There's a science to performing on a street corner, and Jason Mraz knows it well.
"You only have eight to 15 seconds to perform to your audience 'cause they're just gonna walk right by you," the singer/songwriter shared. "I got to the point where I'd just make up 15-second songs about that person and hope to get a few bucks. I'd do that over and over again. It's really challenging as a writer and performer, but I feel like I've been able to translate that onstage and perform for a variety of people in the crowd."
Mraz, who strummed his guitar on the streets of New York before graduating to coffee houses in San Diego — and eventually pop stardom — salutes his early days on the new single "Curbside Prophet," which he remixed with Sly & Robbie (No Doubt, the Fugees) for the "New York Minute" soundtrack. (He also released a video for the live version featuring Blues Traveler's John Popper on harmonica.)
And to further honor his curbside roots, Mraz is launching the Tour of the Curbside Prophets with up-and-comers Raúl Midón, Makana and DJ Bob Neck Snapp.
"The idea was to bring a variety of songwriters together and stray from what you'd expect, 'cause I think there's so many pop singer/songwriters right now," Mraz said. "If I saw more than one of me during a show, I would be bored. So I wanted to bring in guys who are coming out in a whole new direction ... and give the tour that theme and allow the musicians to run with it how they want."
Mraz described Midón — a New Mexico-bred singer/songwriter currently recording his Blue Note Records (Norah Jones' label) debut in New York — as "the most amazing musician I have seen in my life."
"His approach to a guitar and melody is so refreshing and new," Mraz said. "It reminds me of George Benson and these old-school jazz singer/songwriters. It's a pop feel, but you could tell they just love the jazz. It's the most incredible thing to watch and to listen to."
Mraz discovered the blind singer when someone e-mailed him a link to one of Midón's performances. He found Hawaiian musician Makana through an even less conventional route: yoga.
"My instructor would play the music while we were stretching, and at first I just found it to be soothing and beautiful, but after I started listening to his lyrics I realized this guy's got a crazy sense of humor," Mraz said. "It caught me off guard. ... He's not your typical sensitive singer/songwriter, and that's one thing I wanted to kind of steer away from."
Makana is a slack-key guitarist, "which is an interesting island tuning," Mraz said. "It allows you to play leads and rhythms and different stuff at the same time."
As for DJ Bob Neck Snapp, Mraz has been jamming with him in a side project, the Bush League, for a few months and thought his unique style would fit well on the Tour of the Curbside Prophets.
"He's a DJ, but in the most eloquent way," Mraz said. "He'll be the transition guy, but he'll always be in place and he's able to accompany anyone. If he drops any pianos and strings and samples, it's just the right key, tempo and volume."
As for Mraz's set, the Mechanicsville, Virginia, native will mostly perform acoustically by himself. "I want to give the folks a feeling of how these songs sounded the day I wrote them," he said.
The Tour of the Curbside Prophets will culminate each night with the four performers and a percussionist taking the stage together for a jam.
"Each one of us comes from a different part of the world, and I think throughout our time onstage, the stories that'll be told will give the feeling of where we all started," Mraz said. "And hopefully in the end we can bridge the gap between the cultures and ultimately express the similarities that all these street corners tend to have."
Tour of the Curbside Prophets dates, according to Elektra Records:
- 5/14 - Minneapolis, MN @ Orpheum Theatre
- 5/15 - Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre
- 5/16 - Detroit, MI @ State Theatre
- 5/18 - Toronto, ON @ Massey Hall
- 5/20 - Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
- 5/21 - Philadelphia, PA @ Tower Theatre
- 5/22 - Wallingford, CT @ Oakdale Theater
- 5/24 - New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
- 5/25 - Cleveland, OH @ Playhouse Square Center
- 5/26 - Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Theatre
- 5/27 - Washington, DC @ DAR Constitution Hall
- 5/31 - Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
- 6/2 - Fort Lauderdale, FL @ Broward Center
- 6/3 - Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
- 6/5 - Indianapolis, IN @ Murat Theatre
- 6/7 - Denver, CO @ Universal Lending Pavilion
- 6/10 - Vancouver, BC @ The Centre
- 6/11 - Seattle, WA @ 5th Avenue Theatre
- 6/12 - Portland, OR @ Keller Auditorium
- 6/14 - Berkeley, CA @ Zellerbach Hall
- 6/15 - Saratoga, CA @ Historic Mountain Winery
- 6/16 - Los Angeles, CA @ Walt Disney Concert Hall
- 6/17 - Los Angeles, CA @ Walt Disney Concert Hall
- 6/18 - Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues
- 6/20 - San Diego, CA @ Copley Symphony Hall