Dan Navarro, a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, has spent close to 30 years building and maintaining a loyal following on the East Coast—particularly in northern Virginia and Maryland—but performances in Hampton Roads have been rare.
That’s changing, thanks to Smithfield resident and part-time music promoter Jim Abicht, who has hosted Navarro for two house concerts over the last five years and is producing his show Saturday night at the 175-seat Smithfield Little Theater.
They connected at a music festival in Memphis. “It was one of my first times at the Folk Alliance,” Abicht recalled on Tuesday. “I just happened to stumble into a room he was playing, and I thought, ‘Good grief. This guy’s good.’ I really wasn’t familiar with him. … Well, the next year, I went back and saw him again and started talking to him, and we thought it would be a good idea to bring him to Smithfield.”
Abicht said his house concert patrons had a similar reaction when they heard Navarro: “It was another one of those situations where people said, ‘OK, we don’t know who this guy is, but we’ll take your word for it that he’s good.’ People came, and it was like, ‘This guy is great!’ Especially when he did his version of ‘We Belong’ in both English and Spanish.”
That’s right: “We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder / We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under.” Although the ’80s hit is usually associated with Pat Benatar, it was actually co-written by Navarro and his longtime musical partner, Eric Lowen, effectively launching their professional careers.
“It felt special when we did it,” Navarro said Monday as he was driving between gigs in New York, “but we had no idea what it meant. I think what we thought it meant at the time was a renewed vigor for writing and playing together. … I’m very proud and grateful and a little dumbfounded because I don’t think we even thought after she cut it that it would turn into something that would have that kind of legs—that would still be re-cut 30 years later. Pop is supposed to be disposable, you know.”
Lowen was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2004 and died in 2012. However, they continued to write and perform together as late as 2009, and Navarro has carried on ever since as a solo artist. The audiences are smaller now than they were in Lowen & Navarro’s heyday, but he’s OK with that. “I understand that the brand is gone,” he said. “I did a video that’s up on Facebook of a Jackson Browne song. Somebody posted: ‘Gosh, I’d forgotten about him, but now I’m gonna go check him out.’ I’m sure that at least half of the Lowen & Navarro audience, that’s what’s happened, and I don’t resent it. It’s just what happens. … I think it’s part of growing up. I like it right where it is.”
Although he hasn’t matched the commercial success of “We Belong,” Navarro said he thinks the songs he’s writing now are the best he’s ever done. “There’s an interesting quality to it that I’m not nuts about,” he admitted. “I am dramatically less prolific than I was. I write way, way, way fewer songs, but when I write one, it’s a gem. That sounds arrogant—I don’t mean it that way. I have not written a song that I don’t do in my set and haven’t played repeatedly, because if they’re not good enough to play, they’re not really real; they just don’t exist.”
That said, commercial success isn’t necessarily the goal anymore anyway. “I’m really trying to write what moves me,” Navarro said. “That’s the only motivation now. If it’s a different direction, I don’t care. If it’s a few maudlin songs in a row, I don’t care. … Basically all I’m really doing now is a rather luxurious point to be at, which is: I’m merely trying to move myself and say something that matters to me deeply. Whether it’s frivolous or lofty or painful—just do something that means something to me and share it with people. So far, so good.”
Along those lines, Navarro said his next album—more than three years in the making—will come out later this year. “It is very close to done,” he said. “I’m not still tinkering with it. There’s only really two guitar solos left to do, and then I’ve got to really decide are the vocals keepers or do I want to re-sing them. … Although it’s taking forever, I’m excited about the new record because it’s really good. Who knows how it’s going to be absorbed—if it’s going to be absorbed—but I’m looking forward to throwing it out there later this year.”
In his 30 years on the road, the industry has changed, but the power of music—and the potential to move people with stories—has not. “The more I boil this down to storytelling,” he said, “the more kinship I feel with people and the less scared I am that the business model has changed. I think as long as I remain true and open and listen as much as I talk, I think people will want to hear my stories. Because I sure want to hear theirs.”
Dan Navarro will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Smithfield Little Theatre. Tickets are $20. All Smithfield Music proceeds go toward youth music education. For more information, visit dannavarro.com and smithfieldmusic.com.
Abicht noted that Navarro’s show is competing with Jimmy Buffett’s performance in Virginia Beach. “I’ve been telling people the performance will be just as good, either show,” he said, “but the audience might be different.” When it was suggested that Navarro might go for laughs and cover a Buffett song in his show, Abicht quickly replied: “Better yet, Buffett ought to do one of Dan’s songs!”