Traveling is old hat for singer/songwriter Dean Johanesen, but his upcoming venture to the Lowcountry is a trip he has longed to make.
The highly acclaimed artist plans to leave his hometown of Sarasota, Fla., for Tybee Island to play June 9 in the Songwriter in the Round showcase at the Tybee American Legion.
"I've only been to Savannah once and it's been a long time, and I've wanted to get back," Johanesen said. "I played an open mic at Sentient Bean several years ago."
The son of a single mom always on the move, he said he "grew up moving all over the place, and it prepared me for touring."
"I like being on the road," he said.
The 40-year-old musician said he spent most of his youth in New York City and Long Island, and his mother played a huge role in introducing him to different musical styles.
"I spent a lot of time in my early days listening to records with my mother," Johanesen said. "We listened to Paul Simon, John Denver, Dolly Parton and Led Zeppelin. She also liked musicals, so I feel like I was exposed to a lot of different styles and they all influenced my music."
Johanesen started playing the guitar when he was 14 and he studied jazz and commercial music performance at Five Towns College of Music in Dix Hills on Long Island. He describes his music as a mix of Americana and a touch of gypsy jazz.
It's the gypsy jazz element that also inspired his classy signature look of sharp, dark vests and clean, button-up shirts, ties, slacks and his trademark fedora.
"When I was at school, I noticed that in the pictures of these old style jazz performers, they were dressed to the nines," Johanesen said. "The way I dress pays tribute to the music I play."
But he is quick to point out he keeps the front brim of his fedora turned up to show his playful side.
"It's kind of a nod to show I know myself well enough not to take myself too seriously."
While his hat may show a silly side, his lyrics do not.
"Right now I'm focusing on a theme inspired by the 1930s," he said. "I'm focusing on topics about the early circus lifestyle and the Depression. It makes for an interesting combination of dark lyrics put to upbeat jazz tempo.
"I enjoy seeing the crowd dance to the upbeat tempo of my songs and not be aware that the words behind the songs are dark," he added.
Despite the strong narrative style of his songs, Johanesen doesn't see himself as a ballad maker, but rather a storyteller.
"I like to write from a viewpoint of being human in different situations," he said.
He admits he never writes a playlist for the songwriter-in-the-round performances, so he isn't sure what he will play for the Tybee show.
"The format for these types of shows follows the Nashville style of The Bluebird CafÃ©," he said. "It's a cool format because you get to play with others and play alone. I've never played with the other songwriters, so I'm not sure what to expect.
"If I play after someone who did ballads, I might play something more upbeat for the crowd, or if someone is following a theme, I may come in and play some songs that also follow that theme," Johanesen said.
One thing the crowd can expect from Johanesen and the other artists is no cover music. This forum is dedicated to songwriters and their original music, which is right up Johanesen's alley.
"Being a songwriter is a very key part of who I am," he said. "Writing and performing original music is the main focus of what I do.
"It's a lot of work because I really have had to stick to my guns and prove myself as an artist. But the hard work has proved to be beneficial, and I'm glad I took the time to establish myself."
Doors for the show will open at 5:30 p.m. at the Tybee American Legion Post No. 154. Music kicks off at 6 p.m. and there is no cover for this all-ages event.
Tom Cooler will host the event alongside musicians Aaron Matthew, Thomas Oliver and Johanesen.
The event is sponsored by the Savannah Songwriters, who aim to promote original music from local musicians in songwriters-in-the-round showcases.
Now in its third year, the group sponsors a twice-a-month showcase, the second Sunday at the American Legion on Tybee and the fourth Sunday at Johnny Harris.
The series occasionally features touring songwriters and never charges a cover fee.
IF YOU GO
What: Songwriters in the Round
When: 6-7:30 p.m. June 9
Where: Tybee American Legion Post No. 154, 10 Veterans Drive
Cost: Free; drinks and pizza by the slice available.