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On the Front Row with John Willis

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Original songs of modern love and life. Beautifully composed and arranged - with expert accompaniment and complex harmonies - Willis' heartfelt and jaunty pieces possess a timeless, intergenerational appeal.

Willis is a singer songwriter who grew up listening to equal parts Motown, '60s-'70s singer/songwriters and gospel. He took piano lessons and learned to love classical music, listened to late night jazz on public radio in high school, and added world music in college. Given this background, his music is a lush pop mix with piano and vocal harmonies. Willis' new release, the "King of the Cocktail Party EP," is a blend of piano-based pop, jazz and parlor music that has drawn comparisons to Harry Nilsson, Leon Russell, and more recent acts Rufus Wainwright and Feist. This performance features Willis on lead vocals, piano and guitar; Chris Atwood on bass; Evan Barr on drums; Sarah Stricklin on backup vocals and additional keyboards; and Sydney Hunsicker on backup vocals, accordion, harmonica and additional percussion.

The broadcast marks John Willis' second appearance on "AETN Presents: On the Front Row." Previously, Willis appeared as an accompanist for Bonnie Montgomery in her rendition of "Billy Blythe," Montgomery's original opera based on the early years of Bill Clinton's life.

"I am a longtime viewer of AETN," said Willis. "I credit a 'Sesame Street' episode, where an animated orange sang Bizet's 'Carmen,' for sparking a lifelong love of classical music. In much the same way, 'The Lawrence Welk Show' was my first exposure to the Great American Songbook, which heavily informs my songwriting today."

TRANSCRIPT

[CHEERING AND APPLAUDING]

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR COMING OUT TONIGHT. IT'S GREAT TO SEE EVERYBODY HERE. WOW, WHAT A CROWD. WE HAVE SOME SONGS TO PLAY FOR YOU  AND I HOPE YOU'LL ENJOY THEM. I CAN REMEMBER AS A LITTLE KID WATCHING AETN, BEING A LOVER OF PBS, I WAS STARTED ON "SESAME STREET" BEFORE I WAS REALLY CONSCIOUS OF ANYTHING, I THINK. AND, SO, CERTAIN THINGS LIKE THE ORANGE SINGING, THE FAMOUS ARIA, YOU KNOW, WHATEVER, THAT AND THEN I CAN REMEMBER SATURDAY NIGHTS 8 O'CLOCK OR SO WHEN WHEN I WAS REALLY YOUNG WATCHING THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW. WITH THAT A GOOD SCIENCE FICTION. (APPLAUSE)

I'M SURE THAT EARLY EXPOSURE FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE PARTICULAR STYLE OF MUSIC THAT I PLAY. SO, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, THIS ONE IS KING OF THE COCKTAIL PARTY. ♪ ♪ [PIANO INTRO] I GUESS I'M AN ACQUIRED TASTE BUT YOU MOVE SO ELEGANTLY IT SEEMED THE PERFECT RECIPE FOR LOVE 1 PART YOU, 1 PART ME THE SIMPLE SYRUP OF ROMANCE THE SWEET MELLOWS THE SOUR WITH A DASH OF BITTERS FOR BALANCE IT'S LOVE ON THE ROCKS AT HAPPY HOUR I'LL SIP THIS DRINK LIKE I DON'T CARE LIKE I DON'T KNOW YOU'RE THERE SITTING ACROSS FROM ME MAKE EVERYONE LAUGH IN THE ROOM THEN LEAVE A BIT TOO SOON LIKE I HAVE SOMEPLACE TO BE OH, I'D SURE LIKE YOU FOR MY QUEEN BUT I'M TRYING TO BE KING OF THIS COCK PALE PARTY ~ COCKTAIL PARTY I KEPT MY COINS STAYING SOBER FROM BEING DRUNK ON LOVE FROM CRASHING CARS AND BREAKING HEARTS [MOSTLY MINE] I GAVE IT UP BUT THEN YOU ASKED ME OVER FOR A DRINK AND I SAID "I'LL STICK TO TEA" YOU'RE SUCH A PRO AT MIXING SIGNALS UNAWARE OF HOW IT'S SHAKEN ME I'LL SIP THIS DRINK LIKE I DON'T CARE LIKE I DON'T KNOW YOU'RE THERE SITTING ACROSS FROM ME MAKE EVERYONE LAUGH IN THE ROOM THEN ACT LIKE A BUFFOON IT COMES SO NATURALLY CARRYING ON LIKE SOME OLD QUEEN STILL TRYING TO BE KING OF THIS COCKTAIL PARTY ♪ YOU WERE THE BEST I SHOULD HAVE GUESSED AND SAVED MY BREATH YOU WERE ONLY BEING FRIENDLY BUT I HAVE JUST ONE REQUEST PLEASE DON'T TELL NOBODY AND I PROMISE THAT I'LL SIP THIS DRINK LIKE I DON'T CARE LIKE I DON'T KNOW YOU'RE THERE SITTING ACROSS FROM ME MAKE EVERYONE LAUGH IN THE ROOM THEN LEAVE A BIT TOO SOON SO YOU DON'T NOTICE ME FOLDING EARLY WITH NO QUEEN STILL TRYING TO BE KING OF THIS COCKTAIL PARTY OH, FOLDING EARLY WITH NO QUEEN STILL TRYING TO BE KING OF THIS COCKTAIL PARTY OH, FOLDING EARLY WITH NO QUEEN STILL TRYING TO BE KING OF THIS COCKTAIL PARTY ♪ [PIANO] [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING]

