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Rocky Votolatos True Devotion to music

If you have never been to Backbooth in Orlando, the ambience alone is definitely something worth experiencing. The small stage, which can barely fit a three-piece band, allows the audience to have a more intimate show than what is found at larger venues like Tampa’s 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre.

Northwest musician Rocky Votolato supplied Backbooth’s folksy soundtrack Thursday night, while the small, dimly lit venue added to the chilled and relaxed setting. However, opening act Ha Ha Tonka did their share to get the audience’s adrenaline running.

The band, which is touring with Votolato, was a more upbeat counterpart to the headliner with their mix of drums and various guitars that got the audience dancing around with drinks in hand. Quite often Ha Ha Tonka is labeled as bluegrass, but their Thursday performance exploited the Missouri bands Southern rock sound.

Using their hands and feet to keep time, the audience did not mind going along for the musical ride. Towards the end of their set, Votolato joined the four-man band – a commonplace occurrence since Votolato has a history of joining his fellow musicians on stage for what always promises to be a memorable collaborative effort.

Despite Votolato’s history with fighting depression and anxiety, his most recent album, “True Devotion,” proves that he has come a long way from his previous, mellow albums. On the stage, Votolato appeared anything but depressed as he played various hits from his albums “Makers” and “Suicide Medicine.”

His song “Alabaster” painted a portrait of Votolato’s spiritual journey with lyrics like, “I’ll know I’ll already have everything worth having, but I feel my strength returning tonight.”

Votolato’s blend of guitar and harmonica struck a brilliant balance to his strums, which brought to light the daily battles one faces in life. The songster has made a habit of bringing his listeners along his journeys, which leave one feeling melancholy to joyful all in under 10 minutes.

The highlight of the night was when he played a personal favorite, “Portland is Leaving,” which is about how love sounds so simple, yet doesn’t always provide answers. Sometimes “love’s a train wreck,” he crooned in a straight-from-the-heart style that hooked his listeners.

Despite claims that the show was over, a convincing crowd encouraged Votolato to perform an encore. Looking bright-eyed and smiling from ear to ear, he told the crowd, “Okay, okay, I’ll play a couple more for you guys!” Audience members were serenaded for an additional 15 minutes by Votolato’s acoustic guitar and soothing voice that has a way of making anything in life seem better.

No complaints came out of Thursday night’s performance, just lots of love passed around from Rocky Votolato and his touring band mates.

Set list:

1. Sunlight

2. Instrument

3. Portland Is Leaving

4. White Daisy Passing

5. Tinfoil Hats

6. Fragments

7. Fool’s Gold (New Song)

8. Sparklers

9. Alabaster

10. Goldfield

11. Makers

12. Suicide Medicine

13. Montana

See photos from the concert in the Scene & Heard Gallery.