by Dom Jones
The last (and first) time I saw Kevin Ross perform, he was opening for Ro James. While it was a great performance, it didn’t feel right. I thought, “this guy is a headliner… not an opener!” As he would explain earlier this week, it has taken him over five years since signing to Motown Records to get here. Where is here? Back in Boston, headlining his own tour, aptly named after his debut album, The Awakening. You may wonder why it took so long. If he was signed over five years ago, why didn’t we see an album sooner (especially if you have the knowledge that he wrote for big names like Jamie Foxx, opened for Maxwell on tour, and had features with Ne-Yo and T.I.)? In the interim, he did release an EP, Dialogue in the Grey, but the answer to the question is simple: development. It takes development of artistry, relationships, and aesthetic to pull off a successful debut in this era of over saturation of the marketplace at all levels of music and entertainment. Kevin has always commented that he thought he would be content as a songwriter or someone in the background, but that life had other plans for him. The positivity in his music isn’t a facade. It actually matches the person behind, which is why I was amped to see him take center stage for his first headlining tour.
First of all, the look was on point, fam. Last time I saw him, the look was cool – jeans, some tims, a t-shirt, and jacket, but nothing to write home about. Bro came out this time looking sleek. Beyond that, the huge screen at the back of the stage that alternated between his logo and different images to support the set was a great touch, as well as the huge lights on either side of him at the front of the stage. It’s like it didn’t matter if we were in a mid-sized venue or an arena, Ross was committed to giving a stellar show in every way.
A big highlight of the show for me was the nod given to popular tunes from the 90s, mashups which Kevin has become known for on his social media. We heard everything from SWV to Tevin Campbell, which was awesome, as I find that newer artists moreso sample older music, rather than just appreciating it in its original state. A wave of nostalgia swept through the place during this point in the set, and the crowd was obviously loving every moment of it. There were also lots of Berklee students, alums, and even some faculty in the building, and there was no hesitation on Kevin’s part in acknowledging and thanking the community for coming out to support him. When Ross launched into his #1 single “Long Song Away,” he even invited Berklee professor Nichelle Mungo up to sing a few bars of the song with him.
What set this show apart from many of the other shows I’ve been to was the consistent and genuine gratitude that emanated from the artist to the crowd and vice versa. During his song, “Dreams,” one woman even yelled out from the audience, “My dream is to sing background for you!” There was such a clear and distinct joy from everyone in the room that the show transcended into an experience. If you haven’t had an opportunity to see Kevin Ross live yet, there are just two more opportunities on The Awakening Tour: June 17th in Los Angeles at the Viper Room (Berklee Alums in LA – GO SUPPORT!) and July 18th in my hometown of Oakland, California at the legendary jazz club Yoshi’s. If you’re on the West Coast, get your tickets here!
CHECK OUT A CLIP OF KEVIN’S PERFORMANCE ON OUR INSTAGRAM & DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW!