Nathan Golub resembles anything but a singer of dusty blues and aged country tunes as he approaches the stage at Classic Wax. The fair skinned youth wears short hair and eyeglasses. A threadbare "I (heart) New York" T-shirt and blue jeans hang from his lanky frame as he plugs his acoustic guitar into the speaker. It's open mic night at Sarasota's premier blues venue and the 22-year-old preparing to play is half the age of the average attendee. Undaunted, Golub sets his beer bottle in the cup holder located in front of the stool at which he is seated, balances his guitar on his lap, pauses, and then gives his six-string an authoritative strike. Golub presses his eyelids together and proceeds to emote with the evenhanded assurance of a seasoned performer.
Golub infuses the lines of an old time Black spiritual with enough emotion to prompt even the noisy patrons at the back of the bar to lend an ear. He follows his opening salvo with a take on Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues." What Golub still lacks by way of his guitar picking ability, he more than makes up for with his uncanny vocal offerings. Golub channels the grief of a man so enraged by his trifling woman that he is prepared to murder her with his shotgun. At no time does Golub sound as if he is posturing, each line resounds with authenticity.
For the final song of Golub's abbreviated set, the evening's host, accomplished guitarist Joey LaVallee, joins his prodigy on electric lead for "I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down." Golub's intense reading of the obscure blues/gospel song coupled with LaVallee's accompaniment brings the room to a silence for the first and only time of the evening. Golub returns to his seat and is greeted with accolades from his fellow musicians. He grins humbly and gives his attention to the next performer.
Golub first performed at Classic Wax a year ago. Although the Pasco county native had been strumming his father's guitar and singing since he was 14, his performances outside the friendly confines of home were limited. When Golub left the nest to attend the Ringling School of Art and Design and seek a degree in illustration, he brought his guitar along — just in case ennui left him with nothing better to do but tool around on it a little. By the time he was ready to begin his senior semester last August, Golub felt prepared to perform off campus. His first love had switched from visual art to the craft of making music. For three years he had successfully serenaded his college peers and was prepared to showcase his assorted bag of tunes before a larger, more diverse audience.
In the last 12 months, Golub has garnered increasingly enthusiastic responses at coffeehouses and venues across Sarasota. He has won both old and young over with set lists that include innovative renditions of traditional gospel tunes like "Glory Land," complimented with country classics such as Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home." However, Golub's forte is the blues. His arrangement of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" is of particular interest, for it bears little resemblance to either the original or the popular Allman Brothers Band version. Golub notes that he chooses songs with strong lyrics and then attempts to breathe new life into them by tinkering with the melody to fit his own style. He says he's able to connect with audience members because he feels a deep relationship with each song he performs, regardless of the fact that most were written decades ago by individuals other than him. "I try really hard to make sure that when I sing a song that it's something I relate to," says Golub, "or have a personal connection to."
In the future, Golub would like to hone his songwriting skills. But for now he is content with unearthing, interpreting and re-arranging songs he treasures from the past. "I think it's more the person playing the song a lot of times than the song itself," opines the soft-spoken Golub. "I have a lot of respect for anyone that writes, and it's something I know I need to work on. But, a lot of times I don't think it's that important that the person you're seeing has written the song as much as it is that they can perform it well."