What: Kelley Hunt
When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Where: Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
Age: All ages
As an intrepid 18-year-old at the University of Kansas, Kelley Hunt didn’t care how she got her talent out there. She just wanted to perform.
That resulted in the car-less, dorm-residing Hunt toting an old Fender Rhodes piano, a 12-string guitar from a pawn shop and a beat-up PA through the streets of Lawrence, Kan., looking for a gig. She eventually landed one for tips in a tough basement bar called the 7th Spirit Club.
“I had a lot of nerve, jumping out there at a young age,” Hunt said. “I just assumed it would go well, and the amazing thing is that it did.”
She played until 2 a.m., and convinced the club owner to give her a ride home afterward. Those rough and tumble night owls became the first fans of her powerful gospel-folk-blues crooning.
“It helped me become savvy and smart about what to do,” Hunt said. “If someone is going to fall on your piano, what are you going to do? Keep playing.”
More than two decades later, Hunt tours with her sultry voice and quiet charisma, gaining traction through sheer merit and talent.
“I feel I was born a musician — I didn’t become one,” Hunt said. “I never decided to do this; it was always there, and I never questioned it.”
That is not surprising given she started playing the piano by ear at the ripe old age of 3 and became fascinated with writing shortly thereafter — thus is born the singer-songwriter.
Add an air of quiet excitement around Hunt, which lends itself so seamlessly to song, and the result is a riveting stage presence that sucks audiences into the landscapes she paints.
Lines like “I’ve got a nasty aftertaste like swallowing pollution,” her extended analogy of Oz in the Iraq War-themed “Emerald City” and something as simple as the title for her most recent album, “Gravity Loves You,” are highlights of her writing ability.
From rollicking rock ‘n’ roll-ish tracks suited for a young Little Richard to shuffles reminiscent of early Elvis to country-styled ballads, Hunt’s genre-bending style has wide appeal.
It’s even more amazing when one considers the vocal register of Hunt, hitting the highs and lows as effortlessly as batting practice fastballs for Mickey Mantle.
“I grew up in a family of strong personalities, and I had a lot of encouragement and high expectations around me,” Hunt said. “I loved that.”
Hunt continues to thrive in the face of challenges, frequently playing so much that her management worries she’s overdoing it. But through it all, Hunt remains set in her desire to exorcise her thoughts through song.