Although now a veteran of the local club and festival circuit, Dean grew up in Virginia, taking a circuitous route to his new home. “As I got older I became restless and eventually followed the pull westward,” he recalled. “Throughout my 20s, I made stops in Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and now, California. I took a piece from everywhere I have been.”
While each place has influenced his songwriting and musicianship, being so transient brought its own challenges. “In January 2014 I achieved a goal of long-term stability by securing a permanent job in San Diego as a park ranger and have been digging roots ever since,” Dean said. “Now, I have found great balance: a meaningful career and opportunities to pursue my passion for music in beautiful San Diego.”
Dean was raised in a family of artists and musicians, so it’s only natural that he’s wanted to be a performer for as long as he can remember. “My first instrument, which I received from my father at age 14, was a mandolin,” he said. “After my first music lesson, I went home and wrote my first song. This set in motion an obsession that carries on through today. Along the way I picked up the guitar, it is a more natural instrument for songwriting and feels more appropriate when playing solo. However, when I play with others, I always prefer the mandolin.”
He considers his love of Americana to stem from a mix of family and regional sounds. “I was inspired to play by a diverse group of musicians and songwriters including my father, Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and The Band,” Dean said. “Growing up in the South, I was also exposed to the deep roots of traditional American folk music of the region. Americana was a natural fit for me.”
In concert, Dean focuses on his own music. “Specifically, I write songs about paradox: the cycles of love, heartbreak and the spiritual hero’s journey we all go through over and over again. I play 95 percent original music, but will throw in a few covers. For example, the crowds enjoy ‘Hot Tamales’ by Robert Johnson and ‘Hey Good Lookin’ by Hank Williams Sr.,” he remarked.
For this performance Dean plans on debuting new material. “ I love the “Nashville Round” format because of its intimacy. I became very accustomed to playing this format during the year I spent in Nashville in 2011,” he said. Dean is familiar with all the night’s other performers, but he notes a special connection to Fast Heart Mart. “We’re good buddies, he said. “We have taken parallel paths. We are both from Virginia, spent lots of time in New Mexico and now call San Diego home.”
Dean and the Americats are currently recording, working on their second album with producer Andrew Nast of Audio Design Studios. Plans are for a late spring release. Dean equally enjoys live performance and studio work, his favorite part of playing music is in the interaction with other people. “I am passionate about collaborating and pouring different influences into the pot to see what comes of it,” he said. “Birthing a new song is the greatest feeling in the world and to witness that song have a positive impact on someone is pretty cool too,” Dean remarked.
Songwriters Showcase with Levi Dean: Sunday, Feb. 18 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 2051 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. 7:30 p.m. All ages. Mfpresents.com.