Joe Jencks

Joe Jencks Tour News ~ June '24 + Essay: Deep In The Heart of Texas

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Joe Jencks Tour News nbspJune 03924 nbspEssay Deep In The Heart of Texas

Joe Jencks and Eric Folkerth lead the closing song of the Memorial Day Concert / Celebration 2024 - Honoring Veterans and also Kerrville community members who have passed.

Dear Friends in Music,

I have just returned from the Kerrville Folk Festival. It was as always, a marvelous experience. And it has me thinking about a great many things. Please see the essay below Deep in The Heart of Texas, for more reflections on my most recent visit to Texas.

But first, I have a marvelous run of shows in the coming weeks, wrapping up with the Old Songs Festival at the end of June! More detailed concert listings and shows throughout the coming year can be found at:

Up Next…

5-31-24 ~ The Troubadour Coffee House – Morristown, NJ (w/ guest Carol Crittendon)
6-1-24 ~ The Linden Tree Coffee House – Wakefield, MA
6-8-24 ~ Coastal Virginia UU – Virginia Beach, VA
6-15-24 ~ Soup & Song Concerts – Marriottsville, MD
6-20-24 ~ Kendal Quaker Communities – Kennett Square, PA
6-21-24 ~ Kendal Quaker Communities – Kennett Square, PA
6-23-24 ~ Susquehanna Summer Solstice Festival – French Azylum, PA
6-27-24 ~ La La Land Concerts – Ithaca, NY
6-28-24 ~ Old Songs Festival – Altamont, NY (Main Stage Performance)
6-29-24 ~ Old Songs Festival – Altamont, NY (Workshops & Performances)
6-30-24 ~ Old Songs Festival – Altamont, NY (Workshops & Performances)

I hope to see many of you at one of these concerts or festivals. It has been an abundant and also rigorous first half of 2024. I am exceedingly happy to see so many people returning to live music venues and festivals. It feels like the Folk world is finding a new and engaged post-Pandemic normal. And I am grateful beyond measure to the countless people in the Folk scene in North America who have remained committed to LIVE music. Fans, Presenters, Producers, Promoters, Venue Owners and Operators, Artistic & Executive Directors, and Folk DJs have all had a hand in bringing us back. Thank you!

In Gratitude & Song,

~ Joe Jencks

Deep in The Heart of Texas
Copyright 2024 ~ Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music

I just spent eight days and seven nights at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, TX. It is a songwriter’s festival to be sure. And as I reflect on my own involvement in this community over the last two decades, I am grateful and surprised in probably equal measure. Grateful for the ways in which this community of people have had an impact on my career. Grateful for the people I have been privileged to know as a result of my time there, year after year. Grateful for the doors that have opened professionally and personally, and for the life-long friends I have met there. Grateful for the main-stage performances as well as the song circles and sharing among peers.

And, I am surprised that I have found a loyal audience in Texas in large part because of the exposure the Kerrville Festival has afforded me over the last 20 years. It was not obvious to me earlier in my life and career that Texas was a good fit for my music. Mostly, because what news outlets reflect about Texas politics vs. the reality of the majority of the Texans I know, are incongruous. I have jokingly described Texas Liberals as having Tie-Dyed gun racks in their trucks. It is an incredibly incomplete description, but it’s not wrong in an allegorical sense. It captures the uncategorizable elements of Texas. The peculiarities. It makes Texas a great place for Folk music, because folk music is based in narrative. And Texans love a good story.

Texas is a big place. And the stars at night are big and bright. But it is also a complex place. It was for a period of time, an independent nation. In round numbers – Texas is 260,000 square miles. For comparison, France is 213,000 square miles. Imagine the impact France has had on the world. Why are we surprised then that Texas has its own complex and distinct culture?

Texas is an amalgamation of so many different cultures past and present. Indigenous, early Spanish colonial, Mexican colonial, German immigrant, African American, Irish immigrant, and Anglo immigrant influences have all had an impact. Each have left their mark on Texas. But everywhere I go in Texas, I meet good people. I meet people who lead with hospitality and gracious welcome. I meet people who mostly don’t discuss politics with their neighbors. Because in a state that big, especially in the more rural communities, you need good neighbors. Don’t let politics ruin that.

