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The Mac Weekly

Jonah Kagen slated to perform at Amsterdam Bar and Hall

Jonah Kagen slated to perform at Amsterdam Bar and Hall

Singer-songwriter Jonah Kagen first performed in front of an audience in Minneapolis for a crowd of 300 when he opened for British pop singer Maisie Peters. Before that show, he forgot a capo so he ran back to the bus to get it. When he went outside, he heard a collective gasp, something he brushed off until he exited the bus where he found that the crowd in line not only knew him but also wanted to take pictures and say hi. 

“That was the first moment of the new reality for me,” Kagen said. “I was just so grateful that people were there to see me and they knew me or even cared. There was so much buildup at home [and] so many nerves that as soon as I got up [there, they] completely washed away. I will always remember that.” 

Kagen, who went to high school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota, returns to the state to perform in his first headline tour at Amsterdam Bar and Hall, upgrading to a venue that holds 600 people. 

He released his second EP “The Roads” on Dec. 1, 2023, with Arista Records, following his debut EP, “georgia got colder,” released December of the previous year. The six songs on the EP encompass how Kagen describes his sound: a little bit folky, primarily acoustic and ripe with story-based songwriting. 

Kagen’s ties to music began with his jazz musician grandfather, who would show him videos of Danny Gatton, the guitarist from his band. Sensing how much his grandfather admired Gatton, Kagen became inspired to pick up the guitar at age six, coming up in jazz and blues. From there, Kagen found the music of guitarist Andy McKee, who used the harp guitar and other alternative methods of playing.

“[McKee’s] not using the guitar in the way that most people do, and he’s making these beautiful sounds,” Kagen said. “You can hear his influence in the way that I play.” 

Outside of Andy McKee, Kagen finds himself drawn to narrative songwriting with inspirations spanning Bob Dylan, Zack Bryan, Noah Kahan and Kacey Musgraves.

“When I went to high school in Minnesota, I actually started doing more writing and more playing around with words and then learning production and all sorts of the stuff closer to what I do now,” Kagen said. “As it’s gone on, it’s become so much more about the words and the storytelling for me, and then the music kind of supports that.” 

His process is never cut and dry. He describes it as a bit all over the place, finding that he is most creative when he isn’t sitting still — whether that means going on a walk, finding a coffee shop or moving between six different locations throughout the day to develop a song.

“It’s a blessing and a curse, I suppose, looking into the soul of the most mundane activities that happen every day,” Kagen said. “But I guess that’s the burden of somebody who writes — you’re always looking for something to write about. That ends up happening a lot, where I’ll see something and it sparks some thought in me and I’ll write it down and then all of a sudden I have a bunch of words and then, if it ends up sticking, a song.” 

For Kagen, there’s no single message he wants people to take from his music. His work is a conglomeration of his musings about the universe as he tries “to peer into the soul of every single little thing.” Kagen has personally interpreted many of his own favorite songs differently than the original artist intended, but he finds that’s where the power of music lies.

“The truth is it’s just your art and your work [that] you’re offering up to the universe,” Kagen said. “And from there, it’s up to whoever wants to listen to it to take. For me, I’m just sharing my own stories of my own observations of what’s going on, and any way that somebody can take my music and either be inspired by it or feel better or feel something — that’s really all that matters to me.” 

Kagen says that “Save My Soul” — an emotionally charged ballad from his latest EP — is one of his favorites to perform because of the call and response that always gets the audience excited. But from his most recent EP, the title song “The Roads” remains a favorite.

“I pushed so hard for that song,” Kagen said. “It started off as this little acoustic thing that I slipped into a bunch of demos that I sent over to the label. They kind of ignored it at first, and so I built it out a little bit more and actually did some of the production. Then I played it for them in person.”

His label ended up loving the song and fans have too. “The Roads” is his most streamed song on Spotify with over 17 million listens. 

“I’m just really proud of that one,” Kagen said. “It’s also kind of the first song that I was ever like, ‘this is the sound — this is it.’”

This EP contains one collaboration, also the only one Kagen co-wrote: “Made Up My Mind” with Lily Meola, a fellow singer-songwriter whose music blends folk, soul and pop. He wrote the song with some other people, finding that it would work as a duet after he had finished recording. Meola’s name came up as a potential collaborator through a connection with a producer. 

“[At first] I didn’t even think it was a possibility because I was like, ‘Oh, she’s so good,’” Kagen said. “Literally the next day, they sent me the verse back, and it was done. It was perfect because her voice is just insane. She’s also super sweet and super hard-working. It was seamless to work with her.”

In preparing for the tour, Kagen navigated how to make a big sound without a band backing him. He’s bringing a looper pedal and four guitars on the road, allowing room for experimentation and spontaneity. 

“I’ve been trying to plan it out in my head for a long time, and now I have a really solid grasp on what I want to do,” Kagen said. “From there, it’s just trying stuff. I don’t even like going in with the setlist sometimes —I just like going up and just being like, ‘let’s see what happens.’ The audience will say things, and you get to bounce back and forth. I love doing that sort of thing. Even for some of the smaller shows, it’s gonna be awesome to have a very intimate performance.”

Vincent Lima, another indie singer-songwriter, is opening for Kagen’s tour. Kagen’s family owns a small merch company that prints his merch and connects other artists to designers. His family was printing Vincent’s merch before Kagen had ever heard of him. Lima reached out to Kagen over Instagram DMs because he was a fan of his.

“My sister who manages me and who is a really big part of the merch operation [said] this kid is great,” Kagen said. “I listened to his music, and [thought] ‘what the hell? This is so good.’ I talked to him and he’s just the most down to earth, sweet kid.”

Lima played collegiate-level hockey while Kagen played collegiate-level soccer; they bonded over their shared experience moving quickly from college athlete to musician.

“We hit it off right away and started supporting each other online,” Kagen said. “When I needed an opener, my only hesitation was considering [that Vincent’s] so much better than I am. That’s [going to] raise the bar really high. So we’re gonna make it happen. It’ll push me to be better.”

While Kagen has opened for the likes of Maisie Peters and went on a small stint of headlining shows, this marks his first real headline tour. The best part of tour for Kagen is to meet and interact with the fans who have supported him along the way. 

“Beyond that, I’m really excited to play new music,” Kagen said. “I have a bunch of unreleased stuff that I am proud of that I haven’t even put on socials. I’m excited to have that sort of intimate reveal and to test out new songs on the road.”

Kagen, who is currently working on his debut album, plays at Amsterdam Bar & Hall on Sunday, April 14. Tickets are available at his website:


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About the Contributor
Natalie Mazey, Associate Arts Editor
Natalie Mazey ’26 (she/her) is an associate arts editor from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an English major with minors in Environmental Studies and Media and Cultural Studies. She is an avid enjoyer of the New York Times Games and any form of crafting.

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