THANKS SO MUCH. I'VE GOT FAMILY HERE AND GREAT OLD FRIENDS. I WOULD LIKE TO RECOGNIZE MY FAMILY THAT'S HERE RIGHT IN THE FRONT. MY MOM AND DAD. (APPLAUSE)

ONE OF MY BEAUTIFUL SISTERS AND HER HUSBAND. AND THEN ALSO MY WONDERFUL AND FABULOUS VOICE TEACHER, MS. MARGARET WII  WYATT RIGHT HERE IN THE FRONT. SHE'S KEEPING ME ON AN EVEN KHEEL. THIS ONE IS DOESN'T MATTER MUCH. ♪ DO-DO-DO-DO DO-DO-DO-DO ♪ YOU WORK THE ROOM WITH AN EASE THAT I COVET YOU SCREWED UP THE TUNE BUT I LAUGH 'CAUSEY LOVE IT PRETEND NOT TO SEE HOW YOU FILL OUT THAT NEW SWEATER BEST LOOKING GOT BETTER BUT THAT DOESN'T MATTER TO ME SITTING HERE IN THE CROWD LOVING YOU RIGHT OUT LOUD YOUR EYES ON THE WAITER GO AHEAD AND TIP HIM BUT THE DRINK IS FROM ME AND WHATEVER THAT WAS IT WAS SO MUCH LESS THAN US AND I WON'T MAKE A FUSS IT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME NOW DO-DO-DO-DO WE LABORED, LAUGHED, AND LOVED ON THIS BOAT WE'VE BEEN ROWING IT FILLED UP WITH WATER WITHOUT EITHER OF US KNOWING THEN BOTH OF US SWAM FOR OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SHORE I'M SAFE AND I'M DRY BUT I'M STILL WANTING MORE BECAUSE I JUST WON'T STOP LOVING THE YOU THAT I KNOW ALTHOUGH MY FRIENDS HAVE ALL TOLD ME I'VE GOT TO LET YOU GO OH, OH, OH AND I WON'T FEAR THE QUIET THERE'S MORE MUSIC LEFT IN US THE PLANS WE'VE DISCUSSED THAT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME NOW DO-DO-DO-DO ♪ ♪ (APPLAUSE) ♪ IT DOESN'T MATTER TO ME DO-DO-DO DO-DO-DO-DO-DO THAT DOESN'T MATTER TO ME I'LL GO ON DATES AND THEN I'LL WRITE SOME HIT SONGS THEN TOUR 'ROUND THE WORLD AND I'LL RIGHT ALL OUR WRONGS YOU'LL SEND ME A MESSAGE TO SAY THAT YOU YOU'VE HEARD IT NO MATTER HOW YOU WORD IT IT'S YOU, THAT'S WHAT MATTERS TO ME SITTING HERE MANY MILES AWAY LISTENING AS NOTES DECAY YOU'VE FOUND A NEW MELODY THAT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE ANYTHING TO ME OOH OOH OOH OH, OH, OH DO-DO-DO-DO THAT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME OOH OOH OOH OOH OOH THAT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME ♪ ♪ THAT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME OOH OOH OOH OOH OOH OOH THAT DOESN'T MATTER MUCH TO ME (APPLAUSE)

ALL RIGHT, WE'RE GOING TO GIVE THE BAND A BREAK FOR A SECOND. I'M GOING TO DO A COUPLE OF SOLOS, SOME YOU'RE FAMILIAR WITH THAT DIDN'T MAKE IT ONTO THIS ALBUM. THIS ONE IS CALLED GOOD, BRAVE, STRONG. ♪ MAKE ME GOOD MAKE ME STRONG MAKE ME SOMEONE WHO IS BRAVE WHO SEES THE LIGHT IN EVERYONE OR PUT A BANDAGE OVER MY EYES 'CAUSE THEY'VE SEEN THE WORST IN EVERYTHING OR HELP ME CHANGE MY WAY OF THINKING ABOUT MY LIFE AND THE WORLD TAKE THIS HATE TAKE THIS HURT AND TAKE THIS CRUMBLING WALL CAN'T KEEP IT UP CAN'T KEEP PAIN OUT NO MATTER HOW TALL OH, OH, OH I NEED OPEN HEART SURGERY, IT SEEMS I KEEP DYING IN MY DREAMS TONGUE-TIED AND UNABLE TO SCREAM OR PRAY THE MONSTERS AWAY I'M SICK OF THIS OVERWEIGHT SICK OF THIS HOUSE SICK OF THIS STATE I'M IN JUST WANT TO FALLOUT FIND ME A LIFE THAT'S WORTH SURVIVING CAN I BE LOVED CAN I KNOW IT CAN YOU JUST TOUCH ME OH, I'M SO ALONE I'M GATHERING MOSS AND GETTING RUSTY OH, MY SOUL NEEDS SOMEONE TO DRAG ME OUT IN THE SUN AND TELL ME LIFE HAS JUST BEGUN THAT ALTHOUGH MY TIME'S RUNNING OUT IT'S NEVER WASTED AND ALTHOUGH MY TIME'S RUNNING OUT IT WAS NEVER WASTED IT'S NEVER WASTED ♪ ♪ "NOW TO THE ONE WHO IS ABLE TO KEEP YOU FROM FALLING AND BRING YOU INTO FULLNESS FAULTLESS AND FULL OF JOY" ♪ (APPLAUSE)

I'D LIKE TO WELCOME BACK THE BAND. WE'RE STILL WORKING ON A NAME. SO, NEXT TIME YOU HEAR FROM ME, MAYBE WE'LL HAVE A BAND NAME. SYDNEY HAS LEARNED HOW TO PLAY THE ACCORDION OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS. SO, SHE'S GOING TO GIVE US A FUN LITTLE SOLO ON THAT MEAN INSTRUMENT. I'M GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE REST OF THE BAND IN A COUPLE OF SONGS. ARE YOU READY, BAND? AND NOW "THE BONFIRE"♪ ♪ WELL, I'M STILL GETTING WORK I STILL GO OUT WITH FRIENDS LET'S FACE IT, WE ALL KNEW YOU WOULDN'T CALL IT WAS A MEANS TO AN END BUT NOW IT'S MY TIME TO BLOW THE ROOF OFF THE JOINT SURE YOU'RE A BIG STAR AND YOU WILL GO FAR BUT THAT WAS NEVER THE POINT NOW I'M BUILDING A BONFIRE OF BROKEN DREAMS BURNING IN THIS VACANT LOT WHERE EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I'D FOUND IN YOU WAS SOMETHING IN ME THAT I FORGOT NOW I'M STEPPING IN THE SPOTLIGHT OF SATURDAY NIGHTS AND YOU ALL SHOULD BE ALARMED A WELL-PLAYED GIG IS LIKE A SHOT IN THE ARM ♪ ♪ WELL, ENOUGH ABOUT ME THE ME THAT YOU LEFT HERE ALL DETAILS WERE ARRANGED BUT THEN SOMETHING IN ME CHANGED I HAD TO FIND MY OWN CANAAN YOU SEE WALLS TUMBLING DOWN BUT I SEE A RED SCARF A' DANGLIN' I'LL MAKE THE SUN STAND STILL TRUST MY ANGELS UNTIL I CAN LOVE WITH RECKLESS ABANDON NOW I'M BUILDING A BONFIRE OF BROKEN DREAMS BURNING IN THIS VACANT LOT WHERE EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I'D FOUND IN YOU WAS SOMETHING IN ME THAT I FORGOT BUT NOW MOVING ON UNTIL I'VE CONQUERED EVERY HARD HEART IN THE SOUTH A WELL-PLAYED GIG IS LIKE MY NAME IN YOUR MOUTH ♪ ♪ OOH

