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Tolan Shaw and The Highway Poets Live At The Redwood Cafe

Wind back to Saturday evening in January at the NAMM convention (National Association of Music Merchants), in Anaheim. I walk into the Marriott Hotel lobby and see a tall, hat wearing, singer songwriter onstage, halfway through his set. Tolan Shaw, a young artist from San Diego, with a full band onstage capturing the attention of his audience in a packed lobby of the Marriott. I’m standing at the door and immediately fell in love with his lyrics. Lines like, “take me home, make me never want to sleep alone”, “I want to bask in the sun and your smile”, “I want to get to know whats under your blouse,” “you make me feel unstoppable”. Anyone thats ever been in love would have a field day connecting with Tolans’ love lines, all written with honesty and depth to his wife and childhood sweetheart, Sarah. He sings about his wife in many of his songs and one in particular, he calls her his “Island Getaway”.

Sarah and Tolan have a deep love of travel and the world around them. Empathy and understanding for the under privileged, and cultures that differ from ours in America. He says, he sometimes feels guilty when he sees what little, some cultures have. Shaw, wise beyond his years, his lyrics and melodies are very reminiscent to me, of an American style Ed Sheeran, with the calming flavour of Jack Johnson and a lot of positivity thrown in, similar to Michael Franti. Blend it all together for a truly a great combination.

Contemporary, but a definite crossover in styles from bluesy to pop. Tolan Shaw captures the attention of all ages. Both, a solo acoustic troubadour and the frontman of his own band, Shaw’s music is soulful, bluesy and melodic, poppy, heartfelt and sincere. With songs like, Be my girl the potential of an enormous pop hit! I can see it grabbing the attention of every girl from 13-30! Complete with posters on every girls bedroom wall. And the other side of the spectrum, may be a soul driven song, Never met you. His first album may talk to a slightly older demographic as its soulful and bluesy songs cross every age barrier.

Tolan has visited over 40 countries and has definitley been bitten by the travel bug. Hes also won six awards, the most recent for best singer songwriter 2017, at the San Diego Music Awards. And he is endorsed by Taylor Guitars. Shaw started writing songs and playing when he was 14 and by the age of 15 wrote a song for Sarah to ask her on a date…two weeks later she accepted! And they’ve been inseparable ever since.

Shaw attended University of San Diego and majored in International business, although today he wished he had studied music, he learns about music on the fly. His 2015 release Chin Up, was included on the list of 91X San Diego’s top 91 songs of 2014 for his song Eyes. He’s got a 5 week U.S. tour, a 2 week Mexican tour, and a 2 week Canadian tour in 2015 under his belt. Shaw’s already had placements and licensing deals with various TV networks and companies, including ABC Family, Jimmy Kimmel Live, MTV, and Verizon Wireless.

Being that Tolan is an official Taylor Guitars artist, he was recently on the cover photo of their website pictured with Jason Mraz. By the end of 2015, he linked up with Taylor and GoPro, to create a Travel-Music video series called Wandersong – a gorgeous nine episode series of videos through 9 countries in Southeast Asia, traveling, writing and performing songs, as he and Sarah shot their own videos. Seeing and writing about the people, experiences and cultures that inspire him. Its obvious that Tolan and Sarah have a deep love and respect for each other and their travels. Equipped with a go pro and a Taylor guitar, they break through language and cultural barriers across the globe. Although his videos for Change the World and the Wanderlust series, look like a pro camera team accompanied this couple on their travels, all the videos were shot by them and edited stateside….over 400 hours of it! The videos are stunning, eye opening and entertaining, showing a vast range of cultures, sunsets, architecture and lush landscapes.

Tolan Shaw has quite the idyllic life, living in San Diego, within a two mile radius of family, they have harnessed the dream. Both families support their endevours on a monumental scale. They’ve known each other all their lives and their parents are very close to them and each other. A big happy family indeed! Tolans father is retired, but has always been musically inclined. Complete with a guitar collection that he now shares with his son. Tolans’ mother, an artist, a painter, and he has one sister. I find him to be a very grounded, happy, healthy and grateful young man. A young man madly in love with his wife and his life.

At the end of April 2017, four months after first seeing him at NAMM, Tolan Shaw came to Northern California to perform at the Do it Ourselves festival in Santa Cruz. As I wanted to share this talented singer with NorCal, I booked him into our friendliest venue, Redwood Cafe in Cotati. By day Redwood Cafe serves great food, everything from home made smoothies to delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. At night its transformed into a music venue, Redwood After Dark. Offering happy hour and serving the same comfort food, including all day breakfast, along with 22 beers on tap, (many local micro brews), and at least a dozen different local organic wines to chose from. All served by friendly faces under the warm and caring guidance of the smiling Irishman, Michael McCullaugh with a great positive attitude. The lovely energy Michael emits is definitely an inviting bonus that follows him everywhere and can be felt in the cafe by the staff, the music and the comfort foods they serve. McCullaugh and his business partner, Moose Mustapha Jamal for 24 years have built quite a business, completing the local vibe with art displayed on the walls by local artists. The musicians love to play there, as its got a great sound system, with Bubba, an awesome engineer at the sound board, and a nice sized stage that can accommodate even the larger sized bands. But what really drives it, is the warm and homey atmosphere that you feel upon your arrival. I thought this was the best place that I can share Tolan Shaws’ talent with the music lovers of Sonoma County. And Sonoma County does have its serious music lovers by the droves!

