JP Hoe

There is a spotlight, a stage, and a band. The video lottery terminals flash, the bartender slams bottles, the voices of 500 people hum.

Then J.P. Hoe steps to the microphone, and the world stops.

Well, almost. Outside, the Winnipeg wind batters snow against the doors. Headlights zip by, on their way to and from somewhere else. But in this space, on this night, all eyes, ears and minds are on the guy with the crooked smile, the smoky torch-song voice, and the guitar strapped to his chest.

And you think, this man could start a war.

Ask the 2,500 people who, after seeing him open for Jann Arden on her 2007 Canadian tour, rushed the merch booth to buy his EP, "The Live Beta Project". Ask the hundreds of Winnipeggers who turn out for his tongue-in-cheek theme gigs, like the perennially popular J.P. Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show.

Music legend Seymour Stein thinks J.P. would be huge in Asia. A Western Canadian Music Awards jury thought his full-length debut, The Dear John Letters, was one of the top pop recordings and top songwriting efforts, of 2008.

This is a songwriter who gets people talking.

They talk, for instance, about his sound. It’s hard to pin down. The melodies are always fluid, the lyrics clear-eyed. And of course, there’s always J.P.’s voice, a classic instrument that rasps with weight beyond his years.

But the songs... the songs run the gamut, from gentle to gregarious, and sometimes even down’n’dirty. There’s the party-starting trumpets on songs like Start a War, the twangy strums of Safe and Sound, and the restless, breathless urgency of Simple Life.

“You’re kind of jazzy, kind of poppy,” opined one man, who cornered J.P. in a Winnipeg steakhouse. “Pick a genre and you’ll do good.” A friend once compared J.P. to Bob Dylan, if Dylan wrote more love songs.

All this from a guy who started playing guitar in high school because it was the best way for a shy kid to meet girls.

He’s come a long way since then. Since making his first, amateur recording while interning at a radio station outside of Paris, J.P. has become one of the most buzzworthy acts in Winnipeg’s tightknit scene. He’s toured with Emm Gryner, been invited to record a CBC Canada Live concert, and filled performance slots at prestigious events such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

One step forward, two steps back. As the first decade of the third millennium closes, the music industry is struggling to find its footing in a bold new technocracy. J.P. has felt the tremors too. It’s tough out there to make ends meet, to find the right industry supports, to say sayonara to the day job and make music a living.

But J.P.’s fans are proof that his music can rise above the din.

What happens next? More music, more albums. More cross-Canada tours, more dates in cities like New York, Austin and Los Angeles, where he’s wooed showcase crowds before. More sizzling shows with his deft backing band, the Truly Richards.

Beyond that? Any stage, and any sky is the limit for J.P. Hoe. Don’t take our word for it: just watch him go.

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