Kevin Gullage got an alert on his phone from Facebook and couldn't have known what he was a about to experience.
“My dad posted, ‘My son got an invitation to play with Blues Traveler at Jazz Fest Sunday. I accepted already and he doesn’t even know it,’” Gullage said with a laugh. “My mind was blown. I almost cried.”
Gullage, an 18-year-old Luling resident and budding musician, indeed took the stage in New Orleans Sunday at Jazz Fest to perform alongside the legendary group, calling it “an honor and blessing” and “totally different than anything I’ve experienced.”
“My first thought (after getting on stage) was, ‘Man, this is a lot of people,’” Gullage said of the crowd gathered to see the performance. “But while I was on stage, I felt the energy of it. I was smiling hard, excited to play with everyone. It was really great.”
The son of famed musician Tony Gullage, Kevin began composing his songs in kindergarten and showed an advanced knowledge of rhythm and musical notes for his age. He is a senior at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, who already has numerous major credits to his name, including winning the 2016 St. Charles Got Talent competition and performances with Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Program, the Berklee City Music Summit, the United Professional Horsemen Association Conference (Mardi Gras World) and the Cooking Across America Conference. He has also performed on WWL-TV’s morning show and on WGNO’s News with a Twist.
The opportunity to play with Blues Traveler arrived via his internship with the Tipitina’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing New Orleans public schools with musical instruments and raising awareness of the city’s musical legacy.
Gullage said, that from the moment he arrived backstage, he was loving every moment of the experience.
“I was less nervous, I’d say, than I was thoughtful,” Gullage said. “I’m thinking, okay, I need to play this song well and do it justice.
“Then, when it comes to my solo, I know I have to shred.”As Blues Traveler wound down the song before Gullage walked onto the stage, keyboard player Ben Wilson pointed to the sky and then at Gullage, welcoming him into the fold before Wilson played a solo.
“That gave me a great, great feeling before I got on stage,” he said. “I felt so much honor.”
Gullage, who plays multiple instruments, then played the Hammond B3 Organ and his Melodica Airboard as he and Blues Traveler performed the song “Mulling It Over.” He said he couldn’t ask for anything better than to play with “great people who were out there with great energy.”
“It’s a fun song. (Lead singer) John (Popper)’s vocals are something magnificent to study and work behind,” Gullage said. “It makes you want to keep playing, keep pushing it. And the rest of the band was amazing as well.”
Gullage had his share of fans, as well.
“I saw my sister in the front row cheering me on,” he said. “I heard people backstage yelling, ‘Yeah, man!’ My fellow interns were nodding along in agreement with my solo. And after it was over, (Blues Traveler) was telling me, ‘Great job ... killer solo.’ I was kind of in awe, like ‘Wow, I think I did something good!’”
Music is clearly a lifelong love for Gullage, who speaks as passionately about the subject whether he’s discussing an individual performance, its history or the nuts and bolts of how it happens.
Sunday, then, will be forever etched in his memory.
“It means so much to me. I got to meet legends, living legends of music,” he said. “Not just of music performance, but composition, technicality and knowing how to put on a good show and entertain everyone, getting to meet people who do exactly what I want to do. It’s mindblowing to meet so many greats, who put so much heart and soul and energy into what they’re playing. That’s not an everyday experience.
“It opens my mind and my soul and my heart to do what I love even more than it already is. It reminds me of how much I love it.”