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Access Ability

Singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson tries to foster a sense of connection rather than combat among his followers.

December 19, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ever since punk rock was born, one part of the pop-music community has prided itself on antagonizing fans. Whether it's Johnny Rotten expectorating on audience members or Smashing Pumpkins' singer Billy Corgan throwing a temper tantrum as he did recently at the Pond of Anaheim, it's enough to make you wonder whatever happened to plain old good manners.

Singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson is doing what he can through his music to foster a sense of connection rather than combat among his fans.

This purveyor of breezy folk, pop and soft jazz routinely spends time during breaks between sets and after performances signing autographs, having his picture taken and chatting with fans. So casual is he that he showed up wearing shorts for a 1994 concert at the Coach House, where he appears again Saturday in a nonsmoking setting.

His attitude about his relationship with his audience goes back to a 1983 show in Seattle before a hometown crowd.

"My popularity in the Pacific Northwest was growing, and I got to play in this old, beautiful theater," Tomlinson said by phone from his home. "It was the first time I actually had a dressing room, and I remember sitting back there by myself during the intermission. I could hear the crowd out there talking and having a good time, so I just decided to go on out and join them."

He's been doing it ever since. Accessibility has become a hallmark of Tomlinson's shows over the years.

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"Because of the personal nature of my music and my crowd, it's something that my evening would be very incomplete without," he said. "The stage physically sets you up to be separate, and I won't say I never enjoy the attention paid to me, but I'd rather be just one part of the greater whole."

"My concerts involve more than just playing songs. . . . I see them as spiritual and emotional gatherings of friends. I do try to balance things with funny stories and lighter songs, but I hope everyone leaves breathing deeper and feeling connected to other people."

Tomlinson has lived in Seattle for 13 years after having lived mainly in Austin, Texas, and Whitefish, Mont. He grew up in Amarillo listening to sounds ranging from country (Hank Williams) and bluegrass (Bill Monroe) to folk (Kingston Trio) and roots rock and rockabilly (Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison).

More interested in painting and writing, Tomlinson didn't pursue music until teaching himself to play guitar when he was 22.

His six albums feature his appealing tenor and smoothly played, melody-rich songs that focus on the healing, or at least soothing, effect of music. His lyrics include repeated references to the wind, water, air, trees, rain and the sun as well as his yearnings for unity among humankind through understanding and honest communication.

On paper, it might sound cloying; in conversation, Tomlinson sounds anything but.

"I really believe that music can have a profound effect on people," he said. "When someone like John Lennon and thousands of fans sing 'Imagine' together at a concert, that's a very powerful moment. It can release a lot of anger, pain and regret . . . and that has to be a good thing.

"I try to infuse my music with the spirit of the moment, so my songs tend to cover a full spectrum of emotions. I wouldn't be satisfied writing just 'happy face' songs. I talk about the pain too. I've been through some torment of the soul as well."

Apart from music, Tomlinson says he's grateful to have time to enjoy many of life's quieter pleasures. These include reading, writing, conversing at length with his small circle of friends, hiking and camping.

"I love it here in Seattle," he said. "The city has so much to offer, and it's amazing how easy it is to get somewhere remote and peaceful. Within an hour, I can be camping alongside a riverbed up in the mountains, weather permitting, of course."

* Who: Michael Tomlinson.

* When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

* Where: Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

* Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to Camino Capistrano and go left. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza, on the right.

* Wherewithal: $19.50-$21.50.

* Where to call: (714) 496-8930.

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