Berkley Hart to celebrate 20 years of music at Poway anniversary gig

Like Jewel, Jason Mraz and Gregory Page, Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are among the leading San Diego singer-songwriters who got their start at Java Joe’s.

But they are the only Java Joe’s alums to form an award-winning duo, Berkley Hart, that has thrived for two decades. Their partnership, which has thus far produced 11 increasingly assured albums — including the brand new “While the Night is Still Young” — will be celebrated Saturday at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in a concert presented by Poway OnStage.

Their 20th anniversary concert, billed as “Berkley Hart: Wreck 'N' Show,” takes its title from the name of their 1999 debut album. Co-produced by the duo and Marti Amado, it features 16 guest artists, including Little River Band bassist Wayne Nelson, multi-instrumental wizard Dennis Caplinger and top drummer Duncan Moore.

For its Poway show, Berkley Hart will perform all 13 of the albums songs, in order, followed by some surprises.

One surprise, at least for more recent fans, is that — after teaming up — the two debated at some length what stage moniker would best suit them.

“I really thought it should be Hart Berkley!” said Berkley, one of San Diego’s most prolific album producers and engineers.

We recently asked Hart, 59, and Berkley, 48, to separately answer the same questions — and to not share their responses with each other. You can read more of their autonomous interviews at sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/music/

Q: How did you first meet?

Hart: I met Jeff at the first Java Joe’s location in Poway. I had been playing mostly country dance bars, and — although I love country music — I was tired of ‘posing’ as a cowboy. I heard about this ‘Singer-Songwriter Night’ at Java Joe’s, so I took off my cowboy hat and went. I saw this long-haired hippie djembe-drum player sitting in with almost everybody who sang that night. I asked him if he would drum on the album I was working on. The rest is history.

Berkley: Calman came in with his awesome cowboy hat and cowboy boots on. He stood out in a cool way from the other songwriters, just because he looked like a cool-ass cowboy! Then he played his song and he didn’t need any accompaniment. I was immediately trying to play gigs with him as a percussionist. That song was called ‘Barrel of Rain’ and it ended up on our first record.

Q: Your first impression of each other?

Hart: That Jeff was the most natural musician I’d ever seen. I still feel that way.

Berkley: I was absolutely stunned when I heard Calman sing and play.

Speaking of Java Joe’s, did either of you try to date Jewel?

Hart: Not I. I thought about it, but then decided my wife would get pissed off, so I didn’t.

Berkley: I didn’t. Jewel couldn’t keep her hands off me, though! Just kidding. But she (broke) my djembe when she sat on it like a stool.

Calman, what does Jeff bring to the musical equation unique to him that you don’t have with any other musician?

Hart: He has a guitar style like no one else. When Jeff adds guitar parts to my songs, they take on a whole new feel. I call it “putting some Berkley on it.”

Jeff, what does Calman bring to the musical equation unique to him that you don’t have with any other musician?

Berkley: Calman has a unique guitar style. He’s always beating himself up about it but no one comes up with the same kind of groove and melody Calman does. He’s also a really tasteful and talented harmonica player. The most unique thing Calman does, though, is his writing. It doesn’t matter if he’s writing an email or a song, they get the same kind of attention. Calman is in love with words. He slaves over each and every phrase. It’s been a huge education for me!

Jeff, tell us something about Calman most people don’t know.

Berkley: Calman grew up in the Boy Scouts program. He went all the way to Eagle Scout… It speaks to who he is. I’ve heard him recite the Boy Scout code more than once. He lives by it. He is always courteous, hard-working and all of those things.

Calman, tell us something about Jeff most people don’t know.

Hart: He’s watched all 154 episodes of “The West Wing” at least three times.

Poway OnStage presents “Berkley Hart: Wreck 'N' Show” — 20th anniversary concert

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 15498 Espola Road, Poway

Tickets: $15-$50

Phone: (858) 748-0505

Online: powaycenter.com

george.varga@sduniontribune.com

Twitter @georgevarga

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