The day of the gig, Tolan had a full day of live on air segments on Sonoma County radio. First stop, The Krush 95.9fm, with Andre de Channes. A local DJ and musician hailing from Montreal, Tolan sang two songs, a wee chat with Andre and onto KRCB 91fm with Brian Griffiths, another couple of songs and another chat and finally on ‘The Drive’ KSRO 103.5fm with Steve Jaxon. All three on air segments were live and Tolan got to play a couple songs on each. I requested a song he hasn’t yet recorded called, Naked. When I heard it in January at NAMM, altho I hadn’t heard it since, it was so memorable I requested he do that on air along with another tune of his choice for each station. After the radio interviews, I’ve since heard from the DJs that they got listener feedback via email and phone ins…always a good sign. And then later at the gig at the Redwood Cafe, people had mentioned that they attended the gig simply because they heard him on the air! Proving radio is far from dead!

Then the gig at the Redwood Cafe, Tolan went on stage and played to the audience for just over an hour. Making the set list literally moments before getting onstage. He has so many great songs that he had trouble deciding which to cut. He played a good mix of recent songs with a few from his self titled album from 2013. Apart from being accompanied by Soul Fuse‘s Roger Volz on sax for a collaborative rendition of Unstoppable, Tolan Shaw used only his guitar and his loop pedal. He delighted the audience with twelve songs, ending with, Change the World – the must see video on his website:

Take note of the name Tolan Shaw because I think we will all be hearing more from this young man in the near future. I see great things ahead for him, and if you get the chance, see him perform now in small venues as in the not too distant future, I believe he will be selling out all over the globe at large capacity halls.

The Highway Poets were on after Tolan Shaw as a shared bill. They made the evening a well rounded musical treat. The Highway Poets wowed the audience for over an hour. Four of their six members present and belting out some rockin tunes! Fronted by Sebastian Saint James a truly captivating lead vocalist, the Highway Poets music is a perfect mix of well, just about everything! Its straight ahead rock n roll, with a touch of bluegrass, soul and funk with a real alternative edge. The Highway Poets create a genre of their own and make it great. Coming from Petaluma, Saint James and Travis James started the band as Hillside Fire. Both Travis James and Sebastian Saint James play guitar and had performed at local venues, they had very different styles. James liked the “shredding guitar” style of death metal, while Saint James preferred classic rock, pop, and blues guitar.

St James was raised by a Dead head Dad that worked with EMG pickups, so Saint James was immersed in the music scene from a child.

Travis and Sebastian got on well and began writing and playing music as Hillside Fire seven years ago. Rather than playing under two separate names…four years ago they decided to change their name to Highway Poets exclusively. Saint James described the band’s maturation process as “a long, drawn-out identity crisis. We’re now more of a full-bodied band which can go from acoustic to electric.” Saint James refers to the Highway Poets as “new retro soul – an ever-evolving twist on newer rock and pop styles with R&B, country and folk.” The Highway Poets have appeared at the Petaluma Music Festival, Rivertown Revival, the Kate Wolf Festival, the Mystic Theatre, South by Southwest, and on April 26 they played the Redwood Cafe. They played with vigor that night for just over an hour, by the end of their set, people were up, dancing and joining in on stage in a singalong! Collecting such Northbay music awards as: Best of Petaluma by the Argus Courier, Best of in the San Francisco Weekly, Readers Choice Award by the Press Democrat, and the West Coast Songwriters Best Performance Award. They have no trouble connecting with the audience, which is an important ingredient to making live music great. Frontman Sebastian Saint James is a natural lead and makes it all look easy! Making up the Poets, along with Sebastian, theres Travis James on Guitar & Vocals, Taylor James – Bass & Vocals, Rhyne Erde on Drums and the absent, Nate Dittle – Piano & Organ and Nicholas Hasty – Sax & Vocals. All in all The Highway Poets are a band not to be missed. If you like The Black Keys, The Rolling Stones or Motown, then The Highway Poets have you covered! They’re coming out with their new album and are having a CD release party on September 16 at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma. A good show is in store for sure!

Tolan Shaw Set List:

Never met you

Why Me

What Im living for

Mr Moment

Never Known

Tonight All mine

Believe in MeGood Day



Change the World

Highway Poets Set List:

Chasin youth

Bad Love

Upside to coming

Welcome Home

The Left

Bitter Heart

Wicked Kind

Getting there

Steady Hand

Good Times

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