Lincoln High School is preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday, and to help raise money for scholarships to herald the occasion, Tacoma guitar prodigy Nolan Garrett offered to help out by rocking the stage at The Swiss for a fundraiser on March 3. On March 16, he will also give an all-ages acoustic performance at Forza in University Place (7-9 p.m.), then on March 22, he plays Freeman High School in Spokane and on May 7, he plays at Tacoma’s City of Destiny Awards event.
Yes, Garrett gets around among all kinds of various audiences and venues, and this 15-year-old Tacoma native, and straight “A” student at School of the Arts, loves it.
“It’s nice that I’m able to get not just an older fan base, but also kids my age coming to my shows and relating to the music,” he said. Older music fans seem to like Garrett’s “old soul” when he’s playing classic blues, and younger fans like the way he incorporates a variety of genres into his playing, from grunge to pop to rock ‘n’ roll. His ability to blend and represent a breadth of musical styles is nothing short of amazing. In fact, anytime Nolan is playing, people pay attention. Even the legendary Cyndi Lauper was attracted to his playing when Garrett was poolside last year at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles during Grammy Awards season.
“I was just sitting there working on my practice routines in my own little space. I did that for about eight hours. I didn’t know who (Lauper) was when she first came up, and she said, ‘You’ve been playing that guitar all day. Have you finally learned to play a song?’” Garrett then played his song “Don’t Criticize Me” for Lauper and her friend, who turned out to be producer Jeff Kossack of San Fernando Valley’s Other Hand Recording. Kossack and Garrett hit it off and are now working together on Garrett’s first CD, which is slated for release this summer. The CD will be all of Garrett’s original material, as these tunes get lots of audience responses more than his killer renditions of cover songs.
“I have quite a few solid tunes that are originals and always in the set list. I just throw in covers when I have to,” he said, like “Ballad of John Henry” and “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.”
“I like putting my own twist on them because if I’m going to play covers, I don’t want to do them note for note. I want to put my own spin on them and something original. If I come up with a riff I use it and I don’t really care what style it is because it’s me.”
On Garrett’s website bio (www.nolangarrett.net), Kossack says, “Working with Nolan in the studio only confirms my original belief that he will be a guitar role model for his generation and his music will someday be heard worldwide, with all the accompanying recognition. He's a true artist, unaffected by vanity. His musical instincts and studio chops are amazing given his youth. I only look for big things from him in the future. ‘People get ready...There’s a train a-comin.’”
There are many reasons why Garrett is so popular (he can fill Jazzbones on a Wednesday night, for example), and all of it has to do with his gifted musical talents and that he’s just an all-round cool guy. Seasoned area musicians have invited him for gigs too, like world-renowned Hendrix emulator Randy Hansen, Grammy Award winning Zydeco great Chubby Carrier, plus local favorites like House of Bourbon, Rafael Tranquilino and The Randy Oxford Band. Tacoma-based photographer, and Tacoma Weekly contributor, Bill Bungard has become Garrett’s official photographer and often travels with him. Bungard said he was taken with Garrett from the start. “I walked in to Louie G.’s and saw this kid playing his guitar behind his back,” Bungard said. “People vie for positioning to go hang out with Nolan on the road.”
Garrett’s most recent honor was going to Memphis this past January for the International Blues Challenge after having won in the solo category at the Back to Beale Street Blues Competition presented by the South Sound Blues Association. He was the youngest player in the “adult” category. He came back to Tacoma happy that he went, and with more confidence in following his own path. When asked if he’d do it again, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t think my style is quite what they’re looking for. A lot of those guys are old school (Robert Johnson/Delta blues) and what I have is more progressive. I don’t know if it’s quite up my alley, but it was definitely a great experience and a lot of fun.”
Add to this his sweeping of “Kids Got Talent 2010” where he scored Best Solo Artist, Best Band and Audience Favorite. He wowed them at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre.
Not bad for a boy who wasn’t all that interested in playing the guitar at first. After trying out for sports, Garrett says he just didn’t click with athletics, so his mom suggested he take up a musical instrument when he was around 8 years old. A year later he was playing onstage and the rest is, as they say, history. He gives a lot of credit to his guitar teacher Daniel Harris at Ted Brown Music. “If I didn’t have him as a teacher, I don’t know if I would still be playing right now.
“It started when I wrote my first song called ‘We’re Not Sure What To Do.’ It was my attempt at one of those we’re-going-change-the-world kind of songs, but I was only in 5th grade. From then on I just slowly progressed.”
His mom and dad, too, are his biggest cheerleaders. “My parents are very supportive. I wouldn’t be able to do anything I do without them.”
Looking to the future, Garrett has big plans for his music career. “I want to be playing in front of gigantic crowds. I want to be playing big festivals and selling out the Tacoma Dome. My ultimate goal is to win a Grammy before I’m 18. Anything’s possible. And to play onstage with Paul McCartney – that would be a dream come true.”
To keep up with Garrett’s gigs, news and events, “Like” his Facebook page. Check out videos of his live shows on YouTube.