SKY OLSON AND THE VALLEY (June 25, 6:15 p.m., Amphitheater Stage)
Sky Olson grew up in a musical household. His father, Kevin Olson is pianist, composer, and piano area coordinator at Utah State University, where he has taught courses in piano literature, pedagogy, accompanying and music theory. At the age of 12, his father composed An American Trainride, which received first prize at the 1983 national PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) convention in Albuquerque. His mother also teaches piano and is a songwriter.
“I was forced to learn to play the piano which was a chore for me,” the younger Olson says in an interview with The Utah Review. “As a kid, music never felt like anything that belonged to me.”
But it was Guitar Hero on PlayStation that hooked Olson, where he finally found his home with music. And, he remembers the first concert he ever attended with his father, when he was in sixth grade and The Police was on their reunion tour in Illinois.
In middle school, he played in the jazz band and then played saxophone in high school. Just a little more than two years ago, Olson did not think he had the confidence to try his songwriting skills but then, aware of what his father had accomplished during his younger years, entered the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. He won the competition’s Weekly Contest for Dear Katie. Subsequently, he wrote Broken Time Machine, which was the winning entry for the John Lennon Love Song Competition, and which put Olson as a finalist for the overall competition.
He wrote Dear Katie reflecting on the emotional impact of his divorce. For five years up until the age of 25, Olson had a chronic illness which was compounded by Lyme Disease and craniocervical Instability and which left him essentially bedridden. “It put an emotionally and financially exhausting strain on our marriage,” he recalls. Once doctors figured out the best way to treat his condition, Olson experienced a huge relief and decided that writing Dear Katie, essentially an open letter to his ex-wife, would help close that chapter of his life.
He wrote the song, indicating that he understood his ex-wife’s anger and was empathetic to her perspective. “I knew it had been equally hard and challenging for her,” he says, adding that he had recognized how music could help him express honestly his feelings. “I wrote it in about 15 minutes and didn’t think anything of it.”
His positive experiences with the John Lennon Songwriting Competition boosted his confidence and resolve to continue writing. “The floodgates opened,” he says. Within two months, he had eight songs and enough material to record and produce his first album.
More than a few people have compared Olson’s singing to John Mayer. “Perhaps it occurred subconsciously that I was emulating his style because I listened to him so much of the time,” he explains. “At every show that I play, someone will come up to me and say, ‘did anyone ever tell you that you sound like John Mayer.’ But every time, I will say something like, ‘OMG, that is so nice of you to say just to make them feel special.”
Calling himself the “shy quiet kid who was comfortable to stay in the corner,” he never imagined that he could perform his songs live in front of an audience. His first show with a band was less than 18 months ago but since then The Valley band has taken on talent from some of northern Utah’s best known and respected bands, including Panther Milk, Sorry Mom and The Painted Roses.
Just four days after their Utah Arts Festival appearance, they will perform at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City and shows in early July in Orem and Ogden.
JIM BONE (June 24, 8:15 p.m., Festival Stage)
With his father who was a U.S. Army doctor, Little Rock, Arkansas native Jim Bone spent his formative years hopping overseas and back, with four years in Germany, and then coming to Salt Lake City during his teenage years. He was training to ski for the Winter Olympics but when he landed in northern California in the Sierras, he absorbed the psychedelic and punk rock scene that mushroomed along the West Coast.
He remembers his childhood days in Germany, where he listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while he did his math homework. “It was the soundtrack of my life.” His mother, who played piano, turned him onto Bob Marley.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Bone says, “I was into the hippie jam band scene and then I started doing my own thing and networked with bands and was playing shows every weekend.”
Back in Salt Lake City, he founded the punk band Burial Benefits and with that launched a long, remarkably diverse, string of musical enterprises that encapsulates the local scene’s blossoming during this time. After touring with Little Women as a drummer, his daughter was born, and he was one of the founders of the Jackmormons with fellow songwriter Jerry Joseph of Widespread Panic and the Drive-By Truckers.
Later, he devoted more time to being a social worker but he subsequently started Purdymouth, which included Derrek Wright and a collaboration that resulted in three albums. Bone says that working as a licensed social worker opened his own vistas about diversity and multicultural influences in music.
With three decades of performing and recording across so many different genres and styles of music, Bone is really enjoying The Dig, a seven-piece bluegrass and rock band, which has played in many venues including Costa Rica. It has become an amalgam of intergenerational musicianship and Bone, at the age of 57, seems eminently pleased. Indeed, younger generations are just as enthusiastic about the songs Bob Weir penned for The Grateful Dead or the timeless rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd, as when the music first hit the scene.
FLAMINGO (June 23, 8:45 p.m., Festival Stage)
Every Wednesday this year, Flamingo has been dropping the sounds of jazz and blues inspired by New Orleans, Miami and Havana on patrons at Lake Effect in downtown Salt Lake City, but the six-piece band is looking forward to its Utah Arts Festival appearance, on the heels of their critically acclaimed album The Flamboyance.
The band’s lineup is eminently suited to the musical standards set by New Orleans giants and groups such as the Preservation Hall Band. The lineup includes Jake Chamberlain on vocals, Kenny Fong on saxophone, Parker Andrezzi on trumpet, Sam Schultz on upright bass, Matt Morrison on drums and Christian Lucy on keyboards and organ.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Fong quickly recapped his formative training. He started piano lessons when he was six, had the opportunity to conduct the Utah Symphony when he was 11 and took up the clarinet at the age of 13. In high school, he switched to saxophone and then took private lessons on tenor sax with Brian Booth, one of the area’s most respected jazz musicians who is well known to Utah Arts Festival audiences as well. Fong went to Snow College, where he continued to work on his musicianship. He landed a cruise ship gig on Canard’s Queen Victoria.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain, who also is front-man for Jake and The Heist, says singing has always come naturally to him ever since his childhood days at Knott’s Berry Farm in southern California.
Fong says the Flamingo musical brand is about amplifying the infectious dance vibes of New Orleans jazz and blues, especially from an upbeat note. It also has become a great outlet for jazz-trained musicians to experience and play more freely with a bigger catalog of standards. Chamberlain adds that while the band will come in with a set list and a game plan, they are happy to throw in a curve ball, as they read the room.
With musicians who are consistently active on the performing scene and already good with their rehearsal chops, the band meets once a week for about an hour and a half to check up and tighten their arrangements. Chamberlain says, “I can’t stress how important everyone in the group loves what they are doing and they have been doing it long enough to have their chops down and ready for every show.” The band was formed in 2021.
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.