Have you ever heard a song that changed your life?
Maybe it be the way a musician’s voice can tell a story, making you feel a sense of heartbreak or release, reminding you that you aren’t alone. Or maybe the way they handle their instrument, slowly plucking the guitar in a way that reminds you of your home from a land faraway. Or maybe just the sheer act of them recording a video makes you feel like you are on this journey with them, supporting a friend with their dream or inspiring yourself to pursue yours, too.
That seems to be the impact this trio of singer-songwriters have had.
Minutes before doors opened to The Chapel last Thursday night in the heart of the Mission in San Francisco, a line had already formed to a loyal fanbase of teenagers, young adults and parents alike.
Justin Kawika Young, Melissa Polinar and Gabe Bondoc, each with their own unique style of songwriting and musicianship, treated their younger, predominantly Asian-American fanbase to a night of intimate tunes.
Bondoc, a Bay Area native (San Mateo to be exact) and acoustic-R&B sensation, opened the night with his suave acoustic stylings and smooth vocals. He performed old classics such as “Gentlemen Don’t” and “Stronger Than,” two originals that jumpstarted his YouTube fame back in 2006 and 2007.
As this night was one of three California shows (the others in Los Angeles and San Diego that following weekend), Bondoc was a special add-on for this Bay Area show.
With the release of his new record Twelve just this past August, fellow musician friend Melissa Polinar said this show would be a great way to support his music.
“Gabe and I had a previous conversation about how it’s kind of interesting how he’s somewhat of a local guy, but he hasn’t really played around the area,” Polinar said.
As his performance garnered numerous squeals by girls in the audience (including a fun cover of Disney The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life”), he mesmerized the room with his familiar, easy-going charm that many have felt through his infamous One-Take Sessions on YouTube. As a new father, he also brought his 14-month-old daughter Savannah along, mentioning she’s “excited to have a free pass to stay up past bedtime.”
As Polinar took the stage next, her performance emitted her infectious sense of ease and joy of music.
She opened with the feel-good soul tune “Feels Like Home,” co-written with David Ryan Harris (guitarist for John Mayer, Santana). Her set was reminiscent of a Norah Jones-esque session, as the smooth piano keys, soft drum and brush beats of her backing band complemented her single voice and guitar.
Polinar, who first reached YouTube fame when she promoted her shows at summer festivals from her home in suburban Texas back in the late 2000s, has allowed her raw talent and undeniable knack for songwriting to differentiate her from the pack.
“If you look back in history, a lot of the greatest artists out there kind of stick to their guns and just do it no matter how popular or not popular they are,” Polinar said to me in an interview.
As fans have openly expressed their deep connections to Polinar’s music for having helped them through tough times, she performed her originals “Try” and “Meant To Be” to an audience that sang back every word.
“I always just kind of hope [my music] will inspire other people to be whoever they wanna be, whether it be in music or otherwise,” she said.
As Justin Kawika Young closed the night off with his laid-back island swagger and 90s R&B singer-songwriter style, he filled the room with smooth island vibes fused with the kind of voice that can make one swoon.
As the main guitarist and backup vocalist for wife Colbie Caillat, Young has an illustrious background in writing and recording island music. He released his debut album in 1996 at the age of 17 and has had active radio play and musical opportunities throughout Hawaii. From the mellow up-strums of his guitar, sweet vocals and nods of sunshine-inspired island music, his roots and musings of the island are apparent through songs like “Never Forget Where I’m From” and “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”
But Young’s talent and knack for songwriting are shown best through the recent releases of his 3-song EPs Tomorrow From Yesterday and Million Breakers, under the name Kawika Young.
He described the release of this project as “[what] Kurt Vonnegut called, writing for an audience of one,” meaning that letting art out into the world that you’re proud of is better than not releasing anything at all.
As he performed these songs live, Young’s vocals soared over the smooth piano riffs, drum-pad beats and funky bass lines in a way that perfectly captured his island soul and heart for 90s R&B.
“I used to assume I wasn’t born with a good voice or I wasn’t born with the same talents as someone else,” Young said to me in an interview.
“But I really truly think that most talent is earned. If you want to be better, then you need to work better. It’s empowering when you realize that.”
As the artists stayed for countless photo-ops, meetings and signings with fans, it was clear that they have created a community with their music.
“We have mutual respect for each other as musicians,” Polinar said to me earlier. “It’s not about ego, who’s headlining, who’s not headlining. It’s just a bunch of friends getting together.”
Please support the above-mentioned artists at the links listed below.
Twelve LP is available for purchase via iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/twelve/id1134805879).
Polinar’s upcoming EP is set to release late 2016. Help her reach her goal and support her PledgeMusic campaign (http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/mpolinar).
JUSTIN KAWIKA YOUNG
Million Breakers EP (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/million-breakers-single/id1146103497) and Tomorrow From Yesterday EP (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/tomorrow-from-yesterday-single/id1154345756) is available to purchase via iTunes.