Artist Feature: Shawn Owen

By: Alec Berry

I think I walked into the Morgantown Brewing Company sometime around 8:45 p.m. It may have even been nine. The Brewpub was packed, though. I know that. Chatter of all sorts bounced off every wall and floorboard. Yet , the scene wasn’t harsh or eager. It felt subdued … like a manageable chaos brought on by the dim lights and wood stain color pallet.

It’s safe to say though that if I were twenty-one, I probably would have joined the patrons and mingled amongst that chaos. I’d be in a seating booth somewhere, propped up against a chair backrest sipping on ale, and my mood would be light and I’d probably add to the chatter all throughout the restaurant, occasionally dropping in curse words.

But I’m not twenty-one; I’m nineteen, so it’s funny to note then that upon entering the MBC, I immediately shuffled over to the bar and took a stool.  There stood a reason for this, though; it’s where Shawn was sitting.

Shawn Owen writes and performs his own music – sometimes solo with a lone acoustic guitar, other times with a full band behind him. His sound ranges anywhere between the usual acoustic singer/songwriter aesthetic to something similar to a more boiled down take on reggae.

Back in 1999, Owen jammed around the Morgantown scene with his band Stolen Element. They played house shows as well as clubs, and they eventually set out on an East Coast tour, selling 3000 copies of their original EP. Five years later, with many parties and good times behind them, the band wrapped it up and split, and Shawn left Morgantown.

Today, Owen is 31, lives in Annapolis, Maryland and still possesses a passion for music. The Morgantown Brewing Company just happens to be the spot of his latest performance.

When I took my seat at the bar, Shawn had just been handed a sandwich by the bartender. I couldn’t tell you what was on it. I really wasn’t looking. There were french fries beside it, though. But before he could take a bite, I stole his attention and got him talking.

“So what’s it like being back in Morgantown?” I asked.

“It’s good,” says Owen. “Although, somewhat different.”

And from there Shawn went on to describe a Morgantown music scene ten years gone.

“The scene was different back then,” says Owen. “Much of the music is club and bar oriented today. Before, house parties and house shows were the epicenter. That’s what bands were playing.  123 Pleasant Street wasn’t really booking smaller bands, and Sunnyside was just blowin’ up.”

Owen recalls many of those house shows, citing some of their eccentricities. One that sticks out took place near the current location of Summit Hall. Stolen Element was playing another house show, but rather than the usual living room setup, the band scoped out a balcony and plugged in.

For Owen, that experience felt like playing a festival. All he can remember are the countless people standing down below, looking up.

A lot of that street festival party vibe has died away, now. When I asked him if he could think of any reason for the calm, Shawn could only guess.

“The University cracking down probably has something to do with it,” says Owen.

Although, Owen may not have as close a connection to the University as most local inhabitants as he was never actually a student during his time in Morgantown. Instead, Shawn worked a handful of odd jobs while not on stage, and he can gleefully remember his friends waking up early for class as he slept in.

The freewheelin’ take on life even stretches back to before Shawn came to Morgantown. Growing up in Snowshoe, West Virginia, Owen picked up snowboarding at a young age. He even worked in his father’s ski shop, and eventually moved to Colorado at age 17 to chase a dream of professional snowboarding.

The dream didn’t work out, though. Shawn’s snowboarding career was interrupted after an injury, and that’s when he fell back on music.

But Shawn says that music was always apart of his life.

Early on, artists like Bob Marley and Sublime caught his attention, and later on he would draw from these sources to craft his own take.  He eventually got to a point where he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than music.

At this point in the conversation, Shawn has nibbled through most of his french fries. The status of the plate becomes my only indication of time. I’m scribbling in my tiny blue flip notebook, trying to make sense of everything being thrown at me.

I pause for a moment and look around once again at the packed club.

“How are you feeling going into this one?” I asked. “Nervous, confident?”

“I’m excited,” Owen says. “I love Morgantown, and I’m ready to be back in it.

“Although, I didn’t know Rusted Root was playing tonight, too,” he mentions while laughing.

Other than a few acoustic shows, this performance at the MBC is Shawn’s first full band presentation in Morgantown. He calls his backing band The SOBs – short for Shawn Owen Band. Consisting of Zach Ditmars, Tobias Russell, Paul Clagett and Ben Bays, Shawn says the SOBs compliment his sound nicely and really bring the music to life.

“So, yeah, I’m ready,” says Owen. “I think the audience will be into it.”

Shawn has no plans to permanently move back to Morgantown, though. I got the vibe that era of his life was over. Instead, Shawn wants travel with his music, and to prove he’s more than talk, Shawn mentions playing one his more recent songs, “Make Money,” at Occupy Wall Street.

“It was a very cool experience,” says Owen. “What they were doing sort of inspired me to write the song in the first place, and to play it there, for the protestors, I think I may have been to supply a little inspiration for them.”

After finishing this statement, Shawn cast a lingering eye over his sandwich, now becoming stale from the air because of my presence. I figured it was time to leave the man be. I thanked him, shook his hand and parted ways.

He had a show to play anyway.

You can check out Shawn’s music here: http://www.shawnowenmusic.com/
Check out his Morgantown Sound performance here: https://morgantownsound.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/mgtsnd-02-13-2012-shawn-owen/

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