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Potbelly Music

Vo Era

Potbelly Musician Since: Winter 2005

Favorite Salad: Mediterranean

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Kevin Hunt, or Vo Era as he’s known on stage, has pursued his passion for music all the way from Chicago to New York. Already this year he’s released two singles and traveled to D.C. to perform at a special inaugural event. We talked about his myriad projects and found the Chicago subway played a key role more than once.

You started with Potbelly in Chicago. What brought you out to New York?

I wanted to come here for a while and it worked out that Potbelly was opening here. That meant I could have a job set up – I could start advancing my career here in New York.

So you moved with Potbelly to New York but how did it all start back in Chicago?

I had been performing on the Chicago subway full time for a couple years. One of the guys down there told me about Potbelly. I only knew eight cover tunes at the time and it was a three hour set but the manager took a chance on me because she liked my voice.

How are the two Potbelly Open Mics that you host?

Good, we’ve got one at the shop on 14th & 6th and one at 37th & 7th. The word is getting around and we’re getting even better crowds and better talent. I really like the fact that I’m able to see other artist get more exposure and build that following.

Tell us about your trip to D.C. for the inauguration?

During the inauguration weekend, I got to perform at a brunch with motivational speakers and political activists like Roland S Martin from CNN and Michael Eric Dyson. A friend of mine from Chicago was a part of an organization that was planning it. Ironically this friend was also someone that I met singing on the Chicago subway six or seven years ago.

You also recently released two singles.

Yeah, "Bow Around My Heart" was just released March 12th. I wrote, arranged, and sang all of my backgrounds vocals – kind of a one man band. For my other single, "Fabulous", I had one of my musician friends that I met here in New York play the drums for me. I’m all about live instrumentation. No auto-tune. There’s not a bunch of samples. Everything’s from scratch, from the ground up.

We’ve got to know, where did the name Vo Era come from?

Vo derived from Kevo which my friends used to call me. Then about five years ago I added Era because I wanted it to be a little more unique. I chose Era because I felt like it was my ‘era’ from that point on as far as my music. That maybe sounds a little vain but I think that as an artist you have to find that balance between confidence and humility.


Brent Brown

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Brent Brown

Potbelly Musician Since: Brent Brown

Favorite Sandwich: Tie between A Wreck and Italian

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Brent Brown is building a dedicated fan base not just through social media savvy, but through a positivity that resonates out from every project he works on. He’s uploading videos to YouTube weekly, preparing for a festival gig this summer and working on his fifth album. He even wrote his own Potbelly jingle!

What was your inspiration for writing your own Potbelly jingle?

I actually wrote it a long time ago when the 'Dunch' jingle came out advertising the BIGS. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to write my own jingle, record it, send it, and see what happens. (Listen to Brent’s original jingle!)

It sounds great. You really capture the Potbelly vibe.

When I started playing at Potbelly about three years ago, it was the first place that I ever played live for people. That’s when I started playing a lot more, writing a lot more and recording. Music sort of became my life.

Do you also play with a band?

I’m starting a band right now for a festival this summer with all original music.

What do you like about playing with the band?

When I’m with the band, I feel like it makes me better in different ways, because the people I’m playing with right now are just as good or better than I am. It’s kind of humbling playing with different musicians, and learning from them in different ways.

Tell me about your time as musician for a Cruise ship.

It was six months away from family and friends and they had me sing 4½ to 5 hours a day – I could not do that again. It was just way too much singing but still a great experience. I was kind of like a boot camp.

YouTube seems to be one of the main ways you connect with your fans and share your music.

It’s a good way to reach across the world and communicate with people that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. I know people by name from Chile, Germany, Australia, England, Canada, South Africa, all over the place. That’s where I get a lot of my motivation and support is from people who follow me on there.

And you have a new goal for YouTube views, right?

Yup, trying to get a million. I’m at like 820,000 now.


Steve Kenley

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Steve Kenley

Potbelly Musician Since: Fall 2010

Favorite Sandwich: Mediterranean

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Steve Kenley has been living music for a long time. He took a break to practice law but he’s back to full time music with his Potbelly performances, solo gigs, and his band, Platform Soul. He talked with us about the best and “explosive” aspects of a career in music.

Where’s the best place you ever traveled for music?

In the 80s I was in a band that did six weeks every year in Aruba. That was always a fun place to be in the middle of the winter. We got to meet some of the local musicians and hang out with them. They would buy our gear from us because they couldn’t get it down there. So we’d leave here with gear and then come back with money to go buy more gear again.

You’re a full time musician now?

Yeah, since I moved to D.C. that’s all I do. I did the law thing for about 15 years. Now I’m doing music again. Potbelly was a huge part of that because it allowed me play every day. I was admitted to the D.C. bar last year but I haven’t done anything with it. It’s more fun to play music than practice law.

What brought you back to music?

In college I had a roommate who was just crazy about guitar and when I would play he would say, “You need to get in a band!” So finally I did and once I started, it was all over. I never thought that I was good enough to actually play in a band. Once I found out I was good enough to do that, it’s all I wanted to do.

Alright, we’ve talked about the good parts of traveling and playing music. What about the unexpected?

I used to be a rock band that used flash pots, these things that blew up at the end of the night. I was my job to set them off. One time we I put in a little too much powder and they got really smoky. The venue opened the back door to clear out some of the smoke and before long, here comes the volunteer fire department thinking the place was on fire. Those things were probably a bad idea but still kinda fun.


Wil Hardcastle

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Wil Hardcastle

Potbelly Musician Since: Fall 2012

Favorite Sandwich: Grilled Chicken Cheddar

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A Baltimore native, Wil Hardcastle, is dedicated to perfecting his craft. He pours his time into recording and is honing his skills as a live performer. He talked to us about all that and the impact of his time studying music in Havana, Cuba.

What’s it like working in Baltimore as a musician?

It’s a really small city so there’s a lot of opportunity for musicians who are actively working – there’s a good audience and a great local radio station that really showcases local musicians and other indie musicians around the country. I think it’s important to make music for your city, connect with the people around you and share that experience.

You record both electronic music and acoustic music?

Yeah, the electronic stuff is mostly just for fun. I sort of just do it for myself. My acoustic songwriting is where I put my self-expression and passion.

Do you record at a studio?

I have a home studio and all the instruments that I need to make a solid demo. I’m hoping to get into a studio in the upcoming months for a full length album. I’ve had a lot of growth as a musician since the short EP I did before college and I’m really looking forward to getting back there and doing something special.

You sometimes write songs with a special guitar from Cuba?

It’s called a Cuban Tres. It’s a guitar variant that was invented in Cuba. I studied at a music conservatory for about for four months in Havana where I learned to play the Tres as well as salsa percussion.

Did you learn a lot musically when you were abroad?

Oh, absolutely. It was the first time I had studied at a conservatory but the most interesting part was seeing musicians who were phenomenal performers who didn’t have access to recording or studios. They were perfecting the art of playing and singing for people and that really inspired me to become a performer – a musician that’s able to get in front of people with just their instrument and voice and share music that way. It’s extremely powerful.


Vo Era