I was in my first semester of college, riding in my friend’s 2007 Chevy Cavalier, when I heard something that rendered whatever else was happening in that moment meaningless. 

Paolo Nutini’s “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” had begun to play on the mix CD in my friend’s car. The up-tempo rock intro immediately captured my attention, and when Nutini’s raspy vocals cut through a few seconds later, I was hooked. Maybe it was his Scottish accent that poked slightly through, or his use of the word “daftly” — I don’t think I had ever heard anyone use the word “daftly” in a song before — but I knew I had stumbled upon something special.

It was a feel-good song, the kind you want to let the whole world in on. But it was a chilly fall night in Provo, Utah, so it wouldn’t have been particularly smart to manually roll down the windows and share the song with lucky passersby. So I kept it to myself for the time being, relishing in my good fortune and feeling thankful that, on my own for the first time, 2,000 miles away from my South Carolina home, I had made a friend with great taste in music. 

Nutini quickly became the soundtrack to my day-to-day college life. 

As a freshman, I didn’t have much space in my 50-year-old cinder block dorm — my side of the dormitory had just enough room for a desk and closet on the right and a bed on the left. But at my desk, I printed out colorful images of Nutini on a flimsy piece of computer paper and hopped onto my bed to tape that paper to the wall. It was a tacky but tangible representation of a new chapter in my life. 

The singer became a part of just about every friendship I made during my undergraduate years. My late-night study sessions were frequently derailed as I dug into the treasure trove of Paolo Nutini YouTube videos, uncovering gem after gem. I was mesmerized by the way he would close his eyes and lose himself in the music.

As I listened, I closed my eyes and dreamed that I would one day see him in concert.

Nineteen-year-old me couldn’t have known then, in 2009, that this simple wish would transform into a complex 13-year saga — a story of unparalleled fandom and crushing disappointment.

A story worth seeing through to the end.

Discovering Paolo Nutini

By the time I discovered Nutini, the singer-songwriter had two stylistically different albums under his belt. 

In 2006, at the age of 19, he had made his debut with “These Streets,” a predominantly pop-rock album that included the emotional “Last Request” and the irrepressibly catchy “New Shoes.” The album reached No. 3 in the U.K. Three years later, he followed up with the more folky “Sunny Side Up,” featuring soulful ballads like “Coming Up Easy” and “No Other Way.” That album hit No. 1 in the U.K.

Those two albums helped me navigate the terrifying roller coaster of moving away from home, sharing a room for the first time — and with a complete stranger — and going out of my comfort zone to make new friends. As I walked across campus each morning, with my iPod in hand, the increasing familiarity of Nutini’s distinctive voice gradually gave me the confidence to embrace the unfamiliar.

Growing up, my parents had always been quick to impart their musical loves to me — everything from The Beatles to Elvis to Chris Isaak. Now, on the other side of the country, I was excited to call them up and share my own musical interest. They accepted him with open arms.

And so did my new friends. During my sophomore year in 2011, I threw a low-key 24th birthday party for Nutini. A dear friend of mine obliged and wore one of my Nutini shirts as we made a video singing his song “Loving You.” It was by no means a Grammy-winning performance, but there was something special about that moment that was better than any award: My friend knew every single word of the song.

“We love you, Paolo Nutini,” I said before ending the video, which I have too much self-respect to share here. “Please come to America so we can see you in concert. That is my ultimate dream. We love you, and look forward to more great music to come.”

As the semesters went by, I moved from one college apartment to another. Somehow, the flimsy computer paper with the Nutini collage survived each move, only slightly more tattered than the semester before. I often looked at that piece of paper, wondering if the stars would ever align for me to see him perform live.

By the time I graduated in 2013, I was confident the answer was “no.”

Nutini hadn’t released another album, and that year, in particular, saw very few to no live performances from him.

So I did the next best thing and traveled to him. 

A pilgrimage to Paolo

In the spirit of full disclosure, my trip to Scotland was, at its heart, a family history trip. A chance to simultaneously commemorate my graduation and explore the cities of our ancestors, my mom and I spent a few weeks traveling throughout England and Scotland. But over the years, I had become more than acquainted with Nutini’s family history and was well aware that the Nutinis ran a fish and chips shop in his hometown of Paisley. 

Growing up, Nutini worked shifts at the restaurant. Even as his music career took off, he stayed connected to the ups and downs of the family business, Castelvecchi, which his paternal great-grandparents established when they emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. 

I knew that visiting this fish and chips shop would probably be my best shot at meeting Nutini in this life. The good news is that some of my ancestors had lived in Paisley, so adding this stop to our itinerary wasn’t a wild proposition.

