Smart Pop – John Kay & Who’s To Say Plays Saturday Acoustic Show at Warren’s Dovetail, Follows Strategic Musical Approach

John Kay & Who’s To Say (left to right): Steve Lupinski, Brandon McNall, John Kay, Tamara Marla Laflin and Jason Rauschenberger. Photo by Adam Barnett

John Kay & Who’s To Say will make their Dovetail debut Saturday night in Warren.

The Detroit progressive pop group will perform a free acoustic show at The Dovetail, 29200 Hoover Road, beginning at 8 p.m.

“We’re going to be performing stripped-down versions of our music – no drums, no high-powered amplifiers,” said John Kay, the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “We’ll still plug in some instruments, but this isn’t going to be a full-band, over-the-top kind of night.”

Kay will be joined by Who’s To Say bandmates Steve Lupinski (bass, vocals), Brandon McNall (lead guitar) and Jason Rauschenberger (rhythm guitar, percussion, vocals) for the one-hour set, which will feature songs from Kay’s 2016 album, “Dealing with People,” as well as some newer tunes and maybe a cover. Mark Bolohan of Scarlet Lies will kick off the music Saturday night.

“Steve and I visited the Dovetail last month, and the place is clean with an inviting atmosphere,” said Kay, who grew up in Livonia and started playing drums at age two. “It should be an interesting night and allow for meeting some cool new people.”

John Kay & Who’s To Say are building a strong live music presence in Detroit after performing their first show at a sold-out P.J.’s Lager House in March. Kay and his bandmates spent some time building a solid musical and artistic foundation before booking shows.

“We rehearsed for over a year in the dark; we didn’t put up photos, we didn’t put out snippets, we didn’t tease anything,” Kay said. “What we did was we worked hard, and we busted our ass until we had three rehearsals in a row that we thought, ‘Hey, we could have done all three of those rehearsals in front of a paying audience, and they would’ve gotten their money’s worth.’”

Building, Running a SMARTER Band

John Kay’s “Dealing with People” album artwork

Blessed at a young age with tremendous musical inclinations and talents – along with the gift of crafting catchy, heartfelt and memorable songs – Kay has been creating, producing and performing original music for more than 20 years.

Drawing on various influences from some of the most iconic artists and producers in pop songwriting, including Prince, David Bowie, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel, Kay creates genre-defying progressive pop songs that are fun to sing and easy to remember.

As the band’s frontman, Kay takes a refreshing, unconventional approach to leading Who’s To Say and connecting with fans. He’s defined seven core values – sacrifice, measurable growth, accountability, a reputation for excellence, time, energy and respect – for the group and selected bandmates who share and embody his musical philosophy.

“Our values are stated in crystal clear language, easy to understand,” said Kay, who equates leading his band to overseeing a business. “And, there’s even an acronym to remember it by – SMARTER.”

Kay developed his “SMARTER” musical vision after playing drums and guitar in several punk and metal bands, earning an audio engineering degree from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Ariz., consulting with several music industry and business strategy leaders, and writing and recording his own material.

By 2016, Kay redefined his musical vision and artistic direction after reading “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman, founder of the Livonia-based EOS Worldwide leadership development company.

“Gino walks you through the process of defining your core values, your core focus, your 10-year target, your marketing strategy, and more, along with the six key components of any business,” Kay said. “He calls it the Entrepreneurial Operating System, so I dove into that. I was starting out as a solo artist, with no team, and I figured if I can’t define my business’s core values, then why don’t I define my own?”

As part of Wickman’s entrepreneurial operating system, or EOS, Kay created seven SMARTER core values and used a tool called the people analyzer to see how potential bandmates would align with his long-term vision. While forming the band, Kay brought all the members together to read through and review his 14-page vision document, which outlines the team’s creative, musical and strategic goals for the next 90 days, one year, three years and 10 years.

Each quarter, band members meet to review progress toward their goals and recognize each other for exemplifying the SMARTER core values. They also hold each other accountable when specific goals are not met.

“I wanted to bring together either leaders or people who want to grow into leaders,” Kay said. “I’m not trying to be some sort of genius with a thousand helpers. I’m trying to grow those individuals who are reaching for the next level, and not just from a musical standpoint, but from a personal standpoint of self-improvement.”

Assembling the Bullfighters

Kay’s musical vision also includes a band mission statement – positively impacting others by delivering undeniable sensory experiences – to support their SMARTER core values and forge stronger connections with fans.

Part of that SMARTER core focus and fan connection includes providing memorable live shows and unique opportunities for engagement. Earlier this year, Kay launched the Bullfighters – the official fan club for fans of John Kay & Who’s To Say – a subscription-based content service through Patreon.

“I emailed hundreds of fans of my music one by one and said, ‘What do you want from your favorite artists on a yearly basis?’” Kay said. “And the resounding response was, ‘We want all their new music when it’s released, and we don’t want to have to worry about when it comes out or chase them down or have to go to the store to get it. We just want it. We want to go see them when they come to town and bring a spouse or a friend.’”

For $5 a month, fans receive the band’s music in a digital format, updates and happenings, merchandise discounts, free U.S. shipping and two concert tickets per year to local shows. They also have access to new song demos and are encouraged to provide feedback directly to the band.

In Kay’s eyes, music fans are tired of the highly commercialized mainstream music scene and prefer to support independent artists who value authenticity. The Bullfighters club gives John Kay & Who’s To Say fans exactly that opportunity.

Kay also has a money-back guarantee for Bullfighters – if they don’t perform in a fan club member’s state within a calendar year, then he will refund that year’s member fees in full.

“If we deliver the goods and deliver on our promises, then we will always be in business, and if we are undeniable, we won’t be denied,” Kay said. “If we engage our audiences’ senses, they will tell everyone they know to come see us, and if we provide an experience, then we will rise above the rest.”

Delivering the Next Undeniable Sensory Experience

For John Kay & Who’s To Say, their live performances come in three varieties, depending on the number of Bullfighters in a particular area – intimate house shows, small club shows or large theater shows with a 17-piece progressive pop orchestra.

Lucky Grand Rapids Bullfighters will see John Kay & Who’s To Say’s small club show Dec. 13 at Mulligan’s Pub, 1518 Wealthy St. SE.

“We have a couple of fan club members out there who have been waiting over two years for us to perform in their area, and we can’t wait to show them what we’ve got,” Kay said. “The Mulligan’s show is going to be a full-on JK&WTS performance with the whole band. Barrel Bones will bring their unique approach to blues-rock and open the show.”

With nationwide tours being planned, Detroit’s best kept secret won’t be hidden for much longer. In 2019, John Kay & Who’s To Say will play more shows, release new music and grow internally as a team.

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