When the name Linnaea’s Café comes to mind, your first thought might involve the taste of their Chai teas or their breakfast burritos and coffee cake. What you might not imagine is some original acoustic sounds and seasoned professional songwriters added to the mix.
This Sunday at 7 p.m., Linnaea’s Café in San Luis Obispo will be housing a special concert with singer-songwriters Daniel Whittington and James Hurley. Following are descriptions of the two musicians.
From the moment Daniel Whittington turned nine years old he was cast into the then-unknown art of music; within a year he would be playing along to the tune that would one day get him noticed.
“My dad bought me a drum set for Christmas. By [age]11 I was playing drums in my dad’s blue band all over Texas and as a back-up session drummer at different open-mic venues,” Whittington said.
Whittington may not have had a natural talent for instruments, but it was not until he was 12 that he found his singing voice.
Whittington discovered his vocal talent when his father had him learn back-up vocals for a few songs.
While pursuing his passion for playing drums and discovering he could produce music instrumentally and vocally, Whittington was having an on-and-off-again relationship with the guitar.
“I started and stopped attempting to play guitar multiple times until my sophomore year of high school, when I finally persevered and started actually playing songs,” Whittington said.
Since then Whittington has put all his talents together in order to write his own songs.
“I’d say I get inspiration from wherever the hell I can,” Whittington said. “It’s not easy getting inspiration. She is a cruel mistress.”
Even so, throughout his experience with his “cruel mistress” Whittington has been able to produce music he refers to as an “acoustic folk vibe.”
“I’ve had influences of every shape and color over the last 15 years but I’d say early on some of my heroes were Bruce Cockburn, Lyle Lovett, Marc Cohn and a host of others.”
So where has this acoustic folk man’s music taken him? Whittington recalls his most memorable performance with his band “Rhodes” when they opened for Aerosmith at the Paso Robles State Fair this year.
He summed up the experience in one simple word: “amazing.”
However, Whittington’s real fairy-tale dream of performing in an intimate setting seems to fit him more so than his real life experience with famous rock legends.
“I would most love to perform in a small but very expensively furnished room in my 20-bedroom palace in the French Alps,” Whittington described. “I would be playing for a small group of ridiculously beautiful women who would constantly shower me with compliments after every song.”
He ended his lavish daydream with a smirk and insisted, “A small group of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists would be there serving as my house staff.”
What’s next for Whittington besides a trip to the French Alps? He admits the musical goals he has set for the future all come down to one: to continue playing.
At the beginning of this year Whittington and his band “Rhodes” put out an album called “Half a Mind to Stay.”
“The band I play in when I’m not performing acoustic sets is Rhodes,” he explains. “It is made up of Phil Siems, Ryan Allshouse and Darren Clarke.”
Whittington has toured all over the United States with Siems and Clarke in another band they were in.
“I’ve known them for almost years,” Whittington said. “They’re the best musicians I’ve ever played with and some of my best friends.”
Whittington resides in Shell Beach and has played his fair share of shows in San Luis Obispo. But no matter where his music takes him, it will always be what drives him.
“Music is what I love most in life,” Whittington expressed. “I’m not sure if it’s possible to put into a nutshell what it means in any specific way.”
Little did they know, around the same time Daniel Whittington was testing out his musical inclinations, an eight-year-old James Hurley was doing the same.
“I started with, of all things, the accordion,” Hurley said with a smile. “Some guy was going door-to-door trying to sell accordion lessons.”
“My brother was already getting guitar lessons and my younger brother was too small to pick one up, so that left me the logical candidate,” he said.
However, Hurley explained that his accordion-playing days only lasted until he saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.
“Then I wanted to be Ringo,” he laughed. “Drums were of course out of the question, so they paid my brother a dollar an hour to teach me guitar instead.”
Nowadays those dollar-an-hour lessons seemed to have paid off in Hurley’s favor.
“I play guitar during my live shows and just about anything with frets on it when recording,” he said. “I especially enjoy recording bass. It’s such a key factor in composition. You can change the entire direction of a song with the selection of a single note.”
Hurley not only plays his own instruments, but also writes all the songs he performs, a task that can easily be fulfilled when “life itself” is your key inspiration.
“The things I experience personally and my take on the things we experience collectively as a society and as a species … all of it shows up in what I write,” Hurley explained. “And so it covers a wide range of that experience both lyrically and stylistically.”
Once he puts his life experiences into his lyrics, bringing his music to life, Hurley then said the type of music he produces could be recently described as “American on the rocks, with a twist.”
“That’s about as close as anyone’s ever come in describing it in a single phrase,” he said.
Hurley says he gets his “American” style from early influences such as Louis Armstrong, The Beatles (“of course”), Jimmy Page, Hank Williams Sr. and Merle Haggard. “The storytelling in their lyrics always captured my imagination,” Hurley explained.
This inspiration has lead Hurley to go far with his music and obtain some memorable performances.
“Last year I played a show in a 1300-year-old barn in England that had been converted to a world-class performance venue on my birthday,” Hurley describes in fascination. “There I was, full house, lights shining down, audience completely silent and listening intently as the clock hit midnight . I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it; this is what it’s all about.’”
As it may seem that all of Hurley’s musical dreams came true in that last bit, he still has his sights set on Madison Square Gardens.
“I’d love to perform at Madison Square Gardens, sold out and I’m the headliner,” he said.
And although these days Hurley performs solo, he finds all the support and camaraderie he needs from his fan base.
“They tend to be people that look deeper than the surface,” he explained. “They also seem to be pretty positive people. When I talk to folks at shows they’re generally aware of the world around them and many are trying to affect it in a positive way.”
For Hurley, the future doesn’t necessarily mean change, rather perfecting what he has already made for himself.
“We all have our dream, but in the short-term I think the current trend is good and I hope it continues,” he said.
This is a trend that has lead to producing two solo albums, the first album his self-tiled debut.
“It’s a collection of electric and acoustic demos and sketches that I never really intended to release for sale,” Hurley said. “I did a short run initially after people kept buying up the ones I was burning for myself. Then those sold out and I did another run.”
That single run has now turned into six runs for Hurley, who during that time also produced his second album, “The Sun and the Moon.”
Hurley is now working on recording his third and fourth albums simultaneously.
“I didn’t mean to do it this way, but with all the time I spend on the road I ended up with a backlog of songs that I couldn’t get recorded fast enough,” Hurley explained.
Hurley will meet up with Daniel Whittington at Linnaea’s Cafe this weekend.
“I’ve played several coffeehouses in SLO before and I played a house concert there last year that was a delight,” Hurley said. “SLO has this vibrant, diverse, creative atmosphere that makes me feel like there’s a cool future waiting right outside the door.”