IF YOU GO
What: Nightfall concert series featuring Van Hunt.
When: 8 p.m. today; Rick Rushing & The Blues Strangers opens at 7.
Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Cherry and Market streets.
Rick Rushing is a local blues rock/jazz singer and guitarist. His backing band is The Blues Strangers, featuring Adam Russell on bass and Steve Muse on drums. For more information, visit www.reverbnation.com/rickrushingthebluesstrangers.
Singer/songwriter and producer Van Hunt is at his most comfortable in the studio, but in the wake of 2008's economic collapse, it was on the streets of Los Angeles that he found his latest creative inspiration.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Hunt left home at 18 to move to Atlanta, where he remained until 2007, when he relocated to L.A.
An amateur photographer, Hunt said his latest album, "What Were You Hoping For?", was inspired by pictures he took during his first year of the city's swelling homeless population and the abandoned furniture littering its sidewalks.
After a friend pointed out that he was essentially documenting "castoff objects," Hunt began to write around that theme.
"(What influenced me) was watching it slowly crumble and things unravel as people's lives fall apart, financially, including my own," he said.
The album was built around the title track, which he wrote about two families living in a downtrodden neighborhood, one group longtime residents, the other forced there by downsizing. The overriding message of the album, Hunt said, was a rhetorical question directed at those responsible for the recession.
When it was released last September, "What Were You Hoping For?" represented a chance to offer something new and hopeful, even though it was inspired by an event that caused widespread despair and desperation.
Growing up, Hunt was influenced by artists spanning a wide spectrum of genres, from Johann Sebastian Bach and The Isley Brothers to Curtis Mayfield and Thelonious Monk. His music reflects this diversity, incorporating elements of funk, rock, neo-soul and R&B in equal measure.
He twice has been nominated for Grammy Awards, winning one in 2006 for a group tribute to Sly & The Family Stone's "Family Affair" with John Legend and Joss Stone. He has taken the stage alongside artists such as Kanye West, Coldplay and Dave Matthews Band, among others.
Tonight, Hunt will take the stage alongside drummer Ruthie Price at Miller Plaza as this week's Nightfall headliner.
A mostly self-taught musician, Hunt said that for a long time he was uncomfortable performing due to a lack of confidence in his instrumental and vocal abilities. After more than a decade, however, he said, he feels at home onstage now and wants to share songs that grab people's attention.
"My only goal is to have the most impactful material that I can," he said. "I want to take the songs now and make sure the arrangements really do what I need to do in order to create the most excitement in the listener."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...