When I tell Brett Dennen that I think I just may have broken my computer, he's quiet for a moment, then laughs and says, "Remember the old Nintendo games where you could just pull them out and blow on them? Everybody did that and it seemed like it worked."
Anyone born this side of the Ford administration knows exactly what Dennen is talking about and probably performed this Nintendo maintenance procedure. Of course, Nintendo has nothing to do with Dennen's folky pop rock or his recent rise to national fame or his work with kids. And blowing on my computer isn't going to fix it, but the fact that he wants to talk about old-school Nintendo rather than the fact that the last year has seen him emerge as one of the biggest names in the singer-songwriter genre just might be the reason why people tend to love Brett Dennen.
He's a likeable guy and one whose mop of unwieldy red hair sits 6 feet 5 inches above the ground as he, wearing his guitar strapped high on his chest, belts out softly voiced numbers that are both poppy and positive, sentimental but not corny. He sings higher than one might expect for a guy his size and his speaking voice is equally gentle; when you learn that he developed a music curriculum for children, it's immediately believable. Also, the fact that the guy is pretty much always on the road certainly hasn't hurt in getting his name out.
"I've had some lucky breaks with some radio and TV stuff, but I think I've based most of what I have around touring and I want to continue to do so. I love being on the road and playing in front of people. It feels like I'm staying active. When I'm off the road I don't feel like I'm really doing anything and I might go crazy a little bit," says Dennen.
Emerging onto the music scene in the mid-2000s after a stint honing his chops around the campfire as a camp counselor, Dennen hit the road hard, eventually finding a place for himself amongst the jam band tours and festivals in California. Things have changed since then. For example, on the Saturday afternoon we talk, Dennen is in Florida getting ready to open a show for O.A.R. ("This is helping me get into the college, frat-rock world," he says of the tour.) But less than 24 hours later he would find himself in San Francisco, near the Bay Area town where he grew up, playing the final day of the Outside Lands Music Festival where he's in the top half of a bill that includes names like Tenacious D, M.I.A. and Modest Mouse.
Big festival spots and an incredibly well-received record in last fall's Hope for the Hopeless have allowed Dennen some opportunities, including the chance to collaborate with the largely reclusive Natalie Merchant for a song to be released online this week.
"For me it was incredible because I love collaborating with people in the first place, but it's rare that I get to collaborate with someone who's been a hero of mine since I was a child. 10,000 Maniacs was one of the first bands I was really a fan of," says Dennen.
Dennen says it's no accident that he can play a jam festival or a frat-dude-dominated O.A.R. show or go grocery shopping with Natalie Merchant (which he did during their collaboration). Yes, he's a likeable guy who enjoys reminiscing about things like antiquated video games and that has attracted fans, but Dennen has also worked tirelessly to get everyone to like this songs.
"Whether you're Garth Brooks or the Dixie Chicks or James Taylor or Wyclef, if you can write a good song, people will like it, no matter what it is," says Dennen, "That's what I've been focusing on with all the different bands I tour with and my collaborations - I want to show that it's more about the message in the song whether you wear a cowboy hat or a mohawk."
6:30pm Monday, September 7. Athletic Club of Bend 61615 Mt. Bachelor Dr. Tickets available at Newport Avenue Market. $14. All Ages.