State Street Concert : Q & A with Johnny Bertram
Idaho native and one time Mississippian, Johnny Bertram, returns to Jackson, if only temporarily, next Saturday, July 25.
Bertram and company, better known as “The Golden Bicycles” (Jamie Weems, Mandolin; Matthew Magee, Bass and Strings; Jason Daniel, guitar; Dave Hutchison, drums) are the headliners for the third installment of The State Street Concert Series. This collaborative presentation by Sneaky Beans and Rooster’s is a free street festival-like atmosphere with dining and music, made possible by Southern Beverage.
Betram spoke to us from his home in the Pacific Northwest as he made plans for next week’s trip, recounting his time in Jackson and plans for his first concert in the city in almost three years.
For those unfamiliar, who is Johnny Bertram? And, who is Johnny Bertram and The Golden Bicycles?
Johnny Bertram is a dude living in Portland Oregon. The band is a group of dudes that played music and made a few records in Jackson between 2008 – 2011.
What’s in your music?
There is a lot of stuff in there. I guess I kind of look at the songs as little postcards from an experience or a feeling. I sort of collect the melodies as I go through everyday life and keep the ones that stick long enough for me to make a song out of them. I feel that for the most part the words are a little bit more on the heavy side. My songs have tended to address some of the deeper issues and questions I have as I go through life. In some cases its done in a little bit of a playful way. Each song means something pretty specific to me but I don’t necessarily think they mean the same thing to a person listening. I like the idea that the listener can take or leave what they want in a song and that it might mean something else to them but it stills captures the root of the emotion that inspired the song.
You lived in Jackson for some time: what was your experience like here?
I did. I moved to Jackson a few months before hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and stayed until the summer of 2011. I really enjoyed my 6 years in Jackson. The first few years we’re spent with a non-profit organization in west Jackson working with kids and the last four were spent living in Midtown on Millsaps Avenue and doing a variety of things in the arts community there. My experience there is really a hard one describe. It was such a valuable time to me. A lot of my best friends are in Jackson or were there during those days and I had a blast getting to know people and sharing life in somewhat of a communal way.
Talk to me about Midtown.
Midtown wasn’t even really a term we used when we first moved into the neighborhood. We simply referred to it as Millsaps Ave. I had some friends who were moving to Oxford for graduate school and were giving up there little make shift apartment in the corner of 133 Millsaps building. My wife and I moved in there and stayed until we moved back Oregon 2011. We joined forces with a group a friends who were all living down there and started to host events and shows. It was a really low-key thing.
What about your own musical endeavors there?
It was while living there that I started to write more songs and began recording. I started off working with some friends from other parts of the country on synth pop project under the band name, Synthar. I wrote a lot of the songs on the record and would consider this to be the first full length album I’d written or been a part of. Being somewhat of an “internet band” Synthar never played a live show and I had a desire to play around Jackson so I went the route of the acoustic singer songwriter. I played some solo shows around Jackson and began to meet more folks from the local music scene. Roosevelt Noise invited me to open for them a few times and I met more people from playing at those shows. The first form of a “Johnny Bertram” band was a three-piece that included my brother Luke on bass and Tyler Tadlock (Spirituals) playing drums and keys.Â The band took a few different forms over the years with band members changing. I’m really proud to have had so many great people contribute to my music over the years. Eventually the band became known as the Golden Bicycles. I also played with some friends in a group called Horse Trailer while I lived in Jackson.
What did you take away from Mississippi?
When I left Mississippi it really did feel like I was leaving my home. After six years, the bonds made and the connection to that place had a strong root in who I was. Mississippi and Jackson in particular were always about the people for me. I enjoyed the culture and hospitality. I liked the tight knit feel of a small arts scene. It’s something I still miss and makes me excited to return next week.
When was your last Jackson show?
The last show we played was the Esperanza Holiday Showcase in December of 2012 at Pix/Capri in Fondren.
Did (Sneaky Beans’) Byron (Knight) have to twist your arm too hard to come back and play here?
He really didn’t. It was more of a question of logistics and figuring out the details. I’ve been wanting to come back for a visit for quite some time and to get to play a show with my friends is just icing on the cake. One bummer is that Jamie Weems, our amazing mandolin player and a dear friend to me, had previous plans made and will not be in town for the show. I’m hoping that we will get to play show that includes him sometime sooner than later.
Are you looking forward toÂ next Saturday’sÂ “homecoming”?
Very much so! It’s going to be a family reunion.
The State Street Concert Series, Number 3, being held in front of Fondren Corner, also features The Patrick Harkins Band and special guests, The Fondren Guitars Rock Band. Spacewolf is also on the bill. Dinner in the streets begins at 5pm. Bertram and his band takes the stage at 9pm.