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Opening Act: SXSW Darling Leon Bridges Rekindles Lost Sounds of Soul Music

Artists can use all sorts of vintage instruments and production techniques to mimic a throwback ’60s sound. But there’s no faking soul, especially not in the way Leon Bridges sings it.

Despite less than a year on the musical map, the 25-year-old Bridges is already drawing comparisons to Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson and some of the best soul voices of the 1960s. He’s also set to launch his first international headlining tour to coincide with the June 23 release of his debut album, Coming Home.

It’s been a quick rise for Bridges, who at this time last year was washing dishes at a Tex-Mex grill in Fort Worth, Texas, and performing his original tunes at open-mic nights. Thanks to some analog recordings he posted on Soundcloud that were produced by Justin Block and Austin Jenkins of genre-blending Austin quartet White Denim, word about the young soul man spread throughout the music industry and he ultimately drew the attention of roughly 40 labels. Last Christmas, he signed with the legendary Columbia Records, printing and inking his contract at a local Staples office supply store.

Among his early releases were “Lisa Sawyer,” a doo-wop-inflected retelling of his mother’s life story, and “Coming Home,” an earnest love song with lyrics rooted firmly in the gospel-soul hits of the ’50s and ’60s. In March, he performed for the first time at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin and won over every crowd that saw him, ultimately earning the coveted Grulke Prize for Developing US Act, an award given in recent years to emerging stars Future Islands and HAIM.

Bridges followed that by touring with acclaimed singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, and he made his national television debut on The Late Late Show With James Corden. His ballad “River” was also featured in a special Beats by Dre commercial made for the NFL Draft.

With the album’s release looming, Bridges is gearing up to play a handful of sold-out shows in Texas and New York City before heading over to Europe for Glastonbury, the Latitude and Longitude fests, and a few solo shows around the continent. He’ll be back in the States in late July for Pickathon and Outside Lands, in Europe again for some more headlining gigs, and home in Texas for Austin City Limits.

Check out StubHub Music and stay tuned for more in our Opening Act series, featuring the best new live acts on tour this summer.

Listen If You Like: Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, Raphael Saadiq

Where to Start: “Coming Home,” the no-frills love song that can warm up the coldest of hearts.

On Tour: Bridges will play two shows in New York City next week — including the famous Bowery Ballroom on June 23 — and then head to Europe for roughly a month. Check out more information about upcoming tour dates here