By Will Roper
April 3, 2018

Shawn James performs at The Bourbon Theatre on March 31, 2018. Brittany Ward/KZUM.

Touring singer-songwriter Shawn James joined forces with Nebraska’s own Americana singer-songwriter Evan Bartels on Saturday for a night of intimate and foot-stomping solo performances.

On Saturday, the Bourbon Theatre was packed with an audience in anticipation for Bartels and Chicagoan James, both separated from their bands to perform solo acts.

Bartels, performing without his band “The Stoney Lonesomes,” sat in a chair on stage and opened the night with a collection of acoustic songs. While his half-hour set was shorter than most would have liked, Bartels delivered powerful lyrics along with a detailed guitar accompaniment for every song he performed. His one-of-a-kind voice was filled with emotion in every note as he sang about love, music and getting older, instantly connecting with an audience who cheered emphatically after each song. Bartels conversed and joked with the crowd between songs, presumably because he and many in the audience were already well-acquainted from great local past performances.

Bartels is truly one of Nebraska’s musical gems, and he proved himself once again to be a rather tough act to follow.

Evan Bartels performs at The Bourbon Theatre on March 31, 2018. Brittany Ward/KZUM.

Shawn James, accompanied by the fiddle player Sage Cornelius, took the stage next. James, with a guitar, tambourine and electric bass drum pedal, immediately brought a new level of energy to the Bourbon. Along with Cornelius, who put an infectious passion in every violin stroke, James had some in the crowd on their feet and up to the front of the stage.

James and Cornelius, normally performing with their group “The Shapeshifters,” are currently on an international tour that will take them to the Midwest, Southeast, Canada and Spain. Their unique sound blends blues, soul, folk and other genres into a music that sounds novel and vigorous whether it’s acoustic or electric. Like Bartels, James’ distinct voice is something that separates him from the rest of the singer-songwriter pack.

Songs of James and his band have gained wild popularity online, and have appeared in popular media like CBS and HBO television and video game trailers.

James’ and Cornelius’ set at the Bourbon highlighted all of these features that fans have fallen in love with over the years. The beginning of their performance featured many up-tempo blues rock songs, showcasing both James’ incredible voice and Cornelius’ rapid and alluring fiddle skills. Even with just the two of them, their well-detailed songs sounded as if they were accompanied by a full band.

Sage Cornelius performs with Shawn James at The Bourbon Theatre on March 31, 2018. Brittany Ward/KZUM.

One song in particular, a cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” had the crowd ecstatic. James punctuated softer singing moments with explosions of bluesy guitar and bellowing vocals, truly showing his wide range as a musician.

As the night progressed, James moved into a solo act and performed acoustic songs which resembled the set of Bartels. He transitioned expertly from high energy rock to intimate folk, touching on a wide variety of emotions while never losing the interest of the crowd.

Overall, Bartels and James complemented each other perfectly, and made for a great night of energetic blues and rock while still performing warm and emotional acoustic folk. Where the two draw the most comparison is in their voice. While Bartels and James have distinct, separate voices, this uniqueness and quality in vocal performance is what sets both musicians apart, and the aspect the audience at the Bourbon will most likely remember the most.

[slickr-flickr tag="BartelsJames18" captions="on"] View photos on KZUM's Flickr.

Will Roper is an editorial intern with KZUM.