At home on the open road since childhood, Tampa Bay-based singer-songwriter Dean Johanesen has a cure for loneliness while touring: He turns off his smartphone.
He finds a bar or cafÃ©, orders something and talks to a stranger. Often, he visits local gravesites. He absorbs the town's stories, hoping to understand how it became a community: Imagining the scores of residents, past and present, who made it one.
Then he writes them into songs and brings them along to the next place.
The next place is Savannah, where Dean will be playing The Sentient Bean.
Johanesen recalls that the first time he went to Colorado, he bought a book about local myths.
"There was one beautiful myth that stuck with me," he remembers. "The legend says the tribes that lived around this particular mountain were once forced from their homes by devastating drought. In order to save her people, one tribal princess climbed the mountain to beg for rain from the gods of plenty.
"They demanded she pay with her own life. Now every spring when the snow melts, water runs down from the naturally carved outline of an angel to irrigate the lands below. It looks like the angel is crying - it's this amazing, enduring visual representation of sacrifice."
Johanesen's musical style can best be described as a mix of Americana, country, and gypsy jazz.
His songwriting approach is holistic support of the story and its characters, beginning with his simply spun lyrics layered with vibrantly personified instrumentation. In his warm tenor, he sings the story of the "Angel of Mount Shavano" against the thrumming backbeat of her tribe's drums, as her prayers for rain echo through the canyons in sweet, imploring guitar strains.
He tips his signature trilby hat to influences like Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Gaucho and gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt.
"I started writing these songs about circus performers a while ago, and I wrote one in particular called 'Circus Queen,'" he says. "I'd been playing with rock bands for a while and I just thought this song was a return to my jazz performance training. It had these moving bass lines and wandering chords. Anyway, I played it for a friend of mine who then turned me on to Django. I've been inspired by him ever since."
When it comes to inspiration, Johanesen is always eager to discover how other songwriters find theirs. Recently he performed at the Mississippi Songwriter Festival as part of his 16-day tour through the South, his fourth tour of the year.
A self-professed "sucker for the craft," he welcomes the forum of songwriter festivals as a chance to engage with others who feel the same thrill when "finding the next line."
Whether talking shop or reading tombstones, his ultimate goal is to enrich the pictures he paints for his audiences.
"I want to think carefully about the music and dress it the right way. I like writing albums as collections of short stories, so that together, they play as an entire soundtrack to create full musical context that puts listeners in each time and place as they listen."
"A Time and a Place" is, in fact, the name of Johanesen's last album, released in November 2012. It features some more personal stories about family, relationships, loss and love. He will be bringing these with him to The Sentient Bean, along with some new material he's working on for an upcoming album.
This won't be his first time playing Savannah.
He attended a songwriter night on Tybee Island and has even dropped by an open mic at The Sentient Bean.
"I remember what a supportive listening audience I found in Savannah, especially of the fact that I was touring." Johanesen says. "That sort of atmosphere allows you to have a genuine conversation with your audience. It's nice to get people away from their computers and the distractions of modern life. I kind of miss those interactions."