“There is a moment in the middle of an ordinary life, where a story comes alive.”
Though it’s been over 25 years since singer and songwriter Peter Breinholt first started sharing his music professionally, it’s safe to say his story has been coming alive ever since it began in the form of multiple successful albums, tours and a crazy underground popularity early on, especially in Utah in high schools and on college campuses such as Brigham Young University and BYU-Idaho.
And it was actually through a TEDxBYU event last year that the cogs turned and things connected to bring him back to Provo for his first solo show at the Covey Center for the Arts on Saturday as a part of the 2019-20 Mayor’s Series.
Breinholt and his band, which has evolved and expanded through the years before shrinking back to a four- and sometimes five-piece group, really started gaining traction locally when they released their first album as college students in 1993.
“Our first album started a sort of brush fire,” Breinholt said of his early success. “One group of high school students at one school really got into it, then it would jump over to this other school and it was literally like watching a brush fire just take. What happens when something like that happens to your music or whatever, anything you do, is that at a certain point people jump on board just because that’s what everybody’s doing. There’s the music, then there’s just the experience of ‘I want to be where everybody else is,’ and we benefited from that for like six years and mostly in Provo. It was incredible to watch and at that stage in our career we couldn’t stop it.”
That crazy instant success has made Breinholt a beloved figure in the Utah music scene for decades now, and largely due to word of mouth, with his debut record becoming the best-selling independently released CD ever in the state of Utah. Years of sold-out shows across the state in venues such as Kingsbury Hall, Tuacahn and Sundance, has also led to his being honored by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who awarded Breinholt with the Governor’s Mansion Lifetime Achievement Award for his “enduring influence” as both a songwriter and performing artist.
But even after all these years, Breinholt said it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed.
“We still feel young, we still feel like college students doing this,” he said, and that energy is palpable every time he and his band take the stage.
Set to perform with Breinholt at the Covey show is Mike Ensign on bass, though after performing together since 1993, Breinholt said he’s also become sort of a co-producer in the show. They’ll be joined by David Tolk on piano who has been with the group since 1994 and has more recently gained huge traction independently as an instrumental artist, and Pat Campbell on drums.
“The thing I can say about Pat is he’s at the epicenter for the Provo hipster scene,” Breinholt said. “He’s a beloved staple in the Provo music scene as well as the Utah music scene.”
The fifth and final member of the group is multi-instrumentalist Denney Fuller, who will be sharing the stage with the band on and off during the Covey show.
Ticket pre-sells show some ample excitement for Breinholt’s Provo return, and he noted that, “We’re excited, too.”
“It all just came together,” he said of the Covey show. “I feel like we have a kind of love in Provo that was just nuts. We went from being just kind of an unknown band to playing what was Mama’s Cafe at the time to selling out the de Jong Concert Hall, which is the biggest venue at BYU other than the Marriott Center, all in two months, so we were playing Provo all the time for a stretch.”
Other than a Rooftop Concert Series show in 2012 and the TEDxBYU performance last year, Breinholt said it’s actually been quite awhile since the band has made its way back to Provo, and they’ll be bringing with them a few of the favorites but a lot of new music.
“At first, my temptation was to say we’re going to win back the Provo crowd — just go and play all the hits … all the songs we haven’t been able to do in Provo for a long time,” Breinholt said. “But last year, we did a lot of shows in the summertime, we have a new album, and at the season finale at the Sandy Amphitheater, with that show I think that I decided we want to do our new stuff. We want to do our new songs we don’t play as much.”
A hearty mix of new and old led to one of the best shows Breinholt said he’s ever had, “so we’re kind of bringing that philosophy to Provo to the Covey Center,” he said. “It’s a blend of new and old. I want for the band to feel like this is a fresh new show because if we feel that way, the audience will feel that way.
“The best thing we can do for the audience is come up with a set that we ourselves are sort of giddy about,” he continued.
That includes shelving even favorite songs for awhile until they can find a new life.
“I think what we’ve got for this Provo show is an entire set of songs that are alive and vibrant for us right now as performers,” he said. “None of our songs on our setlists are songs we just go through the motions with. They’re all in the set because they’re alive.”
With a lifetime of songwriting under his belt in creating the music he shares, Breinholt said a lot of inspiration for his songs actually comes from feelings evoked by other music.
“I grew up as a spectator — as a fan of music,” he said. “I would say that my No. 1 inspiration comes from the inspiration of hearing other people’s music. That doesn’t mean my life experience doesn’t make its way into these songs, but … often times, when I’m trying to create my own music, I’m taking parts of this inner world I’ve felt with other people’s music and convey it the way I see it.”
That style of writing also leaves things open to interpretation, allowing audiences to feel their own way through the music and what it means to them.
“I’m much more from the U2 world and Paul Simon world,” Breinholt said. “I like to paint a picture and use colors and send them in that direction they’ll piece it together from.”
That makes it a little harder to offer up a story or conversation during concerts, though, according to Breinholt.
“With 26 years into this career, I’m willing to come up with something for the audience’s sake, but in reality, you write a song because it’s something you can’t say with just words — that’s the point of the song,” he said.