Audience members are in for a “royal” treat on Friday, Oct. 20 when Oklahoma-born, thirty-something singer, songwriter, cellist Gabriel Royal returns to Madison for his second appearance in Overture’s “Up Close” series. In this unique musical experience, Capitol Theater stage is transformed into a cocktail lounge, where performers play on stage next to the audience.
Royal is no stranger to Madison. Before the “Up Close” series, he was a featured artist at Overture’s 2021 Take the Stage event, and he has played at other venues in the city.
“I’ve performed in a lot of places around the country but feel most welcome in Madison,” said Royal. “I love coming here. The people are kind and jovial, the food is great, the lakes are beautiful. I even liked the cold weather when I was here last in February.”
Royal is excited to share his newest composition, “Dust to Dirge,” with the Overture audience. “The 20-minute, meditative piece is an original score composed by Royal to accompany his friend Ashanti Chaplin’s artwork “Earth Elegy,” presented in connection with “ArtNow: The Soul is a Wanderer” on view at Oklahoma Contemporary art museum.
“Earth Elegy” is an installation comprised of video, aural, sculptural and material impressions of the 13 historic Black towns in Oklahoma. Collaborating with community members and civic leaders, Chaplin collected clay, soil, sound and video documentation from each town. The obelisk, an earthen element that references its ancient purpose of recording the history of the place, is made with clay collected from the 13 towns.
“It’s a lyric-less song, like a Gregorian chant, meant to make you think and feel longing,” said Royal.
Writing music is a daily part of Royal’s life. In addition to his new dirge, he plans to entertain guests with his personal favorites—old songs and new ones, “all goodies.”
Royal appreciates traveling throughout the year to play his songs, but playing gigs is his side job. He works full-time as a music teacher for Tulsa Public Schools, where he is known as one of the school’s most passionate teachers.
“My students know when I’m on the road playing music, and they’re so supportive,” he said.
Over Labor Day weekend, Royal performed at the Levitt AMP Wilmington Concert Series in Delaware with his guitarist brother, Malcom Royal, and drummer friend, Melissa Houston.
He is thrilled that people want to hear his songs, and he likes sharing the songs’ backstories at intimate shows like Overture’s “Up Close.” He plans to sing both cello and piano pieces during his performance.
“I love the vibe at Overture where I’m on stage with the audience, a one-man act,” he said. “People are engaged and responsive, even talking with me between songs. It’s the most relaxed, comfortable, free I’ve ever felt on stage, which allows me to be myself and express my true musical potential.”
Overture has helped give Royal exposure as an emerging artist, and he keeps in touch with its staff more than any other venue.
“Playing here has helped get my name out there. I’m not famous, but sometimes I get noticed at airports,” he joked.
The road to fame can be long and tedious, but Royal is relishing the journey. If you’ve seen him perform before, you’ll want to come back for more of the fun you expect. For first timers, come with the intent to enjoy yourself and hear beautiful music with a sincere, likeable, vivacious musician.