If you frequent Wichita coffee shops or bars, odds are you've seen Tony Ngo. He's the affable singer-songwriter clad in plaid flannel or sporting a hip, ironic T-shirt.
With a guitar strapped around his shoulder, the acoustic musician has drawn audiences to venues large and small with his voice. Now with a band and an EP recording under way, he plans to take his talent on the road.
Ngo began playing solo on the open mic circuit, frequently playing at places like Clifton Square's Bay Leaf Cafe and the Riverside Perk. He says that his musical career took off after he met bass player Derek Tucker through a mutual friend.
"Derek and I both had one goal — to make a living through music. That's what brought us together," Ngo said.
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Today, Tony Ngo and The Step Brothers are a popular group in Old Town, often electrifying venues like Rock Island Live, Mort's and The Brickyard. In addition to Ngo and Tucker, the band is composed of Rudy Love Jr. on keys, Waira Njoroge as lead guitar and Marrque Nunley on drums.
The band's style is a mix of soul, folk and pop and their lyrics aim to lift up and explore the human spirit.
"I sing a lot about my family and my feelings toward people," Ngo said. "I try to really explore the good and the bad in all the relationships life brings us."
For Ngo, music was part of his cultural identity and family upbringing.
"Being from an Asian family, we are very close and my relatives are very important to me," Ngo said. "They are the inspiration for a lot of my songs. You could say that I had music modeled for me by my parents."
His father is a guitar player. Though Ngo was born and raised in Wichita, his mother, who is half French and half Chinese, lived in Saigon and Beijing for part of her life. There she performed traditional Vietnamese music.
Ngo's passion for music has shaped his desire to be a professional musician. He recently teamed up with Adam Hartke of Hartke Records to record an EP and launch a multi-city U.S. tour that they hope will be the first step toward making a living playing music.
"Music is something I have to do," Ngo said. "Being able to focus on it full time gives added depth. This isn't just an emotional outlet; it's how we feed ourselves."
Ngo and The Step Brothers have spent a lot of time in the recording studio lately, gearing up for the next chapter in their sonic journey. They've spent long days working on the EP project in a studio on the 10th floor of the Wichita Executive Center downtown.
The seven-track EP, titled "What Means the Most," will be released in late November. Following that, Ngo and his band will hit the road starting in early January for a regional tour that will take them through Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and beyond.
"To grow and mature as a musician, you have to get out on the road," Hartke said. "It shapes your character and broadens your horizons."
"I'm looking forward to the journey," Ngo said.
If you go
What: Acoustic musician
Where: Riverside Perk, 1144 N. Bitting Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
How much: No cover