The Bare Necessities:
Penn Johnson channels and projects stories through song. His sound is a genre as-of-yet undefined, but his true-to-life lyrics, acoustic melodies, harmonic rhythms, and passionate verses echo an era that once collected the masses. Some call it medicinal folk – other simply recognize the music flowing through him inspires dancing, conscious thought, and healing connection. A Massachusetts native, Penn has traveled the country solo for the majority of his young adult life. His first memoir Trail Mix & Goon: Adventures Abroad in Oz was published at age 26. His debut studio single Burn a Little Sage was released independently in October 2018 and was a semi-finalist in the 2018 Music City Star Song Competition. It was followed shortly by Circle Forming in November and his first solo acoustic release Echo in January 2019. He will be releasing more songs and touring extensively in 2019.
Penn in His Own Words:
Heyo, Penn here. I was born in a small town conservative suburb bubble northwest of Cape Cod oblivious to the struggles of the world, in the days of Babylon...
When I was young, I played in tree forts and ran around the neighborhood until it got dark. As I got older, I traded outdoor games for screen time and junk food, ignorant to how my impact was damaging the earth and my body. My senior year of high school, my direction began to shift. I fell in love with the Catcher in the Rye and started my first novel. In college, I joined a fraternity (and got kicked out), became a vegan, studied abroad in Australia (and published a journal about my time there), encouraged my board of trustees to divest (they declined), and graduated with many stories, but no direction. I started playing guitar and writing songs, but a lot of the time they missed the mark.
Post-graduation, I was living in Massachusetts with my parents looking for a job. Before too long, a fellow activist called and said she was working in Pennsylvania with a small nonprofit. They had a budget for food and a place to stay. So I hopped in my car and took off for the shalefields of Montrose, Pennsylvania. In Montrose, I was thrown into disillusionment and the stories of former industry workers, farmers, landowners, and activists on polar opposites of the political spectrum inspired me to write music which later culminated in my first record For The Trees.
Sometime later, the name ‘Penn’ was given me by a fellow songwriter who introduced me to Todd Snider's music. When I saw Todd play live, I knew I wanted to be a folksinger. Since then, I’ve had my life threatened, slept in beach thickets, and sang my heart out on street corners hoping for leftover food from strangers. I’ve been through it. Over 150,000 miles of it. With all the characters for a new-age Kerouac tale narrated by Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Kurt Vonnegut, with an introduction by The Dalai Llama.
After releasing my grip on an egoic version of who I thought I was and drinking myself into a pit, mostly documented on my sophomore record Experiencing Turbulence, I found harmony through mindfulness, conscious community, and living a plant-based minimalist vanlife. All of these seeds shifted my direction once more. Since I embraced meditative practices, I’ve unleashed a flowing channel of never-ending transmissions. Many, many songs, and endless reflections (most of them unheard). I’ve been experimenting with tarot and astrology and consider myself a novice-in-training. But from what I keep learning, masters are just novices with more experience and the same level of frustration (they just hide it better).
It’s taken me a long time to get here, but every sign points forward. I’ve had groovy gigs and shit gigs and everything in between. I've had bands come together and fall apart. I've lost everything only to gain it all back. Every bit of it has helped me grow. My hope is to inspire others to let the wind take them wherever they're called. People seem to dig it. I sure do. My latest little compilation CD is called Barefoot Vandit and includes an amalgamation of solo and full band recordings from my past three years on the road. It could disappear at any time so make sure you grab a copy before it’s gone. I’ve got a few stories. Come find me around the fire to hear more.