I first encountered Jonny Fritz (then Jonny Corndawg) at a screening of Stray Dawg, a short documentary that captures Jonny's wry, exuberant personality and his unique and self-wrought life, as he trains for a marathon and tours the country with a guitar and amp strapped to his motorcycle. I happened to watch Stray Dawg at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival just after seeing a long documentary about a grueling year in the life of the dour violin wunderkind Andrew Bird. Many of my friends swooned at Bird's virtuosity and tragic manner, which evoked that of a sickly, cloistered 18th-century composer, but it really got me down about the pleasures of being a musician.
Jonny lives his life in stark and refreshing contrast to this somber vision of the artist at work - from rollerblading from Philadelphia to New York, performing prostrate at Bonnaroo in a neck brace, or dancing in front of a desert sundown with Roman candles blasting off in his hand (see his music video for "Goodbye Summer"), Jonny always looks like he's having so much fun. His music is immediately approachable (if you have the stomach for off-the-wall double entendres about cunnilingus) and no less intelligent - the first song of his to get stuck in my head and grab me lyrically was "Exercise", a country song that features the line "Drink water and juice with a little slice of lemon/ eat a raw clove of garlic every once in a while/ meditate, appreciate, learn a foreign language,/ and understand that immigrants have the hardest lives". As with my favorite country singers, from Roger Miller to John Prine to Johnny Paycheck to Dwight Yoakam, Jonny rejects the notion that his songs have to be either funny or serious - each song, whether about heartbreak or longing, dogs or trucks, is imbued with humor, and not just for the sake of a laugh, but simply because humor is the language Jonny uses to connect with and color his world.
Jonny Fritz plays Total Fest's opening night, Thursday, August 20th at the Zootown Arts Community Center. The Best Westerns provide the backing.