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Jon Lindsay debuts his escape

Songwriter Jon Lindsay had to embrace his present before tackling his future as a national recording artist: His debut album, "Escape From Plaza-Midwood," is an homage to the diverse and eclectic neighborhood that he had to get out of his system before moving on to his next project.

Or projects, rather. With Lindsay, there are many.

The 29-year-old Oregon native - a graduate of Queens University of Charlotte - has served as music director on several theater productions, including Machine Theatre's recent "Thom Thom." He co-writes music for commercials; clients include Hanes, Honda, Lebo's and Sheetz. He's a member of a local power-pop band, the Catch Fire, plays with Charlotte pop-rocker Benji Hughes and has toured with singer-songwriter (and UNC Charlotte alum) Nicole Atkins.

He'll step out on his own Friday and Saturday to play Petra's Piano Bar, a Plaza Midwood haunt where he did a five-month residency in 2009.

"I felt like I had to make this record about being from here," Lindsay says while sipping a Bloody Mary at a table near the bar at Dish, a popular restaurant in Plaza Midwood.

Lindsay moved to Charlotte from Oregon in the early 1990s. His father, an Episcopalian minister, transferred to a church here. He graduated from West Charlotte High School before studying English at Queens and then getting an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "My parents used to say, 'Are you going to be a writer or a musician?'" he recalls. "I just wanted to be an artist. I couldn't choose between the two."

Yet when he returned to Charlotte he chose music. Upon completing "Plaza-Midwood" in January, he began shopping his debut album to labels. He entertained offers from more established companies, but went with Chocolate Lab because the Chicago upstart (also home of English musician Andy Yorke) was passionate and could guarantee a 2010 release.

Lindsay and "Plaza-Midwood" have already received a fair amount of exposure. The music magazine Magnet and AOL's Spinner.com gave away free singles. In August, he performed at two legendary L.A. clubs - Hotel Café and Largo. Some of this is a direct result of label efforts, but Lindsay also has publicists, entertainment lawyers and management working with him.

"I see Jon going places," says Chocolate Lab director Brian McKinney, a former concert promoter who lived in Charlotte from 2004 to 2006. "Part of the reason I started the label was to help artists get a foothold in the industry and see them through some of the early stages of their careers."

The album may reference his hometown, but it sounds anything but homespun. It's clean, polished, professional and rich, with live horns and strings cushioning Lindsays' vocals - a throwback to the pop crooners of the '60s and '70s. There are hints of John Lennon, the Beach Boys and the Moody Blues against a modern musical backdrop. Lyrically, he writes beyond his years, referencing Jackson Browne and Eddie Haskell, names many 20-something listeners might not know.

"He has an understanding of narrative, story, dynamics," says actor-playwright Matt Cosper, who has worked with Lindsay since 2004. "(He's) an ideal collaborator. He is not so rigid. He knows what's best for the story and production."

For now, Lindsay's own story is based in Charlotte's trendiest neighborhood. The two shows at Petra's kick off a busy fall that includes a tour of the East Coast and Midwest, but Lindsay says he'll remain here - at least for the time being.

"The trick at the end is that this record is for Charlotte," he says, "but it's also my ticket out."

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