My primary method of reaching Nutini was sensible: I put on one of my many Nutini shirts that my father, ever eager to support the passions of his only child, had lovingly bought me over the years. This particular one was black and had the phrase “Got Paolo Nutini?” written across it in white. My thinking was that as I walked around this town of roughly 77,000, the shirt would draw attention and then someone who knew Nutini — a childhood friend, family member or neighbor, really, anyone — could kindly point me in his direction.

Nutini is beloved in Paisley, and Scotland at large — Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi, whose song “Someone You Love” was nominated for a Grammy in 2020, cites Nutini as a major influence. So as planned, the shirt received a decent amount of recognition. As I walked through the town, making my way to the fish and chips shop, I met Nessie, a longtime family friend of the Nutinis. Several people in passing offered me nods of approval and wished me luck on my quest. 

At last, on that cloudy summer day, I made it to Castelvecchi. It was pretty busy inside — a healthy mix, I’m sure, of Paisley regulars and Nutini pilgrims. A framed “These Streets” album cover celebrating the sale of over 100,000 copies in the U.K. hung on a wood-paneled wall. There was also an autographed photo of Nutini with a guitar: “Cheers Paisley. Big love, Paolo.”

As I took my seat, the friendly waitresses who had served Nutini supper countless times listened as I divulged the stories of my fandom. Nutini’s godfather, meanwhile, was frying the haddock in the back. As we talked, an overwhelming sense of excitement overcame me as I realized I had closed in on the degrees of separation between me and Nutini.

I waited what I deemed to be an appropriate amount of time — roughly five minutes — before popping the big question in what I’m sure was a very calm and collected manner: Did Nutini happen to be around?

There was a notable pause before one of the waitresses diplomatically delivered the blow: He had been in the shop just the day before, but had since left town.

I had missed him by a day.

Lottie Johnson, wearing her “Got Paolo Nutini?” shirt, poses for a photo with the staff at Castelvecchi in Paisley, Scotland. | Provided by Lottie Johnson

Moving on

I wish I could say I continued to regularly listen to Nutini after that, but life started moving fast. Somewhere between grad school, getting married — fortunately to someone who supports my love for Nutini — internships and a full-time job, the singer fell to the wayside.

I would periodically check for any kind of Nutini update — a new album or a tour or a livestream. But he seemed more elusive than ever (a website of his tour history indicates a performance hiatus that lasted from October 2017 to May 2022).

Over time, I had come to accept that I would never see him in person.

And that was OK, I told myself. Even from the U.K. he had managed to make a large impact in my life. I didn’t really need to see him. The music he had given me was enough. 

Apparently the best things happen when you’re least expecting it.

A shocking moment from Paolo Nutini

I had just put my 1-year-old son down for a nap.

I try to stay off my phone when he’s awake, so during his nap on that afternoon last November, I sat on the couch and did my daily social media scroll. I was scrolling fairly fast, but had managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of a post on Facebook that made my heart stop. 

I was positive my eyes had deceived me, but decided to scroll back up to double-check anyway. I found the post, and I gasped: Paolo Nutini was coming to Salt Lake City. 

My son was asleep in the next room, so I did everything in my power to internalize my exclamations of shock. “Was this really happening?” I thought. “Was Nutini, who very rarely came to the U.S., really coming to Utah?”

A quick Google search provided confirmation. On the heels of his fourth album, “Last Night in the Bittersweet,” Nutini was going on a full-fledged tour, including a stop at Salt Lake City’s The Commonwealth Room on March 16.

So much has changed since my moment of discovery — for both me and Nutini. That 19-year-old college student, who was living away from her family for the first time and experiencing newfound independence, now has her own home and family. Nutini’s soulful sound, meanwhile, has evolved into a conglomeration of styles. He’s spent the past several years away from the public eye, figuring out what he wanted to say next and how he wanted to say it. 

And he’s been extremely deliberate about when to say it — there was a five-year gap between his second and third album, and an eight-year gap before he released “Last Night in the Bittersweet” to the world.

“When it does go out there, it’s not yours anymore, is it?” he recently told Ireland’s Hot Press magazine. “Maybe that’s why I hold onto things for so long. I kind of like the idea of keeping them for me.” 

But now, Nutini is ready to share, and I’m ready to listen to every word.

I’ll be wearing my beloved “Got Paolo Nutini?” shirt at his Salt Lake show. It’s had a lot of wear and tear over the years and the white letters have completely faded away. It’s just a plain black T-shirt now.

But at this point, what that shirt represents is far more important than how it looks. It’s a symbol of my father’s love. It brings back the whirlwind of emotions from that summer day in Paisley with my mom. It’s a reminder of the wonderful friendships I made in college and the music that has brought me so much joy over the years.

Even without the letters, Nutini is still very much a part of that shirt.

So I’ll gladly wear it, and smile at the irony of my 13-year saga: That after I attempted to find him across the pond, Nutini, in his own time, came to me.