Augustana Made The Varsity Feel Like Home


Something was off; Dinkytown was hitting different last night as I walked through the curiously quiet campus streets of Minneapolis – making my way to the Varsity to see Augustana and John-Robert. Things weren’t necessarily different on the surface; people were on the streets and the line to The Varsity was long as usual – but what was going on inside? 

Jazz music filled the air, as I walked into this venue that was fitted with seats for the first time in my experience. The warm, pleasant harmonies filled the air as people lounged around and sipped on their drinks, sharing laughter over the smooth sounds of bass and clarinets. 

Is this what I’ve been missing? 

I’ve always wanted to be at a show where people felt like they were having a shared, intimate experience with the artist – and with both of the acts that night, we had more than I could have asked for. 

John-Robert took the stage first. Wearing a comfy sweater and outfit overall, this acoustic and electric guitar player wowed the crowd with his distinct, angelic voice. It’s not often you hear a grown man hitting a falsetto with grace but Robert did that and then some. All-Americana in terms of sound, John-Robert did mix up the tempo here and there with his music as well as his stage presence. There were jokes, authentic stories about the time leading up to the show, and at one point a fun little guitar tuning. 

We sat in peaceful bliss as John-Robert worked through their setlist, winning the heart of the audience over one song at a time. This artist is new to me, so I can’t speak to their hits one-by-one, but if you want a song suggestion – “Adeline” was absolutely phenomenal and capped off a wonderful set. 

John-Robert left the stage and the Jazz music returned. Sitting on the top balcony, I looked around with pure joy as the chandeliers flickered and friends and lovers sat around laughing casually; I have never felt closer to living in a Frank Sinatra song in my life. That was the case until the next act took to the stage – Dan Layus, carrying the banner of Augustana as a solo act. 

Dan came out and immediately gave a shout-out to John-Robert; but not in a cliche way – a genuine, heartfelt message of appreciation erupted from the stage before Layus even played the first song. It was only a few moments of adjusting before Dan sat down at the piano, with no reservations, starting with our favorite hit “Boston.” 

So, so much nostalgia. “Boston” and many other of the songs Layus played that night were damn near embedded in my brain as a kid. The haunting, poetic melodies and heart-grabbing lyrics are not to be overlooked. It wasn’t just me that had nostalgia, from the looks of it though. Dan swapped between piano and guitar a few times last night, with his vocals holding the show together from start to finish. 

While the place wasn’t as packed as it could have been, what we had was a crowd of about 100 people GLUED to the stage from start to finish – opener to the closing song – which I have never seen or experienced in real life to date; People just wanted to be there, on that Tuesday night, to relax and listen to music. Not only was there a good group of fans present, but another thing that showed just how far the reach of Augustana goes was the diversity of the audience in terms of age. Dan Layus and his band might have released their last studio album over 5 years ago, but luckily for you (if you weren’t there last night) the most recent album they have dropped is titled and really is Live; give it a taste if you missed out last night!

Whether you know of Layus from Augustana or not, or just know a few of their bigger hits from earlier in our lifetimes – it matters not; This guy is still singing his same songs and doing it amazingly. 

It was a pleasure catching these two acts last night; A casual, cozy venue setup was exactly what we needed to warm up that November night. Will you join us next time?