Hobo Johnson’s Rise from URL to IRL

This viral Facebook sensation is proving to be much more than just that.

WORDS by Mr. Re and Kristina Dawn
PHOTOS by Kristina Dawn

Hobo Johnson burst onto everyone’s radar seemingly overnight when his 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Contest Submission of “Peach Scone” blew up on Facebook in March—the video garnered millions of views in just a few days. Eight months later, the video has amassed over 10 million views and has been shared over 138,000 times. These days, when going viral, it’s almost always attributed to humor, rather than skill and passion—the “Soundcloud link” is usually the reply, not the catalyst. So while it was refreshing to see Hobo Johnson’s video of his music go viral, it begged the question: Is this just 15 minutes of fame or is this an act that could make it in the industry?

Certainly, he’s got the chops. There’s a level of vulnerability in Hobo Johnson’s lyrical content and his spoken-word deliverance, and he is almost spastic with an exuberance that is exciting to consume. He is dripping in artistry from his songwriting, to his performance, to his fashion. It wasn’t surprising to see that his new fans not only shared the “Peach Scone” video, but watched and shared his other videos as well. For a week straight, you couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing his face—he was onto something and it was resonating with people. It’s not so much that what he was doing was “different” per sé, but it was certainly interesting; there’s countless artists putting out spoken-word music and emotional, sad music, but there was an x-factor with Hobo Johnson—a certain, indescribable charm about him that made his content stick.

About a month after the viral video, Hobo Johnson began announcing tours and shows with his live band, The Lovemakers. Of these, was a UK tour, a slot at Bumbershoot, and tours with The Front Bottoms—one of today’s biggest indie bands. All signs pointed to Hobo Johnson taking his 15 minutes and turning it into a lifetime. Just last week, we caught Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers on a headlining tour in Portland—just barely one month after playing Portland.

Considering his ascension to fame happened entirely online, it’s hard not to wonder how the performance will translate live in front of real people. Strutting out with no shoes and a new look—buzz cut and clean shaven—a stark departure from his signature curly locks and pencil-thin mustache, Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers piled onto an old, beat up couch center stage. Highlighted behind them was and a spray-painted backdrop that simply read “Hobo + Bois.” Everything was so on-brand.

It went off. Opening with “DeMarcus Cousins & Ashley,” the second track off his latest LP, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, the bar was instantly set high with enormous energy from both the performers and the audience. Articulating each word with the emotionally-charged delivery we’ve seen so many times before in his viral videos, it was exhilarating to watch. The crowd hung on to Hobo Johnson’s every word; during the serious moments, you could hear a pin drop in the silence, but when he was lively, the crowd’s vibrance matched his. He has a way of interacting with the crowd, inviting them to participate in his story (and joke) telling—it felt as though all 1,500 of us were uniquely involved in making this massive party one for the history books.

It’s not often you see an act play a city just barely a month after playing the same city, much less playing packed rooms of over a thousand people both nights, much less doing this on the same year they became famous. Yes, there’s definitely something working here. Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers are here to stay.


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