One fellow at the festival said that Austin used to be a brilliant kind of weird. Then people from all over decided they wanted to be where it was hip and cool. Then signs popped up on bumper stickers and billboards saying, Keep Austin Weird. That contingent has mostly lost. Like San Francisco, Seattle, and many other destination cities, the people who kept it weird have been priced out. And the more affluent bourgeoise who have taken over have subtly changed the culture of the city. It’s still cool, but different. Still, there are other beautifully weird parts of Texas, and people from those places also come to the Kerrville Folk Festival.

Another thing that surprises me about The Kerrville Festival and Texas in general, is how many solid friends I have made there. I first went to Texas because it was a gig. And I was busy saying YES to anyone who wanted to put me in front of a listening audience. But I keep going back, because there is a lifetime worth of history and current culture to explore, and now countless genuine friends with whom I want to spend time. Amazing.

I made some new friends at this year’s Kerrville Festival. One fellow with whom I hope to keep in touch, was part of the Nashville hit factory. We talked about the Industry of music. He said the dream of Nashville is massive success. But the number of people who find it are few and far between. He said that talent plus hard work plus an incredible amount of luck will keep you working. But the extent to which luck is the key element in that equation is really soft-pedaled. And it toxically contributes to the mythology of people moving to Nashville seeking their dreams. And it misses the part of the story where they lose their way, get chewed up, and then spit out the other side, and forgotten. It contributes to the number of people who have their hearts broken and then quit making music altogether. That is heart breaking.

We talked about how workers in a more traditional industrial workplace are more able to see that they are in fact, workers. And therefore, they organize as laborers for the betterment of their working conditions. But aspiring writers and performers in Nashville and even Austin want a taste of the big time so badly, that they rarely work collectively to organize the workplace as people would in other industries. They don’t want to overturn the apple cart or the mythology of overnight success.

Recently, many people in varied context have asked me why I am not more famous. I have many thoughts on the matter. But as my colleague and I were talking, I came to understand that the single biggest reason is that I don’t want to be famous. It is burdensome. It is expensive, it costs a great deal of money and time to be famous, and I would rather keep my eye on the art, on community, and on the stories that come to me and through me as a writer.

A number of people with whom I went to conservatory, went to Nashville after they got out of school. Many of whom no longer play music at all. It is too painful. I knew I NEVER wanted that to be my story.

There is minimal obsolescence in Folk music. It is a community of artists and listeners who value what Utah Phillips used to call, the long memory. There is no specific bar (like top 40 radio) that determines if you are a success in Folk music. If you can keep doing what you love to do, mostly on your own terms, you are a success. As with Jazz, the number of Folkies still making music into their 70s, 80s, even into their 90s is remarkable.

I heard the hit factory man say that it is hard to be in the back half of life, and know in truth that the best days of your career are behind you.

It made me sad and grateful. Because in Folk music, every year of my career has been better then that last. I am on a slow and steady trajectory of growth and evolution as a recording artist, performer, writer, and record producer. I look forward to the next thing that will capture my mind or heart in the world and become a part of my art. That is hopeful. That is a pathway of experimentation and of exploration. That is the sort of career I want. Slow and steady growth professionally and creatively.

This is why I am not more famous. Because I continue to choose people over radical advancement. I have chosen to keep evolving and trying to make each year better than the last. And I am grateful to all of you for supporting Folk music and valuing the cottage industry that is the career of most of the artists you know. We do it because it is what is in our souls. And I do it this way, because I wanted to keep building a career modeled on the ideas of the early Labor Movement in the U.S. and Canada. Workers should maintain control over the means of production, and workers deserve a fair share of the profits generated by their labors. I have been immensely privileged to do both of these things in fair measure in my career. But the price tag for me is a more obscure career than some. But it is a career in service to my beliefs and the communities I love. It’s a good trade.

My time at Kerrville this year sitting in song circles and listening to colleagues both on stage and in camps reminded me of why I set out on a particular professional pathway 25+ years ago with clear intent. And it reminded me that it is still a pathway to which I am called. I love making music, I love collaborating with friends and colleagues, and I am richly blessed to still be doing this so many years after I took a flying leap out of my last day job.

I could not do it without you. If you are reading this, then you are part of why I am still making music. You affirm the value of it every time you come to a show, buy a recording, or write a note that expresses why the music means something specific to you. Thank you!

May the journey continue for a long time to come, and may we each find ways to inhabit our passions, musical or otherwise. Not because they bring fame or fortune, but because they bring meaning and joy.

~ Joe Jencks (5-30-24)

Joe in 2023 with friend and beloved Kerrville stalwart, Liz Rouse. Sadly we lost Liz earlier this year. She is missed and loved.

jjencks 3646