Jason Mraz put out his first independent album, “Live & Acoustic 2001,” two decades ago. It was bootlegged and passed on thousands of times, he says, which began the ripple effect that led to music stardom.
“What we didn’t realize 20 years ago was that that bootleg would become such a treasure,” Mraz said from a tour stop in Birmingham, Alabama. “It would become such a fan collectible, and it would be the very album that would eventually give us the record deal.”
Mraz is marking the anniversary of that album with an acoustic tour that includes a stop at Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre on Tuesday night.
He’s joined on the tour by longtime percussionist Toca Rivera, as well as by singer-songwriters Gregory Page and Chaska Potter .
“It’s old school, just a couple of us on stage with our stringed instruments and we’re doing our best to put a setlist together that covers 20-plus years of music,” said Mraz, who has notched hits such as “The Remedy,” “I’m Yours” and “I Won’t Give Up.”
“Obviously, it’s important to squeeze in the more popular tunes and not bore anyone with my more abstract early songs, but I think what gets us through is the comedy banter and the camaraderie I have with my colleague Toca Rivera plus our other special guest Gregory Page and Chaska Potter (of Raining Jane), which help us round out the four-part harmonies and keep the good vibes up,” he added.
Mraz said he frequently will take acoustic tours.
“For me, it’s freedom out there,” he said. “There’s less on stage, less going on, and it’s more about telling stories and going with the audience. That’s where I come from more than anything, and it’s settling to me to do a show in that format.”
The original “Live & Acoustic” album was re-released on tour and was remastered and available for the first time on vinyl.
“It’s an opportunity for us to look back, celebrate, and sing some of these songs before they’re too old to sing,” he said with a laugh about the tour. “They’re just abstract, kind of poetry songs that will never be on the Billboard ‘Hot’ anything, but they’re special to us.”
Mraz said he could see grassroots growth in his music even back in 1999, in the infancy of the internet, when he pieced together his own website.
“People would write in and order this CD for 10 bucks or they’d buy it at my shows,” recalled Mraz, 44. “The CD went far and wide and I think it got burned over and over again by people in college dorms. And one of those CDs ended up on the desk of a record exec and next thing you know we’ve got people coming to our coffee shop shows who are interested in what’s going on and this kid selling those records.”
The Virginia native had set up a home base in San Diego where he played frequently in area coffee shops.
“Had I not had this little recording, I may have gone unnoticed,” he said. “We really honor this little record.”
The reach of his album came into focus on one of his first national tours for his first studio album, he recalled, at a small club in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“People were singing songs that were not on my pop album, they were on my coffee shop album,” he said. “This music had really gotten around.”
The studio album shifted his focus, he said, but he still feels his roots are in the small clubs.
“All of a sudden, I was paired with a band and I was making a big band pop sound,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is strange.’ It’s not my coffee shop vibe. It’s not what I’m used to doing.”
The success of his studio album, “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” led to high profile gigs, including opening for the Dave Matthews Band on tour.
“I honestly felt like the success of my coffee shop days in San Diego was indication enough that things were working,” he said. “To this day, I thought even if all these tours and radio and everything goes away, I can always go back to the coffee shop because it works there.”
In 2022, Mraz will make a follow-up to the 2014 album “Yes!” he recorded with Raining Jane. He said the pandemic was an “introspective season” for him, and the results will be shown on the next album.
“It’s more piano driven than I’ve ever been. I’ve enjoyed writing songs on piano for years, but through these last couple of years, specifically with the pandemic, I’ve stayed home and played the piano,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready to do my Billy Joel-Elton John version of music, so hopefully I can pull that off in the next record.”
Jason Mraz with Toca Rivera and Gregory Page
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway
Tickets: $59-$99 at selectaseat.com, by calling 316-755-SEAT or at the Select-A-Seat box office at Intrust Bank Arena.