Jason Mraz: A Storyteller


Jason Mraz, widely known for his 2008 classic “I’m Yours,” performed a laid-back acoustic set accompanied by Toca Rivera and Gregory Page. Mraz told the story of his origins at a coffee shop, Java Joe’s. Throughout the concert, it felt like I was in that very same coffee shop. The trio provided such a organic sound, using only guitars, voice, human hands and a djembe drum. Even the stage was minimalist—the only decorations were hanging lights. Jason Mraz kept the entire show warm and intimate, tying everything together with his songs as stories.

Gregory Page, Toca Rivera and Jason Mraz have been collaborating together for decades. Page opened the show with soothing songs that he wrote from poetry, which is a big part of his creative process. Most notably, he played his song “Heartstrings,” which he stated were all of his dreams in one song. Page’s style was reminiscent of the acoustic-heavy tunes of duos like Simon & Garfunkel as well as Loggins & Messina. He set a very soothing tone for the rest of the night. “You could even take a nap if you want to,” said Mraz to the audience.

When Mraz performs live, he doesn’t simply sing his recorded songs or singles. Mraz sang songs from the beginning of his career, including “Zero Percent / Our House,” from his 2001 acoustic set. His cover of the 1980’s hit “Our House” by Madness is always a crowd favorite because he splits the crowd to sing along with him. Mraz also sang songs about karate, chocolate and climate change, which are a treat to hear since you wouldn’t find them anywhere on his albums. However, fans waiting for his singles were not disappointed. He performed hits from nearly all of his albums, including “I’m Yours,” “Lucky,” “I Won’t Give Up,” “Unlonely,” “You and I Both” and “Have It All.”

One of the big elements of Mraz’s performance is the way that he connects with the audience. He tells so many jokes—backed up by Rivera’s laughter—and stories that frame his songs. Mraz came off as more of a charming friend than a performer. Before performing “Details in the Fabric,” a calming song about moving past difficulties, Mraz said that he had a friend who would give him a weekly word to write a song about. One week, his word was “sewing machine.” When he received a voicemail from a heartbroken friend, he thought that he would write this song to “stitch him back together.”

Later on in the show, he explained that his first single, “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” was about his friend Charlie, who was diagnosed with cancer. Charlie had positively accepted his fate, stating that he wouldn’t worry about what was next in his life. Mraz said when he “saw fireworks from the freeway,” he thought about his friend and cried while writing this song in the car. He said that experience taught him that the songs don’t have to be about him, but can be stories he tells for other people.

When I see an artist perform live, their stories remind me how human they really are and can completely reframe the way that I see their music and vision. We’ve heard the lyrics of Mraz’s singles thousands of times on the radio, but in a purely acoustic set, I felt like I was truly listening for the first time. His songs mean something different to each person, finding a way to attach themselves to memories, friends and relationships. Couples in the audience slow-danced to “I Won’t Give Up,” which was an unforgettable moment, filling the venue with warmth and joy.

Before Mraz would sing a song, he would say he’s singing a “new version of an old song.” Each performance was different, with scatting, different drum beats or mixed-up lyrics. And Mraz stays fresh by blending new and old songs, unified by the acoustic sound. With strong vocals, minimal staging and relaxing, wholesome tunes, Mraz focused my attention in such a distracted world, which really inspired me to be more present in my everyday life. His music brought me back to open-mic nights in coffee shops, car rides with my cousins in elementary school, and laying around my old bedroom. It brought me back home.