By LEISA GREENE NELSON
On stage at Sean Kelly’s on the last semi-final night there is a heavy metal pealing guitar band performing. It is body to body at the low-ceiling venue. For most there is energy of excitement but for some the air feels dense.
Back toward the kitchen in his multi-colored beanie hat, Josh Farmer’s eyes are closed, he is sitting with his back against the wall where his head rests.
One hour earlier, he played for the week long Jazz Festival, Jazzoula. Josh rushed to Sean Kelly’s and needed time to get centered, feel, and breathe. Later Josh says, “I need to do it often, or I’d lose it.”
If someone approaches Josh and tells him they look forward to hearing him play, Josh replies, “I look forward to playing for you.” You know it is genuine. Upon complimenting the slight young man with his long distinct nose, and opal charcoal eyes he will meet your eye, automatically put his left hand to his heart, and say “Thank you.”
He has a soft, earthy, spiritual sense about him. When Josh gets onstage, his enigmatic impression carries over with a breezy yet dynamic and intensified energy of smooth, sensual funk and jazz.
Josh plays the electric keyboard and as he starts the music he lifts his left hand off the piano on the upward beat.
He sways in a circle, like the top of a tall cottonwood tree spilling its cotton dancing to the vibrations of the wind. He wipes his hand on his pants and kicks out his left leg to the beat while his long fingers play the keys.
He looks to his band members: Valley Lopez on drums, Jesse Christian on bass, and electric guitarist Tommy Pertis whom Josh has worked with in Jazz for three years.
Tommy takes it away, lifting his body up and down to the beat, mouth open.
The band builds rhythmic pressure steadily, slowly, like filling a water balloon.
You feel it grow, swell, then burst to spray over the audience as Josh sings, “Hold my hand and say, let’s be unafraid. No, no more regrets.”
Josh is unaware; he is inside the music as he sings his original song titled, “Unafraid”:
Here it comes, the times they are a changing
weather’s getting stranger, people all wonder
who’s in charge — you’re in charge.
As the fire’s rage, I catch a glimpse in your direction,
to wander your perception add it
into my collection of your thoughts.
Oh but come Judgement day, why we still
running away? Let’s be unafraid.
Coming from a place of fear or being in a victim role is no longer what Josh Farmer is about. Josh admittedly says, “I thought it was because of other people that I didn’t have what I want. My parents’ fault. My loneliness too. I had a lack of motivation. I watched TV, wasted time. I was not engaged in life. I was waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen.”
After a miserable freshman year at the UofM, Josh enrolled in NYU and drove by himself to New York City. He took Jazz classes, got a job, and was madly in love with this girl, Danielle. The first song he ever wrote was due to her rejection of him. Josh went to the music building alone, to write. Josh says, “It was so wonderful because it was so painful.”
He wrote the song “Heaven Knows,” germinating the seed of confidence. Josh knew he loved playing music and performing, but was always waiting for confirmation from someone outside of himself. Josh states, “That was where my life began to shift.”
Composer, and Josh’s mentor, Rich Shemaria was a “wise piano teacher” who taught Josh to see where he was at. Shemaria told Josh to “do it your own way but learn from others.”
Farmer didn’t attend many lessons with Shemaria and was at NYU a short five months. He missed Montana, the fresh air. He returned to Missoula and returned to the UM where he met great close friends.
He decided in 2009 to quit school. He felt he was not making anything of his life. Josh says, “It was an awakening period for me.”
With his dad’s support of his decision, Josh decided to work his craft full-time. His father prepared him to become individually responsible and helped him out for a year after he quit school. On his 21st birthday Josh “figured it was time to become more responsible” and adopted a mutt German Shepherd/ Boxer mix and named him Jude.
Doing what Josh loves most, he began to realize that when he got out of his own way he was taken care of. Farmer says, “I stopped needing material things. I spend time taking care of my vegetable and flower garden. I don’t need a lot of stuff. It’s not what’s important, or who I am. It was a cleansing. Relationships are what are important to me.”
Josh talks about Matthew 6:28, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the King James Version of the Bible it reads, “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” Josh humbly says, “I may quote this somewhat wrong, but it says something like; look at the lilies of the field, and God clothes you, takes care of you.”
Strumming and composing on his guitar are how most of his favorite original songs are developed. Josh relays, “Writing on a guitar is more natural, you can feel vibrations coming out. Composing music is different every time and it is still very elusive to me.”
He vamps grooves and chords-changes first. He then listens to the chords and writes the lyrics to go with the melody. “Sometimes it flows right out and sometimes a song will take months.”
Josh at this point has written “around 45 songs” some are not played out or finished. Most songs are written out; some are in a journal that he keeps by his bedside along with books by Paulo Coelho, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, and Calvin and Hobbes. A few lyrics are on scraps of paper.
Josh says “I recently wrote a song on an envelope” recognizing that he grabs whatever he can get his hands on when inspiration comes to him; he gives a generous smile and reaches his hand to his chest.
Around his neck, lying on his chest is a dark brown/black and soft grey marked egg-shaped Shiva Lingam stone. The Narmada River in India where you find this type of stone is considered sacred. The belief is that the stone resonates with energies of all the four main elements, earth, fire, water, air. The Lingam represents harmony and balance within the hearts of all of us, reflecting the light that shines from within. The stones vibrations have a different action, depending on where you place it.
This stone lies at Josh Farmer’s heart.
Sean Kelly’s Top of the Mic Final Results:
1st Place – The Hasslers
2nd Place – Josh Farmer Band
3rd Place – John Floridis
Regular Open Mic begins this Thursday, May 17 at 8:30 p.m. If you want to sign up to perform at Open Mic Night call Sean Kelly’s at 8:30am and reserve a slot to get on the schedule for that night.
Read more of Leisa’s stories about the Missoula music scene.
Call her a big city girl at heart, finding and satiating that appetite in the city of Missoula. Born in Butte and raised in Missoula, she is fascinated by people and looks for interesting characters to write about. Everyone has a story to tell, or not, but the people and places in Missoula are unique.
Moving fast in life (for that big city feel) Leisa’s passions bounce around music, theater, food, art, family, and friends that’s supported by an IV line of dark roasted coffee. Single and a recent graduate from the University of Montana with a BA in Creative Writing, she learned what it was like to be a co-ed in her 40s.
She currently works as an Office Manager at Inter-State Studio and Publishing, working on school photos and yearbooks. Her personal life and nightlife is where she discovers and creates creative non-fiction stories. She has four supportive, loving children: Dustin, Michael, Jalynn, and Mark (adopted through marriage to Dustin) who are all artistically creative in writing, theater, dance, and singing. Leisa likes to think she moves faster than they do.