern Utah in the St. George area, he decided to move to San Francisco, “a big city where he was a little, little, fish,” as Barrick describes it. After a painful relationship breakup and his mother’s illness with cancer, he returned to St. George.

Aiden Barrick. Photo Credit: Mo Atkins.

Barrick says he felt rejuvenated writing new songs, translating the experiences of a complex personal period in his life, which would become the creative flesh for Wastelands, an album released right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barrick’s most impactful creative model is Brandi Carlile, whom he considers “one of the greatest vocalists of our time.” Ani DiFranco is another song artist that Barrick admires holistically. 

Since then, the most significant transitions have led to a burst of creative output. Barrick, who now lives in Salt Lake City, immediately connected musically with Judith Rognli, a German-born violinist and songwriter who moved to St. George. “Our musical chemistry instantly made both of us feel joy,” Barrick says, adding that the stage has become their “safe space and playground.” He adds, “When she came to my house, I instantly knew, with her background in folk music, that she played with so much freedom and she instantly clicked with the chords and riffs in the music.” 

With transitioning, Barrick was initially nervous about the effect that medical procedures and testosterone therapy would have on his voice but so far he has been pleased. Rognli will join Barrick on the stage for their Utah Arts Festival performance.

The momentum has accelerated. Dangerous People, a single released in 2022, reflects upon the grief of a relationship that crumbled and the realization of stepping away permanently from another person. Barrick followed that up with Give Up, a power piano ballad, produced by John Houston. 

Aiden Barrick. Photo Credit: Donna Conversano

In the interim, Barrick published Forward, Never Straight, a collection of poetry composed over the last 20 years of his life and his contemplations on growing up queer in a state dominated by a church hostile to such natural identities, the nuances of friendship and the struggles of dealing with being introverted and feelings of loneliness and shame. But, Barrick adds that the book has enough humor it to be “less a gut punch and more a belly rub.”

For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website. 

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