NEPA Scene’s Got Talent spotlight: Clarks Summit singer/songwriter James Barrett
Every week of NEPA Scene’s Got Talent, our free open mic and talent competition at Thirst T’s Bar & Grill in Olyphant, we feature a quick Q&A with the latest audience vote winner, which was Clarks Summit singer/songwriter James Barrett on Sept. 22.
The weekly winner receives $50 in cash, courtesy of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and the headlining slot for the following Tuesday, and all other performers are encouraged to compete again as often as they’d like or simply show off their talents for fun. The event is sponsored by Samuel Adams; LT Verrastro, Inc.; Fireball Cinnamon Whisky; Fuzz 92.1; TwentyFiveEight Studios; and Thirst T’s.
After 12 weeks, the 12 winners will face off against each other at the Finals Showcase on Dec. 1 in front of a panel of local celebrities who will determine the winner of the grand prize – a winter getaway package with ski passes and more, $250, an interview broadcast on Fuzz 92.1, and a free 10-hour recording session at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton. The second place winner will receive $100.
We asked Barrett, an 18-year-old senior at Abington Heights High School, about winning Week 4 with his deeply personal acoustic songs.
NEPA SCENE: How did you hear about NEPA Scene’s Got Talent, and what made you decide to perform over the last few weeks?
JAMES BARRETT: I frequently read NEPA Scene, so I knew of it, and also I knew a few winners from last season. I just liked the idea of an open mic that, for the most part, encourages original music or talent. That sold me.
NS: For those who don’t know you yet, tell us a bit about your background as a musician. How did you get started?
JB: I started playing bass when I was about 8 or 9 years old and then taught myself guitar about a year after. I didn’t start writing or singing until I was about 12. I played in a band called Bad Answers for a while, along with another project called Shop Local with my friend Terry Hurst. Now I play guitar and sing in a band called Emberá, and I am in the process of recording a solo EP.
NS: How do you approach writing songs for both of your current projects, and how do you separate them?
JB: When I play by myself, I tend to play more of my solo songs mainly because they sound empty without the guitarist in my band. I usually write all the songs by myself, and if I feel like they have a heavier feel to them, I usually show my band and see what they think. Some songs fit better acoustic than others, and that usually is the deciding factor when deciding where they go.
NS: Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your songs. It seems like you’re telling some personal stories.
JB: I am not a big fan of this tendency, but I tend to write songs only about personal experiences or people I know personally. I try to be more open to other ideas when it comes to writing, but it usually comes back to having some personal meaning behind it. In the end, I write about what is significant in my life because if it wasn’t important in my life, it wouldn’t be a good song to me.
NS: Is music something that you’d like to pursue as a career or is it just for fun?
JB: I would love to pursue it as a career. Right now, I am uncertain about college, or what I even would do if I went, which is why I keep coming back to something I know I want, which is to play music and be happy. I am going to try and see what happens.
NS: What was your immediate reaction when you won the audience vote last week?
JB: I felt really incredible. It just felt really amazing to know that people appreciated something I wrote enough to set me apart from the other incredible performers. It was an amazing feeling.
NS: Why do you think you won the audience vote?
JB: I am not too sure. I think playing all original songs had something to do with it. I felt pretty good that night too, so maybe a mixture of both.
NS: How will you spend your $50 prize?
JB: Sadly, I actually spent most of it already. I ate Chipotle, went to a house show, and bought a t-shirt from my friends. They’re in a band called Worries, and they’re real sick.
NS: What are you most looking forward to about the Finals Showcase?
JB: Sharing a stage with a bunch of great and talented performers and showing people some of my music. The exposure is the best part.
NS: What is your opinion of the local arts and entertainment scene? What is great about it, and what needs improvement?
JB: I think all the music and entertainment in this area is unbelievable. Almost everywhere I turn, there is something great that blows me away. We have such talented people, which is real special. I think we just need to make the best out of what we have and stop focusing on what we don’t. That applies to me as well because I tend to get frustrated at stupid things.
NS: Do you have any upcoming shows or performances you’d like to promote?
JB: Right now, I just have a few shows at some bars coming up.
Oct. 15: Legend’s Saloon (750 Boulevard Ave., Dickson City)
Oct. 16: Ale Mary’s (126 Franklin Ave., Scranton)
Oct. 23: POSH at the Scranton Club (404 N. Washington Ave., Scranton)
NS: Where can people find your music online?
JB: Facebook (solo and full band), Bandcamp, YouTube, and Instagram. New acoustic music will be out soon.
For more information on Season 2 of NEPA Scene’s Got Talent, which is always free and open to anyone, click here.
See more photos from last week’s event here.
Photo by Daring Damsel
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.