Tugged Toward Music- Jonathan Grogan’s Journey

It’s not often that someone’s life is changed by having a few beers with a friend, and if a night of drinking does change things, it’s almost always for the worse. Jonathan Grogan can tell a different story, with a much happier ending.

He can’t remember specifically when this happened; he just knows it was sometime in the mid-’90s. He and a friend walked into the Barbary Coast in downtown Wilmington. They ended up closing the joint down that night, and then just as they were about to leave, the bar owner looked at the room of half-dozen, maybe ten at the most, and asked, “Who wants to go out on my boat?” Moments later, the small group was on a tugboat, cruising up and down the Cape Fear River.

But it wasn’t the boat that changed Jonathan’s life, and certainly not the beer either. Instead, it was the CD that the bar owner, now captain of the vessel, was playing on the loudspeakers. It was a group called The Gipsy Kings, a European band that plays a blend of Catalan rumba, flamenco, salsa, and pop. As the tugboat motored along, with the stars above and the Wilmington skyline off to the east, Jonathan  knew he had found his sound, a rhythm and a beat he would devote the rest of his life to recreating.

“There was something about those ancient Latin rhythms that got inside of me and resonated with my soul. And since then, all my musical creations seem to have an element of that sound and energy.”


Everyone should get the chance to sit across the table — as we did recently — from Jonathan. He has lived a fascinating life.

“I enjoy talking about the deeper things in life. I am not one for chit-chat; I want to look someone in the eye and maybe tap into the essence of who they are, and make a connection, maybe facilitate a collaboration.”

A conversation with him is likely going to be filled with stories from all the places he’s lived and the names of the interesting people he’s met along the way.

His early childhood was spent in Connecticut, but his family moved to Wilmington in 1983 when Jonathan was only 13 years old. He’d eventually become an exchange student, spending a semester in Costa Rica. He went to college in Boone and has spent several months at a time throughout Mexico. His parents have a place down there, and they’ve instilled in Jonathan a love for the culture and people.

One of his favorite places is the village of Yelapa, where Jonathan once had the opportunity to camp for several months above a waterfall.

“We lived in tents in this paradise for like four months. That’s where I learned how to carve djembe drums with a hatchet. We’d go into the jungle and find these hardwood, rosewood trees and chop them down.”

While the locations and the names keep changing in Jonathan’s life story, one thing that remains constant is music. It seems like there is always a tune playing in the background of his adventures. By no means is he some type of prodigy. Truth is, music found him later in life. He really didn’t know how to play an instrument until his late 20s, he wrote his first song at the age of 36, and it was only four or five years ago that he played his first open mic here in town. In his 50s, in 2022, he booked his first local gig. He’s performed a few since then, but he’ll admit that they’re few and far between.

“I’ve played gigs as a singer/songwriter, but they’re not my favorite thing. There’s a vulnerability to it. It just feels very raw… I can do it, but I only really get joy out of performing when it’s over, and I am done, and people come up and shake your hand and give you a compliment.”


Jonathan has never been drawn to the limelight. He’s never pursued fame. He’s just the type of guy who is constantly looking for the next way to challenge himself. He hates the comfort zone. He thinks a life without challenges amounts to just a very slow death.

And so, in that spirit, Jonathan has decided to put out his first album. It’s inspired and highly influenced by the sounds that he loves; by Cuban music, by Reggae, and even by the blues (his stepfather helped form The Cape Fear Blues Society, and Jonathan remembers growing up in his family home on 4th street, which was always filled with interesting musicians and artists.)

All of it influenced his ear and helped create his own unique talent and sound.

“I am feeling a whole lot better about my music now because I have this tangible thing that I finished.”

Jonathan’s album called “Down by the Sea” will be officially released this Friday. He will be hosting a release party at the Soda Pop Gallery from 6 to 9 pm. The album is a five-song original work, with a six-track that is a reprisal of one of the other recordings.

“All I want from it, all it will take for it to be successful is if I gain one friend from it, one relationship, that’s it. That’s all I want from this adventure.”

And maybe that friend is you.

As we said, everyone should have the opportunity to sit across the table from Jonathan. He truly is a fascinating guy. So, come out on Friday, listen to his music, and make a connection that goes a little deeper. You’ll learn a lot about Jonathan’s amazing life… and perhaps even more about yourself.

“I want people to believe in themselves, to believe in their voice, and believe that they can be artistic, even if it comes to them a little bit later.”

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