By Tony Cagala
Gabriel Hampton, a 32-year-old musician from southern Indiana who speaks with an unassuming, gravelly voice and wears a short-brimmed fedora and large-framed black glasses, came to Ramona three months ago for a new home, a new venue—and a girl.
Hampton will be bringing his modern yet soulful style of bluegrass and country music to the Ramona Bluegrass & Old West Fest.
Largely self-taught, Hampton’s interest in traditional music stemmed from his grandfather and father, who both play, and from listening to a lot of good records his father owned. Hampton remembers growing up around a lot of “old-folk” and bluegrass music in his home just on the outskirts of Louisville, Ky., sitting around and jamming during family gatherings. He’s been playing guitar for 16 years and credits his grandfather for encouraging him to sing.
Hampton began writing original songs at 16, filling up notebooks with miscellaneous thoughts and lyrics to songs not yet written. He’s inspired by several genres of music, including blues, old jazz and country, but says that everything’s an influence. Every person you meet, everything you see, everything you hear and read is an influence, he said.
Since coming to Ramona, he’s been pounding the streets to get gigs. he plays the Ramona Farmers Market almost every Saturday, and he plays gigs in Escondido and in San Diego, too.
At the Bluegrass & Old West Fest, he’ll be performing as a wandering minstrel, striking up impromptu jam sessions throughout the grounds.
“I love it out here,” Hampton said.
He’s an old-fashioned busker in a modern-day world and it’s difficult, he said. “It’s like gambling. You gotta spend money on gas to get there, so you gotta make at least that much money to break even. It’s not easy.”
There are times when he’ll work 20 hours over a weekend and only make $40. It’s something he hopes he won’t have to do much longer as he gets more professional gigs. His girlfriend and manager has been busy lining up gigs and making contacts, he said. On June 16 he’ll play the Ramona Public Library. It’s a start of something new, Hampton said.
“I just love playing music,” he said. “I love looking for really good songs and sharing them with people. As a street musician I’m exposing myself to a whole lot of people. That’s something that a lot of musicians miss out on because they’re trying to bring people to them all the time, instead of bringing themselves to the people.”
A lot of the music he hears today sounds more and more generic, he said, and “it’s getting harder to find good songs.
He has three CDs that he recorded and produced at his home in Indiana.
Each has a very different feel. His latest CD, “Ode to the Country Rose,” is self-described as old country sounding stuff—soul country, maybe. “It’s a concept album.”
The album starts at the beginning of a man’s life where he’s born, and he dies at the end after enduring a rough life.
Some of his music has a social critique to it, but he said that he can write a song just about anything, often starting with a melody and good chord progressions before adding the lyrics, something he picked up while covering songs from artists such as Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.
While the move halfway across the country will be life-altering, Hampton is hopeful about his music career.
“Anywhere there are people, I play,” he said.
Hampton’s CDs are available on his website, www.gabehampton.com.