Andy Grammer’s perpetual optimism lights his way to the Foothills Fall Festival
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
You may not have heard of the singer-songwriter opening up for Train at this weekend’s Foothills Fall Festival — not yet, anyway — but you’ll leave Jack Greene Park on Saturday night as a new fan.
That’s almost a guarantee. Not by the man himself — Andy Grammer’s too humble a guy to make such a declaration — but by the music he makes, an infectious blend of pop, rock, sing-along grooves, tropical rhythms and positive vibes that Grammer has been putting out there since he first picked up a guitar and started busking on the street.
The son of singer-songwriter Red Grammer of The Limeliters, Grammer was born in Los Angeles, raised in New York and returned to the West Coast when he was 20. Raised with music in his home and heart, he took his guitar one day down to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, where he started playing for passing crowds.
“I made a decision from the moment I went out there that I wasn’t going to do the begging thing,” Grammer said. “If you beg while you’re playing music on the street, it takes the magic out of the interaction. Music is awesome, and it makes you feel awesome, but if you try to sell something, it messes things up. I knew I would have to go out there and amp up how good everything feels, to just go out and have a great time and put my trust in the day.”
Slowly but surely, he started turning heads. Passersby stopped to watch the smiling, enthusiastic young guitarist, and his original songs, uplifting and fun and positive, started drawing more people who lingered a little longer during their stroll down the promenade.
“All you want is to have a cool interaction, to write something that people will hear and like, and when you’re getting started, it doesn’t happen very much,” Grammer said. “But even if I was playing for two people and one of them gave me five bucks, that was like the best day over. And to go out there and make $150 in a night when I was getting started was a really big deal.”
His street performances slowly transitioned into local gigs, and Grammer was soon playing everything from birthday parties to high school dances to fraternity parties. His determination to perform wherever a crowd might receive him, and his unflagging optimism, carried him through even on his darkest days.
“I’m extremely, almost annoyingly optimistic,” Grammer said with a laugh. “People close to me tell me that. I always say things like, ‘It’s totally going to work out,’ and they’ll say, ‘Well, of course you would say that.’ Optimism is cool, though, when it’s grounded, when you go through some crap and you’re still smiling. That’s what’s cool.”
He went through his share of doubt and pain; when he was 25, his mother died from breast cancer, and in those early days while he played on the streets while his friends went on to law school and careers, he occasionally wondered if he was doing the right thing. But even in those times, he channeled his positive disposition and did what he does best: He wrote a song.
“‘Keep Your Head Up’ — I wrote that one for myself,” he said of his first single, which reached No. 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Reaches Top 5
Grammer released his self-titled debut album last year, and his life has been a whirlwind ever since. He’s toured with the likes of Colbie Caillat, the Plain White T’s, Parachute and Natasha Bedingfield; he’s performed on “The Tonight Show” and “Live with Regis & Kelly”; “Keep Your Head Up” made him the first male pop star since Jason Mraz in 2003 to reach the Top 5 on Adult Pop Radio; he sang a duet in concert with Taylor Swift; he’s on tour opening for Train, guys he considers close friends and big supporters.
But the success plays second fiddle to those human connections that he sought to make when he first took his guitar to the promenade. These days, fans will want hugs and a moment to share what his music has meant to them; for Grammer, it doesn’t get better than that.
“They’ll sneak up on me,” he said with a chuckle. “They’ll start a story by saying, ‘I just wanted to tell you,’ and then it’ll be something unbelievably sincere and sweet, and it gets us both crying in the meet-and-greet line. That’s the magic of radio, how it kind of feels like some otherworldly thing puts a song out there for someone when they need it the most. And I just think it’s so cool that I can create something that’s had all of these little moments.”