You don’t have to look far and wide to identify a musical icon whose tuneful talent has graced outdoor and indoor venues in Cambria over the recent past. Look no further than the revered singer-songwriter Jill Knight.
In fact, when Jill first began plying her trade as a gifted entertainer in Cambria, gripping audiences with her powerful voice and well-honed 12-string guitar skills, Ronald Reagan was president.
It was 1986. A brand new Mustang was just $7,452; a gallon of gas was 89 cents; a pound of bacon was $1.75; and on March 28, Lady Gaga emerged from her mother’s womb. Meanwhile, also in March 1986, while Jill was establishing her melodious footing in Cambria, Halley’s Comet soared high above the planet on its once-every-75-year trek around the sun.
Jill’s evolution as a performer has certainly soared since her very first professional gig at a seafood spot in Thunderbolt, Georgia, at the age of 15. Here in Cambria, her reputation has been elevated ever since 1986, when she first played at what was then Camozzi’s Saloon (now Mozzi’s).
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
In the next few years, she entertained at the only other musical venues in town, Molly’s Coffee House, the Cambria Pines Lodge and Rose’s Cantina (now Las Cambritas). In the early 1990s, Jill also played at Café Sole (now Indigo Moon).
The recent upsurge in Cambria venues for live music is “just great — it’s absolutely wonderful,” Knight explained during an interview Sunday, July 16, on the back patio of Centrally Grown, where she books musical talent for Thursday night’s Centrally Goovin’ series.
In addition to the available gigs in Cambria, Jill notes that “the boom in the wine industry has created so much work for music. It’s wonderful for me because I don’t have to make those trips to L.A. and San Francisco and do shows like I used to. I can support myself locally.”
Asked how her music has changed over these years, Jill immediately lets out a laugh: “I’m better!” She further explained that she is “more seasoned. Playing gigs at Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery in San Francisco really honed me as a stage performer … made me strong.”
Everybody else is fighting. I’m not going to add to that mix. I want them to have a safe space to come, to have a good time, and forget about all that stuff.
But when playing venues in Cambria, where people want to hear “covers” of existing popular songs — rather than her original material — “You have to let go of your ego. People want to hear something they know, especially if they’re in a bar drinking.”
One of the covers Jill does often is the Motown classic, “What’s Going On.” She said Marvin Gaye was “such an inspiration to me my whole life. His music was so powerful; he talked about love, environmental issues, civil rights — and the lyrics ring so true. Every time I sing it, it’s like I’m singing it for the first time.”
And while Jill believes in and has supported numerous causes that reflect those aforementioned values, she never brings up her views on politics during her performances. Notwithstanding the unfathomably hard right direction the current executive branch of the U.S. government is attempting to take the country, Jill said, “I will never get up there and preach.”
Attending a live music performance in Cambria or elsewhere, “is that one safe space for people,” Jill continued. “Everybody else is fighting. I’m not going to add to that mix. I want them to have a safe space to come, to have a good time, and forget about all that stuff.”
“I want people to remember that we’re here to love each other,” she added. “I want them to leave (my performance) inspired and thinking ‘Wow.’ And maybe change someone’s life just because of a song.”
Jill plays so many local and regional venues, and her name is so ubiquitous, one would be justified in wondering if perhaps she is stretched too thin. But everywhere she plays enthusiastic crowds show up. “I am blown away and seriously, I’m so grateful for that. I work hard at being the best I can be vocally, and I see what I have as a gift and I don’t take it lightly.”
It’s clear that over these past 31 years live music venues in Cambria have greatly expanded — and that Jill’s performances have emerged more powerful than ever.
But, she added with her characteristically hearty laughter, “That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed about music: musicians still have the same pay scale as 1975!”