Jonny Lang performs at ELLNORA

As Jonny Lang took the stage to close the Opening Night Party of ELLNORA’s fifth biennial guitar festival, the crowd erupted into applause and excited cheers. I wasn’t familiar with Lang prior to this performance, but his undeniable stage presence and humble aura grabbed my attention. At the start of the show, it was obvious that I was in the presence of a star.

Lang entered the music scene at the young age of 16 and found great success with his major-label debut “Lie To Me.” Since then, he’s become a Grammy Award-winning American singer and songwriter with a style that can’t be fit into a particular genre but a blend of many: rock, blues, Gospel and even a bit of country.

Thus, it seemed Lang’s appearance at ELLNORA was an exciting event for guitar enthusiasts and music lovers.

One fan in the audience was Paul Speers, a 61-year-old retiree from Urbana.

“In the blues world, he was being titled as a prodigy, and of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see him here in my own backyard,” Speers said.

Before long, I could understand Speers’ enthusiasm for Lang’s performance. Lang played guitar solos and licks with so much passion and energy that he was dripping with sweat by the end of the first song.

Lang treated his electric guitar with such delicateness that he was able to produce beautiful music, regardless of whether the song was fast or slow. It’s no wonder he’s shared the stage with guitar legends such as Buddy Guy, B.B. King and The Rolling Stones in the past 16 years.

However, the guitar isn’t the only instrument Lang mastered — his voice is a fine-tuned instrument of its own.

Bearing the resemblance of Steven Tyler’s high vocal range, Lang also possesses the smooth vocals of Gavin DeGraw and the soul of Jeff Buckley. Lang showcased this diverse mix of vocal styles through the delivery of difficult runs, the vocal mimicking of high-pitched guitar notes and the purity of his tone.

All of these elements created such a powerful energy and unique sound that my body couldn’t help but move to the melodic artistry of Lang’s performance. I could see that the majority of the audience felt the same way, as their bodies swayed, feet tapped and heads shook in awe of Lang’s musical craft.

One audience member I noticed in particular was Mary Ellen Farrell, a 62-year-old guitar enthusiast and ELLNORA frequenter from Urbana.

“I have been coming to the guitar festival ever since it started,” Farrell said. “I love blues guitar, and (Lang’s) voice is so incredible.”

In the end, with the help of his touring band — drummer Barry Alexander, bassist James Anton, rhythm guitarist Akil Thompson and keyboardist Dwan Hill — Lang succeeded in bringing a performance that the audience would remember and could ultimately respond to.

“The guy just puts a ton of energy, and I think the crowd felt that and they were giving it back. It seemed like he was just feeding off of it,” Speers said. “It was a great show.”

Stephanie is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]