For three years, Damond and Melanie Owens have hosted Soulful Saturdays, a monthly event that’s part showcase for Sacramento’s best vocalists and part open mike for the area's up-and-coming singers.
The event has evolved, but a few things haven’t changed. The couple is still surprised by the incredible talent that gets on their stage.
"I call Sactown the new Motown because of the talent that Sacramento has," said Damond. "I go to the bay. I go to different places and I promise you, I haven’t seen anybody to match Sac."
Owens recalled the December performance by one such artist, Wesley Franklin.
“He gets up there, doesn’t look like he can do anything – he has the smoothest voice you ever want to hear,” Damond said. “He blew us away. It’s not just one instance I can think of. It happens almost every month.”
Most performers take the stage with their best cover song and are backed by house band BluPrynt. Melanie Owens is one of the band’s singers.
Every once and a while, a singer like Franklin will forgo the band and sing an original song while playing a guitar or a piano.
The area's deep talent pool prompted the Owens' to create Soulful Saturdays. Damond, then a promoter, noticed that many singers in Sacramento had no place to showcase their skill with the backing of a live band. Instead, most used tracks, which lessens the experience for both the audience and the performer, Damond said.
“I’ve had people literally cry when they get off stage and say ‘Damond, thank you. I never thought I’d be able to sing with a live band. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to get on stage. I feel like a star,’ ” he said.
Ten singers sign up for an upcoming Soulful Saturdays and include what cover song they want to sing. BluPrynt will learn the song if they don’t already know it.
Melanie and the other backing singers will each learn at least two songs each and will perform some of them, depending on how many people show up to sing.
A featured performer generally serves as the evening’s host, performing 5-6 songs throughout the night, backed by the band. Walk-ons also can perform if there's time.
This weekend's event – at Off Broadway Blues and Jazz Café – features singer Ian J. Knighton, who has performed on BET’s "Sunday Best."
“He’s a very powerful singer. He sings in like five different languages. He's just now moving back to Sacramento,” Damond said.
Damond says that singers can sing in any genre. The only restrictions are that they have to sing with the band (ie: no backing tracks) or they can bring their own instrument like Franklin. People can rap at Soulful Saturdays, but it has to be conscious-minded lyrics.
“I don’t care what it is: country, blues, reggae,” Damond said. “It doesn’t matter what the genre is or who you are. It’s anyone that can sing.”
Even singers who are still finding their voice are welcome to participate.
“It's very safe. What I like about our crowd is they support. They know it’s hard to get up there,” Damond said. “I can’t go up there and sing. You got more courage than me.”
Damond said that it’s not uncommon for bookers and promoters to come to Soulful Saturdays looking for singers for other events.
“One of my biggest fears when I started this was running out of singers,” he says. “Every month somebody walks in there I’ve never seen or heard before..”
Soulful Saturdays is looking for a permanent venue. The event, held in November at Graciano’s in Old Sac, hit Harlow's in December and missed January and February.
“Once we find a home, that’s it,” he said.
If You Go
Where: Off Broadway Blues and Jazz Café, 2863 35th St., Sacramento
When: Saturday, March 10, 9 p.m.