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Local musician says Wichita has ‘invaluable’ music community

Listen to chart-topping Wichita musician’s songs

Skinny Hightower, a Wichita-based smooth jazz musician, chats with an Eagle reporter. Photos by Brittany Carroll, music courtesy of Skinny Hightower
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Skinny Hightower, a Wichita-based smooth jazz musician, chats with an Eagle reporter. Photos by Brittany Carroll, music courtesy of Skinny Hightower

After achieving his ten seconds of fame, Wichitan musician Harrison Steele says he’s glad he didn’t make it big on American Idol in 2018.

Steele, born and raised in Wichita, describes his music as folk-soul-rock. His biggest influence is Jack Johnson, “but edgier” he said.

He’s been performing his own music in and around the Wichita area since 2012, and says there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“(Wichita) is an invaluable community — the amount of support this place has for its musicians and its artists is crazy,” Steele said.

Steele pursued his Hollywood dream in 2017 by auditioning for the comeback season of American Idol, starring judges Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

Steele auditioned in Tulsa, Okla. with about 5,000 others who dreamt of taking their talent to national television. Steele made it past the first two rounds of auditions in Tulsa, and an additional round in Hollywood a week later with the show’s producers.

A month after the producer auditions, Steele got the call to head back to Hollywood to audition to the show’s superstar judges.

“Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Steele said. “And I’m actually really glad that I didn’t make it on the show, because what I learned going through the process was it’s not something I’d want to be a part of.”

Steele said Ritchie commented on his “smoky soulful” voice, but said he didn’t think the show was right for Steele.

Despite not making it further onto the show, Steele said he felt “really good about it.”

“I don’t like when people try to make something that’s fake and try to coach you and craft their own story into what you’re doing,” Steele said. “I think I learned that wasn’t the route I wanted — but it was really fun.”

While the auditioning process showed him that Hollywood isn’t the place for him, it inspired him to wholly commit himself to a musical career in his hometown.

Upon his return he began to work on exposure in the Wichita area by booking almost 100 shows in 2017 and 150 shows in 2018, one of which was opening for Train. He also debuted a self-titled album on May 1 on Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer, with seven original tracks.

It seems that his hard work has paid off.

Steele plays consistent public gigs scheduled at 8 p.m. the first and third Friday of the month at Frèdös Wine and Tapas, 3 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday at Green Acres farmers market, and 6 to 9 p.m. every second and fourth Saturday of the month at Piatto Neopolitan Pizzeria, as well as additional bookings.

After experiencing American Idol and the LA-lifestyle, Steele said he would rather stay in Wichita and book his own gigs with freedom than be in a city like LA or New York, despite the benefits.

“I would much rather have the peace of mind versus the fame,” Steele said. “I feel really grateful that I get to live in my hometown, be close to my family, and I can go to my gigs and get there in five to 10 minutes.”

Steele said he wants to continue to work to promote his album, perform at local gigs, and branch out into a state-wide or regional tours and music festivals.

“Whether I become rich or whether I’m always just a starving artist, I will always play music. It’s what feeds my soul,” Steele said.

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