On a Friday night in Aggieville Davis Keats’ powerful vocals filled the basement of Auntie Mae's as Jacob Thomas accompanied him on piano.
Keats is a newly graduated K-State music student who has been gigging consistently in Manhattan for about a year, with a set that consists of a mix of covers and originals.
Keats, along with Thomas, was a member of the K-State choir for several years, but Davis found his real passion in live performances and songwriting. Thomas is trained in piano, particularly for dance, but like Keats he loves the unique feel of a live set.
In 2021 Davis began reaching out to bars, restaurants and coffee shops across Manhattan, and landed gigs at most of them. The singer has performed at Flight Crew, Arrow Coffee, Tallgrass TapHouse, Auntie Mae's, and more. With each place he stops he brings strong, moving vocals and lyrics -- the kind that get the whole room turning their head, asking themselves ‘who is that?’
Keats is a contemporary/pop singer who crafted the instrument of his voice while at K-State through vocal lessons. The singer said that the lessons were a huge part of strengthening his skills and improving confidence around singing. Keats also plays guitar, but mostly as a tool for songwriting -- singing is where he finds himself most comfortable.
“I do love singing,” said Keats. “I love singing, it’s so fun for me. I feel like it's the one way that I can really express myself in a real way. “
For both Keats and Thomas, it seems self expression is a huge part of the two’s motivation to perform music. Thomas said the beautiful thing about gigging is that being in the moment is the only thing required of you.
“For me it’s about being present in the moment and trying to make people present,” said Thomas. “If they hear something happening on the other side of the room hopefully they engage with it in some kind of subliminal or subconscious way.”
Keats felt similarly. He said he’s most proud of moments where he sees his music is resonating in a deep way with others. He loves feedback that allows him to walk away from performances knowing that he said something true about something real -- for Keats that is what it’s about.
The two performers found each other during their time at K-State and could recognize the other’s special interest in music.
“It was clear that we both had an affinity for music,” said Keats. “Composing it, performing it and practicing it. Him more than me on practicing it but thats okay.”
Keats gigs more often than not without Thomas, but has been waiting for the day Thomas could accompany him for a whole set. Together they brought a magical energy that captivated the crowd.
“Davis was just so good at honing and writing which I don’t really get to do,” said Thomas. “He just writes really good music and I like to play good music.”
The two graduates met in Manhattan and will soon part ways from the town, but each of them found their college home to be a formative place musically and otherwise. It’s where they met each other, and also came into their own musically.
For Keats, Manhattan was where he began to understand that music was something he could and wanted to do. He said he has grown in skill, confidence and areas beyond music while at K-State.
Thomas sees the town through a similar lens -- it is a place that formed him.
The two continue to perform music and hone their craft. Keats is taking his next step towards Nashville where he is excited to be surrounded by more music, especially the kind he enjoys. Still, Manhattan will always be a place the musicians look back on and remember the ways they grew.