Oh, say, can you see — and hear — the patriotic art of Joe Everson?
Please rise for the visual and vocal artistry of Joe Everson
photo by Will Crooks
“The Star-Spangled Banner” is a notoriously difficult song to perform. Between the broad vocal range the melody demands, the challenging high notes, and, yes, even the lyrics, there’s the potential for a lot to go wrong.
Now imagine adding a live-action painting performance into the equation.
That’s the claim to fame of local artist Joe Everson, who has spent the better part of a year traveling across the country to stadiums, arenas, and charity events to dazzle audiences with his unique rendition of the national anthem, which involves him belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” while simultaneously painting the iconic scene of the American flag being raised after the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
While singing the national anthem, Joe Everson completes a painting based on the iconic image of U.S. soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. Photo provided
Throughout most of the song, Everson’s canvas is turned upside down, so the image isn’t entirely recognizable until the song’s final lines. That’s when Everson spins the canvas 180 degrees on the easel and adds the painting’s final touch — the red and white stripes of the flag — in a single broad stroke.
‘I Remember Loving to Do This’
Over the last eight months, videos of Everson’s performance have spread like wildfire on the internet, with his top six videos amassing more than 100 million views and 2 million shares across social media platforms. He’s been featured on sports media outlets including ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and SB Nation and even on cable news programs including “Fox & Friends.”
Everson, who grew up in Midland, Mich., enjoyed drawing from a young age. Surprisingly, given his current profession, he had an early aversion to painting.
“I didn’t understand how to use the palette, and it just frustrated me. So I really liked monochromatic stuff — pencil, pen a little bit, ink,” says Everson, who works out of a studio in Taylors Mill.
He adds, “Even if I did use paints, a lot of times it would be in one color, just so I could get that one thing right. As a kid and all the way up through high school, as little as I could do touching the palette for painting I would do.”
Despite Everson’s early passion for art, translating it into a career wasn’t part of his plan. When Everson was a teenager and his family had to relocate from Michigan to Wisconsin, he temporarily gave up on art due to his struggle with the moving process and frustration with his new school’s minimal class offerings. In college, he studied counseling and psychology and realized that he enjoyed working with people. Art, he says, didn’t re-enter the picture during that time.
Although Everson wouldn’t revisit his love of drawing for several years, his time in college did lead him to discover a passion for singing. “I had an a cappella group that I put together in Wisconsin and found out how much I love music. And my brother, Ben, travels and sings, and so my wife and I actually joined up with him and we traveled,” he says.
That venture often involved trips to the South, which ultimately led to Everson’s first trip to Greenville in 2009. Seeing Artist Row by the Reedy River and observing the arts culture in town inspired him to return to drawing.
“I remember visiting a few specific artists downtown, and when I saw what they were doing — I didn’t know if they were killing it out there in the market or not — but I remember thinking, ‘Man, I can do some of this. I remember loving to do this.’ And that’s really where it kind of started,” he recalls.
Putting It Together
Everson later stopped traveling with his brother and returned to Michigan. He took a job in construction, although he continued drawing on the side to hone his skills and create a larger body of work.
Shortly after, a friend living in Greenville asked Everson to fill in the baritone slot in his own quartet. In 2010, after Everson kept being flown into town for performances and recorded an album with the group, the friend suggested that he permanently move to Greenville, offering him a job as a fuel truck driver for his company.
“So I learned how to drive a truck, which is crazy, because my whole family knows I hate being in a big truck or bus or vans, and now I am traveling in a big tour bus and driving it and driving a two-ton bomb around town,” Everson says. “It was not at all what I dreamed I’d be doing, but it was part of the next step, and I knew it.”
At one point, Everson was working up to 70 hours a week, splitting his time between driving, drawing, and performing. That arrangement stopped being sustainable, and Everson “made the leap” in 2013 to focusing on art full time. His attention switched from drawing to painting at the encouragement of a friend.
“He started telling me, ‘Joe, I think you can do it. There’s so much power in color that I think you’re just leaving behind,’” Everson recalls.