THAT SOUNDS GOOD ♪ OOH THAT SOUNDS GOOD OOH OOH OOH OH, I'M FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE LIFE THAT GOD GAVE ME HELL, I DROPPED 20 POUNDS NO MORE LAST-CALL DIVE-BAR ROUNDS I'VE FOUND THE ONE WHO CAN SAVE ME AND I'M THROUGH BACKING UP I'M MOVING TO CENTER-STAGE I'LL HEAR MY NAME ON THE STREETS NO MORE SOAKING THE SHEATS WITH NIGHTS OF BITTERNESS AND RAGE NOW I'M BUILDING MY BONFIRE OF BROKEN DREAMS BURNING IN THIS VACANT LOT WHERE EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I'D FOUND IN YOU WAS SOMETHING IN ME THAT I FORGOT I'VE BEEN IN HEAVEN ALL ALONG THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME BECAUSE NOW I LOVE MYSELF AND EVERY MEMORY WE HAVE IS LIKE A PLATINUM RECORD ON THE SHELF I GOT A FIND MY OWN CANAAN IT'S MY TURN NOW BUT I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP ♪ [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING]

HERE WITH HER SWEET BOX DEBUT. (APPLAUSE)

WE'VE JUST GOT ONE MORE FOR YOU, FOLK. THANKS FOR BEING SO ATTENTIVE AND GRACIOUS WITH YOUR ENERGY. IT'S JUST WONDERFUL. THIS HAS BEEN FUN. WE'RE GOING TO DO ONE MORE. THIS ONE'S CALLED "THE LADDER." ♪ YOU AND I WERE SO CLOSE TO REMEMBERING YOU AND I WERE KIND OF CLOSE NOT LONG AGO YOU ON THAT LADDER, ME ON THE FLOOR GAZING UP AT YOU MY EYES WERE OPENED UP HANGING UP CLOUDS IN THE SKIES OF ANOTHER WORLD YOU SAID HOW DOES THIS LOOK? I SAID, LIKE I'M HOME ♪ WELL, I CAN BE GOOD AND BRAVE BUT I NEED YOU TO BE STRONG YET SENTIMENTAL I PROMISE TO BEHAVE BUT WHEN I'M WORKING ON A SONG YOU SHOULD KNOW I'M DOWN RIGHT TEMPERAMENTAL DON'T YOU HAVE SOMEPLACE TO BE? WHY DON'T YOU STOP STARING AT ME? WE TALKED BY PORCH LIGHT TILL THE DAY WAS ABOUT TO BREAK KNEES TOUCHING, YOU LEAN IN AND SAY IT'S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN BUT I KNOW YOU I KNOW YOU SAW IT, TOO THAT OTHER WORLD WHERE THE CLOUDS ARE HUNG BY HAND YOU EASE MY DOUBTS I BOW TO ALL OF YOUR DEMANDS 'COW YOU'VE GOT YOUR STUDIO I'VE GOT MY SONGS ♪ WELL I CAN BE SMART AND SHARP BUT I NEED YOU TO KNOW FOR THE LAST 10 MONTHS THAT I'VE BEEN SLIGHTLY MENTAL I GOT DRUNK AT A CHRISTMAS PARTY AND THEN THAT MESSAGE I SENT IT WASN'T AN ACCIDENT BUT THERE, I SENT IT BY GOD, I MEAN IT I WON'T REGRET THE THINGS I SAID YOU  SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING DAMN, THAT MIX OF PILLS AND WHISKEY MADE ME CRAZY NEVERTHELESS IT'S TRUE: I LOVE YOU OH, BRAMBLES IN FOREST MINOR IV CHORDS IN HAPPY TUNES IT'S FALLING IN LOVE IN A TOWN OF BOORS WHO AREN'T THAT INTO YOU BUT I'VE GOT MY OTHER WORLD SO I'LL BE FINE AND DANDY BUT PLEASE CALL ME IF YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND ♪ ♪ LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA HEY GIRL ♪ ♪ ♪ LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA ♪ LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA ♪ [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING] ♪ ♪

OH, SO WHAT IT IS, MY BAND SINGERS. GIRLS, WILL Y'ALL MAKE A LITTLE NOISE, JUST A LITTLE BIT? HERE WE GO. ♪ ♪ ♪

SO, MANY THANKS TO CHRIS ATWOOD ON BASE. [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING] ♪

HE'S FANTASTIC. EVAN BARR ON DRUMS. [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING] ♪

SARAH  STRICKLIN ON BACKGROUND VOCALS. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, SYDNEY HUNSICKER ON THE BELLS, HARMONICA. ACCORDION. ♪ LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA ONE MORE TIME... LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA ♪ [CHEERING AND APPLAUDING]

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