- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

A cool breeze will blow through the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro tonight when blues guitarist Jonny Lang appears along with the Michael Burks Band and Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine at the Chesapeake Bay Endless Summer Blues Bash. The concert benefits the Maryland Special Olympics (www.bayblues.org).

"Koko Taylor and I have played at various blues festivals before, and yes, I am a big fan of hers. She is great. She is a sweet person," Mr. Lang said from a tour stop in Kelseyville, Calif. "I know I am looking forward to playing with her again. Being able to do so for such a great group of kids is just a bonus."

Jonny Lang is just past being a kid himself. At 21 he is a veteran stadium-touring artist releasing his fourth album in early winter.

He first picked up a guitar at 13, taking lessons from friend and fellow blues band mate Ted Larson. Within six months, that collaboration took Mr. Lang, now the band's frontman, to Minneapolis and the release of his first independent album, "Smokin'," selling more than 25,000 copies.

That early grass-roots, word-of-mouth success led to a record deal and his million-plus selling album, "Lie To Me," released on the eve of the teen's 16th birthday and his first stadium tour, supporting rock legend, Aerosmith, in 1996.

"When I first went out, I thought being on big tours the other musicians would treat me like a little kid, but it is never like that, and everyone is always really nice," Mr. Lang says. "Actually I was surprised at the lack of advice and shop talk. But then you have someone like B.B. King who is performing over 300 shows per year, well, he is always doing it, so maybe he just doesn't want to talk about it."

During the past six years, Mr. Lang has grown up on the road, something he says is great, as he likes hanging out on the bus with his band mates and best friends, including his wife of one year and their 9-month-old dog, Joe Schmoe.

Touring in support of his next, as yet unnamed release, Mr. Lang's travels are taking him all over the United States.

"Just being able to play music is my dream come true," he says. "But being able to share that and somehow use that to help or inspire other young people, give back a little bit of the good fortune I have, that is an added extra bonus. The whole band loves doing benefits because they are always fun, and it really is better to give than receive."

•••

A little bit of that cool will waft down through the District when John Mayer appears Tuesday at DAR Constitution Hall with the Boston-based rock trio Guster.

Mr. Mayer has become a word-of-mouth sensation thanks in part to a devoted fan base and easy-to-digest guitar work perfected in the Atlanta club scene.

"I don't know about, and I have tried to stop thinking about, the external objectivity of it, becoming popular to a wide audience," Mr. Mayer says, preparing to play a sold-out show at the University of California at Berkeley's Greek Theater. "I only know what I do, but I am not sure what the translation was to popularity."

He is touring in support of his recent CD, "Room for Squares," which includes the hits "No Such Thing" and "Your Body is a Wonderland." Mr. Mayer's music has a melodic pop-rock easiness with an electric guitar front that is somehow uplifting to listen to in spite of his lyrics filled with the angst and heartbreak of youth.

This artist's goals do not include being the next rock, folk or pop star but to create songs that will make girls cry and that heartbroken boys will avoid.

He is also hoping for the chance to show he can do this for the long term, leading Mr. Mayer to approach this "music thing" a bit differently than many other artists including his approval of fans taping his live shows and touring with Guster.

"I find it to be a compliment that people want to tape the show, and while I get credit for the idea, it was the fans that came up with it; I just did not stop it," Mr. Mayer says. "I guess I appreciate their doing it because it makes the whole thing much more relevant and now. When you are taping a show, you listen in a certain way, watch the music go by in a different way, and you get a chance to get into my head space."

•••

Alicia Keys stops by Merriweather Post Pavilion tonight offering a down-home rhythm and blues, and gospel soulfulness worth a listen. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter-producer realized her gift for music early, while growing up in New York's infamous Hell's Kitchen, where her mother introduced her to artists from Beethoven to Roberta Flack to Ella Fitzgerald.

Her first album, last year's "Songs in A Minor," sold more than 3 million copies, debuted as No. 1 on the Billboard charts and provides an glimpse into this young women's extensive talent.

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