September 28, 2016

Folksinger Tom Bennett Sings for Utah and Clean Air

Tom Bennett (center) performing before a crowd of 5,000 at the Clean Air, No Excuses Rally at the Capitol in January.

Tom Bennett (center) performing before a crowd of 5,000 at the Clean Air, No Excuses Rally at the Capitol in January. Photo by Daniel Gentry

Six years ago, Tom Bennett was an apostate return missionary drug dealer playing in punk bands in Salt Lake dive bars. Living out his own version of SLC Punk, Tom’s non-stop party days came to an end when he was busted on Trax by undercover narcs. His first offense, Tom was let off easy and when I met him in 2006, and he had just landed a job in a Boys and Girls Center. He was a man turning his life around at a young age.

Fast forward five years: I see Tom playing folk music at the Farmer’s Market, Tom stayed on the straight and narrow and he had found passion and purpose in his music.

Tom is now the co-owner and proprietor of Sweet Salt Records. He is securing gigs for like-minded folk musicians now in five different venues. Tom went from punk music drug dealer to traveling folk musician, and it’s amazing how well the shift in genre suits him.

Born in Georgia, Tom feels that folk music is literally in his blood. Last summer, he spent months trying to track down the few recordings his granddaddy made, back when Woody Guthrie and the Depression-era music defined folk music. Tom was given an old tape recording, the owner said it was recorded in the same studio that his grandpa operated out of. He then had the tape meticulously restored and remastered. It was folk music, but the musicianship was terrible. Tom shared the recording with his aunt, who had heard his grandpa play, “That ain’t your granddaddy! This guy is terrible, your granddaddy was good!” So, his search for his folk roots continues. Still, Tom greatly enjoys seeking out talent in folk musicians all over Utah. He wants to promote them and get them paid gigs, or at least a places to work on their craft.

Tom started organizing musicians a year ago when he wanted to have a place to jam and enjoy the music of fellow folk musicians. His first venue was the Perry Hotel where he was able to build up a dedicated crowd of playing musicians and their listening friends. Then he moved to Zest and eventually also added a night at the Metro and The Woodshed. While Tom has been helping promote and secure gigs for his fellow musicians, he has also been getting better gigs for himself. He recently played Sundance, opening for his folk hero Tony Holiday.

On January 25th, Tom performed one of his latest tunes, “Governor We Cannot Breathe” before a crowd of 5,000 at the Clean Air, No Excuses Rally at the Capitol. The lyrics are apropos: “There is a burning in my bosom, but it ain’t the holy ghost. I’m a-choking and a-coughing just a-walking down the road.”

I went to watch Tom and Sweet Salt Records perform at the Metro on a Wednesday night. The opening act’s guitar and voice were both out of tune. Not quite ready for prime time.

But Tom has a natural presence on stage. His opening song “My Drunken Lover” is a nice piece that features his work on the guitar and his unique sound. It’s great to come across the musician who isn’t attempting to sound like someone else, and is connecting with something more than the next fad. Tom’s talent is recognizable, and his confidence on stage and refreshing sound make him and his fellow musicians a strong draw.
Tom and Sweet Salt Records will be performing at the Urban Lounge in February. Sweet Salt Records feature nights entitled A Good Ole’ Time and a Rowdy Ole’ Time. Each night has a different folk emphasis.