Kern County native Jon English, vocalist, songwriter, and frontman with Orphan Jon & The Abandoned, has performed American roots music and blues in venues and on stages across the United States.
But there’s something about Saturday’s gig in his hometown of Bakersfield that lights a fire in his mind, that wells compassion in his heart, that has the power to bring tears to his eyes.
“If I do nothing else of any importance with my musical career, I would be most content if I can just help these amazing young people that have been dealt a bad hand in life,” he said. “I personally know what they’ve been through.”
English and his band will kick off the inaugural Covenant Community Concert and dinner event starting at 5 p.m. Saturday at Salty’s Banquet & Event Center in southwest Bakersfield.
Proceeds will benefit aged-out foster youth in Kern County. An orphan and foster child in his own past, English knows first hand the troubles they’ve seen — because he’s seen them, too.
English said he lived in “shelter care” from the age of 8 months until he turned 6, with only short stints away while in foster homes or when his biological mother had custody for a few short months.
Let’s just say Saturday’s event, designed to help aged-out foster youth, is close to his heart.
“You’ll leave knowing you’re helping kids who could be lost on the street,” he said of those who attend.
And he hopes the aged-out foster youth will eventually see him as one guy who has been there, and is determined to help.
“Maybe they’ll say, ‘That’s the guy who went through hell as a child, who came back to his hometown to help others who went through hell as a child,'” English said.
Saturday’s headliner is Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps, a blues veteran English is excited to have coming to Saturday’s event.
The Houston native starting playing piano at 5 and hasn’t stopped since. She has recorded with the likes of Walter Trout, Eric Burdon, Tommy Castro, Stephen Bruton, Randy Newman, LeeRoy Parnell, Neil Diamond and others.
The top-flight artists she has performed live with are too many to list, but legends like Levon Helm and Delbert McClinton may provide a hint.
Blues Matters magazine in the U.K. said “the girl’s voice does the talking alright — with a knife edge when she wants to rip your ears off or your heart out.”
The Pasadena Weekly called her “one of the most honest, gutsy, incredible singers you’ll find.”
Doors open at 5 p.m., with dinner provided by Salty’s BBQ, which includes tri-tip, chicken, chili beans, salad, roll, and Salty’s sauce.
The music starts at 6 p.m.
Behind the scenes will be Randy and Kim Martin, who have been working with aged-out foster youth for years, operating the nonprofit Covenant Community Services and Covenant Coffee, which just celebrated 10 years of employing young people who have aged out of the foster care system.
Without a helping hand, many would end up in prison, unemployed, homeless, victimized or even dead, Randy Martin said.
Years ago, when English heard about what the Martins were doing — showing former foster kids that their past doesn’t have to dictate their future, teaching life skills, sharing opportunities — he told them he wanted to help.
“He appeared out of the blue,” Martin said of English.
In fact, the blues man had an idea for an annual blues fest, Martin said. English pushed forward, but COVID-19 pushed back. A planned concert in 2020 had to be cancelled. Last year, the idea wouldn’t fly, either.
But this year is different.
“We’d love to see it become an annual festival,” Martin said.
Closing out Saturday’s night of music and food — from 8:45 to 10 p.m. — will be local classic rock band Chronic Blue.
Tickets are $75, and include a barbecue meal, the music and a night of memories — all while benefiting local foster youth.
Sponsorship opportunities are also available as are VIP reserved seats.
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.