Souler system

As a boy growing up on the small Caribbean island of Dominica, Heston never craved the spotlight. “I sang in church, but I was so shy,” shares the soft-spoken singer, who has become a local favorite on the neo-soul and festival circuits. “I sang once and it got on television and just the attention from it just turned me off. It got me so nervous.”

That fear lingered, and years later when Heston relocated to Philadelphia around age 12, sharing his music remained the furthest thing from his mind. But when his job with a carpet company relocated him to Atlanta in summer 1998, fate intervened.

The clandestine songwriter stumbled into an open mic night at the now defunct Kaya. Those who overheard his hushed singing encouraged him to share his talents, but to no avail. Then one day a friend put him on the spot and forever changed his journey.

Comparisons to music greats Donnie Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, along with strong buzz from his live shows, his demo and compilations such as Soul Lounge Volume 1, have begun to attract Heston attention from St. Louis to London.

Heston, who has opened for fellow locals Donnie and Cody Chestnutt, favors original compositions over radio fare. As a result, he has become known for the surprising crowd-pleaser “Dying Flower,” a personal song about “women in my life [such as my mom] that have been abused.”

Music is an extremely personal experience for Heston, who is very involved in his career. “My stuff, it’s me, it’s all me, the music, the way I sing it and the way I write it,” he says. “It’s not a gimmick to sell.” -- Ronda Racha PenriceHeston plays On the Bricks at Centennial Olympic Park Fri., July 9, 6 p.m. $5.