Joe Jencks

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Old Town, Carnegie, & Gratitude On The Journey

Old Town Carnegie amp Gratitude On The Journey
Dear Friends!

It is an exciting Fall! Old Town School of Folk Music, Carnegie Hall, And a Jencks-Conley family concert over Thanksgiving weekend in November! I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and awe!

As I sit here getting ready to head out the door for the Ontario Council Of Folk Festivals conference in Ottawa, ON, I ponder the journey I have been on in the last 30 years. At age 37, I have been playing instruments and writing songs for 30 years. (Yes, I started young.) I have been performing professionally and semi-professionally for 23 years! I remember my first paid gig in Rockford, IL. I was 14 years old, and I opened a concert for Rod MacDonald. It was when I caught the bug for real. It was a life changing moment.

As a child, I listened to live concert recordings from the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, and from Carnegie Hall in NYC. I dreamed of being a part of those communities. I dreamed that one day the path of my life would weave me into the fabric of Folk Music and progressive politics. And that some day, some other kid might hear a recording of mine and be inspired to dig a little deeper. And it has happened!

I have been on the road for over NINE years full time. In those nine years I have played over 1500 professional shows. I have traveled nearly half-a-million miles. I have sold about 30,000 CDs, and have had my music played on radio stations all around the world. With the modern marvel of web-casts, my music has reached untold places. In the age of digital downloads, CD sales remain. But individual songs travel on their own too. Ships launched into the great unknown, bringing a message of transformation and hope to places I am sure I can't even imagine.

There are children who listen to my music. Some who are now in their late teens and early 20s, and come up to me at shows saying things like, "I grew up listening to your music. " Or, "Your songs were the soundtrack of my childhood."

I don't feel old enough for this to be true! But it is. Wow!

The kid in me, who listened to Pete and Arlo LIVE at Carnegie Hall is in a place of AMAZEMENT! It is real. I have traveled that road as well as I can and I have given it all I have to give… and it has given back. And each day, I have something new to learn. Some days I do better than others… but I know how little I know. They say that is the problem with knowledge. The more you know, the bigger the world becomes and the smaller you become in relation. Not surprisingly, I feel more humbled and less clear today than I did 10 years ago. The more I dig into the vast and rich traditions of music, performance, and storytelling, the more I recognize how much I am still a novitiate in this great order of troubadours and balladeers, in whose footsteps I try to walk.

Sometimes I think about the kid I was, laying on the floor with one stereo speaker on either side of my head. Listening to Pete & Arlo, Rod MacDonald, Cat Stevens, Reilly and Maloney, Sally Rogers, Holly Near, John Denver, Bob Gibson and so many more. I see that kid in my mind, finding refuge and hope and solace in those records and melodies and words. And I just want to send him a message through time. I want to tell him that it all works out in the end!

True enough, I am not a household name in very many circles. There are Country artists sell more records in a week than I sell in 10 years! And yet… There is a satisfaction in applying ourselves to a path with integrity and craft. Applying our knowledge with skill, and seeing what comes of it. And as I look back, I see so many things to be grateful for.

I am grateful for nearly 2000 nights of hospitality and home-stays along the way. I am grateful for thousands of friends and colleagues, folk-fans, and mentors. I am grateful for thousands of meals offered in the spirit of community and welcome. I am grateful for thousands of volunteers who make the folk world turn; setting up concerts, chairs, tables; organizing and running sound-systems, stages, and publicity campaigns. I am grateful for hundreds of Folk DJs around the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Israel, and around the world, keeping this music on the air (largely as volunteers).

I am grateful for family and close friends who have always believed in me, have always encouraged me, and have believed in my dream for me, when I was in a difficult place. I am grateful for the people whose contributions go unrecognized. The ones who underwrite or grant fund the organizations that present this music. I am grateful for the forgiveness of people whom I have accidentally harmed along the way. And I am grateful for the chance to keep learning and growing and evolving into my potential. I am grateful for this and so much more.

So, when I take the stage at the Old Town School in Chicago (October 24th), or at  Carnegie Hall (November 16-20th), I will be holding these "gratitudes" close to my heart. I have traveled the path, but I could not have done it alone. Literally THOUSANDS of people have helped me on the journey, and for all of you, I sing! I sing in praise and thanksgiving for the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing community of people. And I sing for the kid in the balcony seats, who may be hearing acoustic music for the first time. I sing for the ones whose voices have been silenced in third world countries and here in the US. I sing for the ancestors and for the ones yet to come. I sing as one of the Links In The Chain.

Thank you for your many deeds great and small to further the spirit of this marvelous community of music that so many of us call home!

In Gratitude and Song…

Joe Jencks
10-14-09
Evanston, IL

updated: 8 years ago