Saturday, August 13, 2011

Soul Redefined

It was an uptown 4 train in New York City. Guy got on with a guitar, introduced himself and quickly broke into a tune. No denying the guy had talent: it was a soulful cover of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." As we pulled into the next stop, he passed the hat. So far, all was going according to script. But then something new. He thanked the crowd, and said that if they wanted to hear some of his original music, they should go to iTunes or his web site. He stood up his guitar case, on which was a sticker with a picture of him and the address,

And so I went. Kevin Hunt, aka Vo Era, is originally from Chicago. By his own admission, he was a rebellious kid, falling in with some gangbangers and drugs near his home in Englewood, a rough and tumble inner city area. Fortunately, when he was about 15 a friend and his grandmother got him to church. While he was there and "starting to get a better insight into life," a lady who was a known as a local prophet looked at him: one day you'll be a musician, she said. As he told me laughing, "Some people don't believe in prophecy, but I do!"

So he went and bought a keyboard, started learning it, then moved on to guitar and bass. He eventually quit high school: after all, no need for that when you're going to be a star. But he knew he still needed practice; he wasn't that good yet. So while he played and wrote, he supported himself with a bunch of odd jobs. Eventually he saw his mistake, and went back for his GED.

Walking into a bank one day, he had a revelation: "This is pretty chill: a desk, some business cards, a nice place to work." Armed with a smile, he talked himself into a job as a teller, then two years later moved to another institution as a personal banker. For six years he worked finance during the day, then burned the midnight oil practicing and gigging.  Eventually his manager at the bank sat him down: he was slacking on the job, and had to make a choice. Of course, for him, there was only one. He quit, and went to work fulltime as a musician.

He started playing on the subway, trying to make a few bucks. That led to some invites to private parties and some club dates. Eventually a friend tipped him off to a sandwich place called Potbelly that was looking for lunchtime entertainment. He auditioned, and was offered the job, with the understanding he had to play a 3 hour set of cover tunes with no repeats. He only knew 8 songs, but quickly learned a bunch more to cover the time. He went from 2 days to 6, and had himself a steady, paying gig.

When his then girlfriend, now wife, got a medical residency in New York, it was the perfect excuse to do what he always wanted: get out of Chicago and come to the Big Apple. He started by working the same angles, getting a gig at two Potbelly restaurants in Manhattan, as well as trying to connect on the subway. He started setting up some social media sites, and is now actively working to push into the college market and internet radio.

He calls his music "Soul Redefined." I asked what that meant. "I like jazz, rock, R&B, but I'm not restricted. Everything I do has a soulfulness to it." And what does he want people to get from his music? "I write about relationships, attraction, hard times and real life. But no matter what the subject line is, it's all about the passion; whatever it is, I want people to feel the passion behind the music."

I had to ask about the name. "I had a friend who called me 'KeVo.' So I started just calling myself 'Vo.' But when I googled it, I got like 60 million hits. So I pulled out a thesaurus and started looking for a last name. Then I stumbled across 'era.' And it just sounded right: Vo Era." He laughed: "And then I thought it: era is about time, and this is mine."

It just might be. You can find Vo playing gigs in NY, online, at iTunes and yes, still on the subway. I asked him how hard that is: "It's tough. Lots of times people aren't paying attention. But the key is to always focus, and channel your energy on the small amount of those who are listening to you. It's all about keeping the positive energy." That, and making sure the prophecy comes true.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves live musicians wherever they play. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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