There are many different, and some would say controversial, criteria that one must meet in order to be considered a Northfield “townie.” Some say you be a graduate of Northfield High School. Others say you must be have lived in Northfield for at least twenty years. Still other would say you must have at least three tattoos (with one at least partially visible when fully clothed) and, for men, you must have a beard that extends at least four inches below your chin.
I would add one more: you must have seen Jon Manners perform somewhere in town.
If you’ve lived in Northfield for more than five years and you don’t know who Jon Manners is, you’re just doing it wrong. But, don’t panic, we have a simple solution for you. Jon Manners is playing at 7:00 pm on Saturday, right here at Imminent Brewing.
If the Northfield Music Scene was Hollywood, Jon Manners would be Marlon Brando. If the Northfield Music Scene was food, Jon Manners would be Filet Mignon. If the Northfield music scene was history, Jon Manners would be Leonardo Da Vinci. If the Northfield Music Scene was Washington D.C., Jon Manners would be nowhere-to-be-found, because Jon Manners is far too good to be involved with that cesspool. The man is a National Treasure, but only known to music fans in Southern Minnesota, Connecticut and parts of California.
And, as is usually the case with all great men, his wife, Connie, is even cooler.
Jon’s been playing music for more than five decades. He wrote his first song in the late fifties, and joined his first band in the early sixties. Future guitar legend John Scofield, then a younger schoolmate of Jon’s, wanted to be in that band but he wasn’t even allowed to audition because the bass player didn’t think he had the chops to keep up with Jon.
Okay, I realize that this sounds like a lot of hype and superlative, but if you haven’t seen or heard Jon, then you really are missing something special. After nearly sixty years of playing music and writing songs, Jon has that most elusive quality in all of music - he has an utterly unique sound. His songs have elements of folk, jazz, soul, rock, pop and R&B embedded in their foundations. His lyrics are clever and poetic. His voice is an impressive baritone filtered through a little gravel and -probably, long ago - a cigarette filter or two. He even makes his own guitars. He is a true original.
I’ve known Jon for many years. I’ve listened to his music with utter fascination. I’ve watched him perform and been mesmerized by him. He works so simply on stage, with just an acoustic guitar, a stool and a board to tap his foot on. But the music flows out of him, almost lifting him up. He’ll sway back and forth on his chair, and when he’s feeling it, there’s a smile on his face as big as any you’ve ever seen.
I’ve also had the pleasure to interview him and listen to his stories. Ask him sometime about his experiences with Andrew Loog Oldham, who probably should have been Jon’s manager, except he was too busy working with a band called The Rolling Stones. In fact, if you talk to him long enough, you’ll come to understand the dark flip side of fate. Where some people walk into a record store and meet the person who will one day make them a rock star, Jon seems to have simply missed those events. It’s like if he had turned right instead of left on a random street corner on a random day in 1966, he’d be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today. His music is that good. His talent is that strong. His abilities are that complete.
But fate’s miss is Northfield’s gain. Yeah, he’s not world famous, but since 1980, he has been a cornerstone of the of the Northfield Music scene. And when I say he’s at the top of our little mountain, I’m not kidding. Ask any of the people who play with regularity in this town and they will all tell you how much they love and admire Jon.
Jon, of course, will laugh this off. He’s a humble, unassuming man. But he loves music. He loves to play it. He loves talk about it. He loves to create it.
If you don’t love to hear him make music, than you’ve clearly never seen him. So come to Imminent on Saturday night and catch an essential piece of the Northfield experience.
We’ve got Jon Manners. That’s pretty awesome.