JACKSON GILLIES

My life changed in 7 collective minutes on the stage of the 2,000 seat Arlington Theatre. It happened on the night of Feb. 25, 2016, when I was crowned the winner of Santa Barbara’s Teen Star contest. From there, doors began to open. From the time I arrived here, to the moment I’m writing this, I have changed, suffered, and loved more than I thought possible.

After winning Teen Star, I came to the realization that performing folk/blues/rock music was my true passion, and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had done musical theater for many years and believed in that, but I fell in love with the power of the simple expression of song.

After Teen Star and this epiphany about music and myself, I was pulled under the wing of Kenny Loggins, a local music legend, Randy Tico, a local bass legend, John Mooy, a local guitar tech legend, and Rod Lathim, local theater legend. I was lucky enough to meet all of these guys through a door opened by fate. They saw potential in me and wanted to help. At the time, I had only been playing guitar for around 5 months and didn’t really understand the dynamic of a “musician” performing. Standing on a stage without using my hands or over exaggerating emotion was very foreign to me, and they generously helped me begin to break down those walls, and transition into their world.

At that time, I spent a ton of time just watching and listening to music. I would, and still do, spend hours on YouTube watching my favorite artists (The Avett Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer); absorbing everything about the way they stand, speak on stage, play guitar, even how they dressed, but most importantly, the music. The message you want to spread, and what you want people to feel when they hear you.

An amazing opportunity soon presented itself. Kenny invited me to sing with a group called “The One Night Only Band,” which included some of Santa Barbara’s finest musicians, who have played with everyone from Tom Jones to Michael McDonald to Jeff Bridges. To say the least, I was awestruck. I had never performed with any band before that, and I felt a whole new part of my body awaken in “me” that could look someone in the eyes and say “here I am!” That night was the start of growing into that person in my everyday life.

After getting a taste of a band that incredible, I needed more. For my final project for a City College class, I chose to create an awareness concert for a skin condition I have, called Hidradenitis Suppurativa. The project started small but grew into a major event at SOhO music club. I gathered all those band members, and they so kindly donated their time, to back me up for a night of music.

The fact that this concert even happened is a miraculous thing. I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting something like that together if I were still living anywhere else. If you’ve lived in Santa Barbara for a while, you’ll understand that serendipitous energy, and the will of the town brought me to where I was. It was also the kind hearts of everyone who came to watch and play that night.

The other reason the concert was so important, is because the condition I was raising awareness for, has NEVER been talked about before by any performer or public figure in history. This might be overlooked if it were a rare condition, but HS affects over 230 million people globally. Hundreds of millions of people suffer in the shadows, without telling a soul.

I have also been a Type 1 Diabetic since age 3, and have been in national PSA’s with Mary Tyler Moore promoting awareness about Type 1. Talking about Type 1 was just a part of my life, so I figured why not do the same for HS?

Another door opened, but this time not quite for music. A friend asked me to provide some songs for a local TEDx talk that was 3 weeks away. Upon talking to the organizers, they realized I had a real story behind me, and asked if I wanted to do a TEDx talk on HS. The first line of the talk sheds light on the incredible nature of how it came to be. I explain how I started to learn guitar when I was stuck in bed for 2 months, in too much pain to move. It was music that kept me alive, brought me to Santa Barbara, and now to deliver this talk.

As of 8 months since its airing on YouTube, it has over 40,000 views, and over 200 comments, almost all from other sufferers, relieved that someone is actually talking about their condition. People who have never told another soul for 30 years, who haven’t been able to walk in a decade, who have never had a serious relationship because of their skin, coming out of the shadows and sharing their pain. I hope to use my music as a platform to help all with HS, and discover a cure. HS is currently incurable and plagues me every day. It has torn through my thighs, covered my chest, eaten at my back, and wrapped around my whole neck. It hurts to wake up, to move or shower or get dressed, but it’s the music that keeps me going.

Most recently, something else called to me that was larger than myself. On the night of January 9th 2018, a tragic mudslide devastated a large portion of Montecito, leaving many homes destroyed, and lives’ lost. A fellow actor friend had the idea to start a benefit concert and have teens produce, and perform it. Soon it became a massive production at the Marjorie Luke Theater. Kenny lent his hand in the overall vision and getting a band together to back us up. We ended up selling out the theater in less than 1 month and raised $65,000 dollars for the Unity Shoppe of Santa Barbara. This horrible incident brought to light joy that we find in music, each other, our gratefulness for what we have, and what little time we get to enjoy on this Earth.

At the moment, I am recording, producing, and mixing an EP of original songs in my bedroom at home. I only started writing last year, and there’s no faithful way to transcribe my songs onto paper, so if you’d like to hear them, you can visit my website and keep up with me. I will say, that nothing has ever given me such a feeling of true emotion than writing songs. I now feel it is the greatest gift of being a musician.

I’d like to thank Nathaniel for including me in this amazing project and be placing me alongside so many incredible citizens of Santa Barbara. Thanks to all the musicians, show people, local TV and radio stations, mentors, instructors, friends, and anyone who has taken a moment to look at my potential.

Nathan Williamson