His first serious attempt was a technicolor face painting of actor Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. “I decided to use what would be like the colors in the Everlasting Gobstopper, that kind of thing,” Everson says. “When I discovered acrylics like that, it really let me loosen up and discover how much fun it could be and that I could interpret so much more in color.”
Soon after transitioning to art full time, Everson secured his first studio space in Taylors Mill and exhibited at some downtown art shows. During an exhibition at Oktoberfest, he connected with Daniel Lyles, an account executive at Jackson Marketing, Motorsports, and Events and an art aficionado. Lyles praised Everson’s work, but “nothing really happened,” he says, until the following year when they again met at the same event.
At that point, Everson had started questioning if being a full-time artist was ultimately going to pan out. He got his answer when Lyles pitched the idea of the two working together after Everson did a commissioned painting for him.
Soon after, Lyles came up with an idea that would ultimately set the wheels in motion.
“He said, ‘Joe, man, I know you love to sing. I really wonder — what if we put this together?’” Everson recalls.
And that’s when the national anthem routine was born.
For Everson, his performance isn’t just a way to combine his love of singing and painting. “I am a patriot at heart. I love our country. I respect the men and women who died for our country,” he says.
The decision to paint the scene at Iwo Jima in particular was intentional, and when choosing to recreate that image in his performance, Everson says he recalled the backstory behind the writing of the national anthem. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which later evolved into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” during the War of 1812 after he saw the American flag triumphantly flying at Fort McHenry after the conclusion of the Battle of Baltimore.
“When everything was said and done, the flag’s still there. And to me, that’s what it [the national anthem] will always represent… men dying at the time to keep the flag raised,” Everson says. “And the closest thing we had image-wise that was a little more current was the flag raising of Iwo Jima.”
Everson’s initial public performance of his national anthem routine was prior to a Greenville Swamp Rabbits game in March 2016. “That was the first time I knew this can be repeated and it can work,” he says.
But the performance didn’t really take off until nearly six months later, in October, when Everson traveled to Toledo, Ohio, to perform the national anthem before a Toledo Walleye minor league hockey game.
“There was something that hit me while I was doing it,” Everson says of the performance. “The crowd erupted in a way that I really hadn’t felt up until that point. And I think that’s when I knew something special was happening.”
His intuition was correct. That night, Jordan Strack, a local sports anchor, shared a video of Everson’s performance on Twitter, and it soon gathered tens of thousands of likes and retweets.
But that was just the first domino to fall.
ESPN’s “SportsCenter” soon picked up the video. It was also posted to Facebook, leading to millions of views and hundreds and thousands of shares.
The big get came shortly after Everson and production manager Everett Callan began their drive back from Toledo to Greenville the next day. Everson received a call from a “Fox & Friends” producer. The show wanted him to perform his anthem routine the following morning live in front of a television audience of 2 million. Everson and Callan promptly rerouted to New York City.
After his “Fox & Friends” appearance, Everson sold almost every piece of art he had over the next two days. In December, Everson moved into a bigger studio at Taylors Mill, partly because the space couldn’t fully accommodate all of his supplies plus the number of orders he was fulfilling.
“There were a lot of different waves that hit you,” Everon says, regarding the deluge of press he received after the Walleye performance. “It was really fun, because I never experienced anything like that before. … ‘Surreal’ is a word I’ve used a lot.”
Everson has managed to keep himself busy the last couple of months. In April and May, he performed at NBA playoff games for the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. Last month, he performed at a charity softball game in Houston hosted by J.J. Watt of the NFL’s Houston Texans. And earlier in June, after previously meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio, he was invited to perform at the actor’s home in California for a fundraiser benefiting one of his charities, After-School All-Stars. Two of Everson’s paintings were auctioned off for $72,500 total.
“That’s the nature of it now. We’re on the road so much. It’s just gone crazy,” Everson says of his packed schedule.
As for his ultimate performance goal, Everson has his eyes set on the Super Bowl. “Maybe I’ll chase that dream and it’ll never happen, but I’ll always try. I think that would be the ultimate stage for what I want to do,” he says.
Full article: https://greenvillejournal.com/2017/06/20/oh-say-can-see-hear-patriotic-art-joe-everson/