BURRILLVILLE – Jonas Woods has performed in thousands of venues across the country, sharing the stage with artists including Jars of Clay and Mute Math.
He’s seen his music played on VH1 and MTV, and earned national recognition as a Christian recording artist.
But he says it’s a simpler musical life – living back in his hometown of Burrillville and touring with his family – that he finds the most gratifying.
And on Saturday, March 16, he’ll debut his latest album in the town he calls home with an intimate performance in a 354-seat historic venue.
Whispers, the singer/songwriter’s fifth album, and the third under his name, will be released by Old Bear Records the day before his appearance at the Assembly Theatre.
The story of one local’s rise to fame – and his eventual realization that a life of music could still focus on family – began rather unexpectedly.
Woods began playing violin at the age of five, and was classically trained throughout high school and college.
“Music has always been a part of my life,” he told NRI NOW.
But he says he never imagined it could become a full time job.
He attended Whitinsville Christian School in Massachusetts and credits violin teacher Monica Vanderbaan with encouraging and developing his talent.
“She’s brilliant and she treated me so well – like I was a peer, almost,” Woods said. “It shaped a lot of how I treat people now. I really like to help people in this industry because it’s a really scary industry.”
In college Woods and a group of friends formed Farewell June, a Christian pop band he says at the time was “just for fun.”
“I had no idea it was a remote possibility to do it for work,” he said of making music.
After one of many free concerts put on by the band, made up of students at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, the group was approached by a producer and asked if they wanted to record an album.
“After that, everything went really fast,” said Woods. “The next thing I knew I was in Nashville.”
The band became popular with hits including “Servant” and “Shine,” leading to a non-stop schedule of live performances.
“It was absolutely crazy,” Woods said.
At points during Farewell June’s 8-year run, Woods says he was playing around 200 shows a year.
“It just became too much,” he said.
The band broke up in 2009, although not for “bad reasons,” Woods explained.
“They’re still my best friends,” he said.
While positive, the Burrillville native notes the experience was exhausting, and took him from some of the things he values most. And as he launched the next phase of his career, he knew it had to be on different terms.
“I walked away from record labels and decided to do things independently,” Woods said.
Now, the songwriter and father of two tours with the family including wife Becky, who sings with him.
“We just decided to load up and started hitting the road together and it’s been amazing,” he said.
“In retrospect, it was an awesome decision,” he added. “I’m not leaving the family behind anymore.”
Woods describes his new album as “bluesy folk,” listing James Taylor as an influence. He says that it differs from his first two as a solo artist in that it represents who he truly wants to be as a performer.
“My first – it was kind of a learning curve,” he said, noting that he initially tried to recreate the type of music he made with the band.
His second, Tales of the Bittersweet, was produced by award-winning musician Paul Colman, who he describes as a close friend.
“That pushed my wife and I right back into full-time touring,” Woods said.
Still, he notes the album was more eclectic than what may now be his signature sound.
“I was feeling out who I was going to be,” he said.
Despite his skepticism of record labels, when Woods was approached by Old Bear Records, a smaller studio out of upstate New York, the connection was instant.
“They’re just amazing,” he said. “We connected so well that it was almost a no-brainer for me to sign.”
Woods says that stylistically, Whispers is a “throwback record.”
“The mindset was: Could we go back 50 years and put this record on and love it, and could we put it on 50 years from now and love it?” he said. “This record, without question, is who I want people to see. For me, it was the most joy I’ve had ever doing a record.”
The songwriter moved back to Burrillville after ten years in Missouri and Tennessee, and became a vocal opponent against a proposal to build a power plant in the rural community. His popularity has helped to amplify the voices of others in the community opposed to the idea of the plant, and led to his first performance in Burrillville: a benefit at the hometown theater.
Asked why he chose the venue to debut his album, Woods said, “I love this town, so for me it was an easy decision.”
He said he’s excited to be part of the effort to revitalize the venue.
“I’ve been in every modern venue on the planet and some of the oldest venues in the country,” he said. “A venue the size of the Assembly is infinitely better, not just from my perspective as an artist, but for the audience. It’s so much more intimate.”
Plus, he notes, “The acoustics in that room are fantastic. Having done this for the past 17 years, this is the kind of venue everyone should be flocking to.”
“I’m excited to see this thing come to life,” he added. “It really needs to happen.”
Jonas Woods will perform at the Assembly Theater on Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at https://smarttix.com/Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?SalesEventId=8668&fbclid=IwAR265dlwdpZ50fkRnPuWu-uIdQyLgmThDJzpqDvOgzWQJNrPRqXYn11dKLc