Brian Owens was in elementary school when he first heard the unique sound of Motown legend Marvin Gaye.
“It was probably ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’” he recalled. “But I don’t think I realized the genius of Marvin Gaye until I got older.”
Owens is now 36 and an original recording artist. But a 2013 concert series sent him down the path he is currently on, singing a tour of tributes to Gaye. On Friday, March 17, he’ll make a stop at the Garner Performing Arts Center.
“I think what tribute shows like this and others in the past do is allow us to experience the music of these great artists that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience today,” said Debbie Dunn, the cultural arts and events manager at the GPAC. “Musicians like Brian allow us to keep that music alive. I expect that the full house will be dancing in the isles.”
The tribute is the offshoot of a series of shows Owens performed in his hometown of St. Louis, where he tipped his hat to Gaye, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, to name a few.
“I was kind of digging into all my soul music influences,” he said. “Marvin was the first one I did, and it kind of stuck.”
Owens said BiCoastal Productions booking agents learned of his tribute to Gaye, and he was asked to perform the concert on a more regular basis.
He hadn’t planned on doing the show outside St. Louis, and was reluctant to accept the offer because it went against his objective as an original vocalist.
I never wanted it to be a tribute act, like impersonating Marvin Gaye. But I was fine as long as I could approach it as an artist, trying to preserve this music and reintroduce it to people.
Brian Owens, star of ‘What’s Going On: The Marvin Gaye Experience’
“Especially Marvin, you know what I’m saying? I’m already influenced by Marvin,” Owens said. “I never wanted it to be a tribute act, like impersonating Marvin Gaye. But I was fine as long as I could approach it as an artist, trying to preserve this music and reintroduce it to people.”
Reviews of his shows suggest he made the right decision. Over the 20 or so times he’s performed “What’s Going On: The Marvin Gaye Experience,” people have come to refer to him as “the second coming of Marvin Gaye.”
Owens takes that title with a grain of salt, despite sharing similar vocal qualities with Gaye.
“Marvin Gaye is Marvin Gaye,” he said. “I bear many similarities to Marvin and others. It’s part of my artistic palate as a vocal painter.”
The “What’s Going On” album is what Owens thinks of first when he thinks of Gaye.
He came to truly appreciate Gaye’s work for the first time as he prepared for his first tribute show in 2013.
“Just going through his catalog and really listening intently as a student, what a vocal powerhouse and musical genius he was,” Owens said. “It’s quintessentially, for me, probably the most important album ever. Not only is it musically so pure. From a message point, it’s stood the test of time.”
Owens has performed the show in Delaware, Florida and Texas, and will hit Kentucky and Georgia before coming to Garner. It will be his first trip ever to North Carolina.
His duet partner for the tribute, Rissi Palmer, currently lives in the Triangle area.
“She’s my Tammi Terrell,” Owens said.
If you go
What: Brian Owens performs “What’s Going On: The Marvin Gaye Experience”
Where: Garner Performing Arts Center, 742 W. Garner Road, Garner
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17
Tickets: $20 in advance by calling 919-661-4602, or $23 at the door; $15 each for groups of 15 or more