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'Life would be flat'

Modified: Tuesday, Nov 1st, 2016

Bek Phillips/Register-Pajaronian Guitarist Vinny Johnson plays all around Santa Cruz County at jams, gigs and festivals.

Musician Vinny Johnson talks about the role of music in community

APTOS In the fourth grade, Vinny Johnson began his musical education on the trumpet.

More of a rock and roller, when he found guitar two years later, he said it just felt "more me." And thus his lifelong journey to find the funk began.

"It just means everything to me," he said. "I mean, I've been doing it ever since I was a kid and I'm 44 now. It was definitely a defining moment when I got my guitar."

Sporting a shirt reading "without music, life would be flat," Johnson said music creates a conversation and dialogue that brings people together.

"Music affects everybody in a positive way, I mean you can say you don't like that song, but everybody has a song that touches them," he said. "It's their go-to song or it's in their car all the time and I think that is what brings people together. It is the best message of music."

Johnson started out playing gigs in Santa Cruz County at the Windjammer, having moved to Aptos in 2000. Now closed, Johnson plays all around the county at local venues such as Zelda's, the Crow's Nest, the Pocket and more.

"I'll play anywhere, with anybody," he said with a laugh.

But playing requires an audience, and where many musicians can find an audience by playing at local bar or food venues, public knowledge of live music falls short. For people looking for live music, Johnson said he thinks there is a disconnect between musicians and the public.

"I think you have to go out and seek live music," he said. "You can see just as good as music, even better music, for free in your own town I just don't think people know."

Instead, he said that most people who don't frequent bars pay upwards to $100 to listen to someone they heard on the radio.

To raise awareness, Johnson and others have begun to advertise their gigs on social media websites such as Facebook or websites like Reverb Nation, but he said that does not help reach the people who have distanced themselves from the bar scene.

"The problem is a lot of people, they don't want to go to a bar, they don't want to be in a bar scene," he said.

Part of the solution is something he praises the county for the number of music festivals and family friendly events that feature local musicians. But beyond the limiting bar scene he said the disconnect also is because it takes work.

"It's because people feel it's a hassle," he said. "You have to go out and seek the music you want to hear. You have to be vigilant and sometimes you gotta drive leave town, get out of your own area and find something."

Lack of awareness and promotion also means a person might miss a show simply because they were not aware of it. While Johnson said the best thing to do is follow the bands you like and show up early to see headliners you might not have been aware of, he also said it is worth it to step out of their comfort zone to listen to new music.

While many struggle and work day jobs to support their passion, Johnson said he thinks they have a wonderful scene here.

"It doesn't pay much, you do it because you love it, so if you see someone playing at a bar or playing for tips, they are not getting paid a lot," he said. "It's a meager means but I don't know a musician who would do it for the money. As my friend TJ always says, 'Yes, be a musician and you too can make hundreds of dollars a year.'"

Citing a music rich culture, he said he would like to see more people come out and support local musicians and more bands come in from out of town. But he said he is happy.

"I think we are on the right track where we are," he said. "But I guess more money would be great."

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