Originally published in Third Coast Review.
Entering the venue for a concert performed by a one-man blues band is a curious experience. Expectations are not certain, but stage presence will be key. Jonathon Linaberry, otherwise known as his band name, The Bones of JR Jones, brings exactly that, along with the smooth waves of his guitar riffs to Schubas Tavern.
The atmosphere at Schubas isn’t always this casual (in spite of its homey quality), but Linaberry’s independence on stage keeps his audience grounded. The show was not sold out and there was room to socialize as Linaberry pounded the kick drum, breezed through riffs and slapped the cymbal all his own. But the catchiness of his quick moving hand tears spectators from their friends and family for those three minutes.
Songs like “Bless Your Soul” and “Sinner’s Song” quieted most who listened for lyrics they could relate to.
Just as Linaberry wanted, his performance translated raw, and the venue itself naturally offers that quality. Lighting was not a production element Sunday, but that lack offered itself to the comfortable essence of this Bones of JR Jones performance.
While singing of cocaine’s cures to his cognition, Linaberry pounds the wooden body of the guitar in between measures, replicating the uncomfortable rhythm of his heart on the drug. But the juxtaposition of which he sings comes through as a common theme in The Bones of JR Jones songs. Linaberry’s vocals are clear and even, while a good portion of his rhythms run fast, as his fingers glide seamlessly across the neck of his guitar.
Linaberry’s openness with an audience explains the reunion of a diverse crowd Sunday night at Schubas. He shared joking exchanges with the more outgoing audience members, one of whom hilariously imitated the sound of his tuning the guitar.
“Oh, you’ve been to one of these before,” Linaberry quipped.
But he also warned that his banjo playing skills were not up to par as he prepared to play his first tune for the evening with it. T a room full of music lovers, his banjo was more than sufficient. Yes, he seemed timid with the instrument, but that did not distract from the hearts of the songs he played, as he stomped his foot to hold the rhythm.
Overall, The Bones of JR Jones chose the best venue possible to introduce himself to Chicago. He let us know that the last time he visited the city, his concert was postponed and moved at the last minute due to the seventh game of the World Series when the Cubs earned the championship title in 2016. He said the sound guy is the only spectator he could serenade that time around.
But this time, he brought together the crowd that was meant to meet him in the first place, those young, those old, those male and those female, those overtly weird and those just kind of shy, but full of movement.