Ready to know more about San Diego?


The Muse Behind Jesus Gonzalez’s Intimate Performances

The singer-songwriter's unique live experiences often occur in unexpected places
Jose Gonzales

Jose Gonzales

Jesus Gonzalez isn’t the kind of performer who needs a stage to leave a lasting impression. Quite the opposite—across social media and YouTube, you can find numerous videos of the San Diego native playing his meditative brand of folk and psychedelia in living rooms, in the desert, and in his 2021 video submission to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert in the woods of Mount Laguna.

Gonzalez will play wherever his muse takes him—and that’s often outside the confines of dive bar walls. Nature is as big an inspiration to him as music and poetry, if not more so, and he takes every opportunity he can to experience it firsthand.

Whenever I’m out hiking, I always notice the tiny things,” Gonzalez says. “I think nature forces you to pay attention to the details a little bit. The colors of flowers, the shapes of things, the texture of things, the way sunlight is hitting something, the shadows that are created by trees. How beautiful a mountain can feel [when you’re] staring at it. I think it inspires these feelings that you can’t really explain but you can translate through music somehow.”

Jesus Gonzales Musician June 2023

Jesus Gonzales performing at the Fleet Science Center

Very little about Gonzalez is conventional, whether it’s his artistic communion with the natural world or his own shape-shifting musical style. Gonzalez’s songwriting incorporates elements of folk and electronic music, and his performances often find him looping various elements together into a mesmerizing wall of sound. He’s prone to improvisation, and occasionally he’ll be joined by a harpist, a violinist, or even a small choir. Each show tends to be a bit different than the one that preceded it.

For Gonzalez, it’s as much about the experience as the songs, and it’s his mission to make that experience unique. In 2021, Gonzalez began the Tour of Enchantment, an ongoing project in which he takes his live performances to places you might not expect to see one. Among those venues have been St. Paul’s Cathedral in Bankers Hill, a historic home that may or may not be haunted, and the ruins of a bathhouse in Jacumba. And ever since he launched the “tour,” he’s noticed a dramatic difference in the level of engagement from his audiences.

Jesus Gonzales Musician June 2023 2

Jesus Gonzalez performing in the ruins of a bathhouse in Jacumba

“The attention isn’t as scattered. It’s very focused,” he says. “It’s almost like watching performance art. It feels like you’re seeing something unfold rather than watching someone go through the motions. There have been times where there are a lot of tears in the audience, which is so beautiful. It’s drastically different from playing your usual venue because a lot of the time [at conventional venues] […] people are talking. They’re not as present with the music.”

Gonzalez has released about a half-dozen singles since 2020, including the soulful and hypnotic “Stones in a River,” the ambient and otherworldly “A Chance to Weep,” and the gently melodic “When I Had a Body.” And he’s currently at work on the follow-up to his 2018 debut album Night. But in the meantime, he’s continuing to expand perceptions of what a performance can be, a spark of inspiration and personal motivation that’s followed him ever since he made that NPR contest video two years ago.

“I partook in the Tiny Desk contest and I was interviewed by [NPR], and it felt like I got pretty close to winning,” he says. “But I had this feeling of, Gosh, I really just have to start creating my own success. I’m not sitting around waiting for people to hit me up. I want to curate my own experiences.”

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA