Johnson and Willmon play big-sounding blues in Big Sounds Downtown event

The marquee act of last night’s installment of the Klipsch Heritage Museum Association’s Big Sounds Downtown event sang and played its Delta Blues-flavored set before over a hundred who showed up in The Hub despite three-digit temperatures.

Trey Johnson and Jason Willmon, both with ties to Hope, played masterful guitar and harmonica respectively, creating a rich, firmly bedrocked tower of sound as the sun slowly relented and breezes refreshed the audience. They played favorites from the Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton and several Trey Johnson originals, scorching their way through them. Frequently, Johnson couldn’t help but kick out his feet as he played and used his powerfully, slightly-smoky voice that sounds so much like Southern Arkansas forests and a lot like the gospel truth.

During an intermission, Willmon told me his mother was actually born in Hope and that he felt fortunate to be working with Johnson, who plays at venues all over the state. “I just got lucky enough to be able to play music with him,” he said.

“I grew up in Prescott and lived in Hope about three years,” Johnson said. “We don’t get back often enough. I live in Conway and he’s in Bauxite.” When asked what he played, Johnson identified his deep blue, somehow velvety but also crystalline-sounding instrument as a Gibson J-45.

Johnson was in great voice despite the weather and showed himself to be a terrific showman, often joking between songs. Each original got an introduction describing what led to their creation. The lyrics for these New Orleans-influenced tunes were especially clever.

Earlier in the evening, Jennifer Taylor, Ranger Cody Douell, and Riley Bramlett played and sang at venues in Hope’s Downtown area. The next Big Sounds Downtown concert will take place August 4 when the Dusty Roads band is set to perform.

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