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J.S. Ondara: Sells out First Avenue Main Room [Photos & Review]

Photo Credit: Richard Dollarhide

February of this year, Minnesota’s Kenyan born, adopted son, Jay Smart, released his 11-track album Tales From America. Under the name J.S.

Ondara, Smart wrote over 100 songs, all telling the stories of immigrants in America. With heavy rotation from 83.9 The Current, J.S. quickly sold out the historic 7th St Entry.

Less than a year since it’s release, Tales From America landed on Billboards charts, brought J.S. a nomination for Best Emerging Act at the Americana Music Honors & Awards, a tour with Neil Young, sell-out shows around the world and followed up with a sell-out welcome at the legendary First Avenue main room.

Taking the stage in his Bob Dylan inspired signature fedora, J.S. took the stage with no instruments, and only a backlight hiding his face as he performed Turkish Bandana. His storytelling, presented by his compelling voice, silenced the crowd with awe.

J.S. Ondara Photo Credit: Richard Dollarhide

You came out to the west

With these visions of grandeur

A house by the lake

And a life of splendour

You thought you would

Some kind of news maker

But you are still

A factory worker

Turkish Bandana J.S. Ondara

His angelic voice and heartfelt words penetrate the souls of many, highlighted by the times we are living. Many smiles and tears witnessed as the night went on, and stories of personal wounds and loss were shared by those next to me.

J.S. Ondara Photo Credit: Richard Dollarhide

I witnessed an unnamed person receiving a hug from a stranger as she spoke out about losing her mother last August. As soon as the first notes of Mother Christmas began, it reminded me of the power of song and how music can open secluded wounds while at the same time, healing what may seem broken.

Ondara’s music has a way of letting people open up to others.

Oh, I want my mother here for Chrsitmas

Oh, its been three years and o I miss her, well I miss her

Mother Christmas J.S. Ondara
J.S. Ondara Photo Credit: Richard Dollarhide

Ondara is said to have written over a hundred songs for his new album, performing two and asking the audience which one should be on the album. Both of were impeccable. Every note he sang and every chord he played told a story of love, pain, loss, and triumph.

J.S. Ondara Photo Credit: Richard Dollarhide

Ondara’s Minneapolis welcome is a true American tale. As we live in a society that tries to divide us, it is music and art that bring us to commonality.

The house lights turned up. I noticed the diversity of the crowd. The smiles, the tears and the fact that we were all moved in different ways, yet we were here together as one audience.


Ondaras music is therapeutic as it has a way of helping us let go of whatever brings us vexation.

Richard Dollarhide
Author: Richard Dollarhide

Photographer, Photojournalist, Executive Chef and Full Time Artist

Written by Richard Dollarhide

Photographer, Photojournalist, Executive Chef and Full Time Artist

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