Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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Jamming, Breathing, Being: Austin blues musician Jackie Venson takes it one day, one song at a time

Kim Jarrett, Managing editor, soulciti.com

Austin homegrown Jackie Venson makes blues music for a new generation, sweet-husky vocals intermingling with improvised and complex steel-stringed jams, perfect for live shows, whether in clubs made cozy with warm light or while cocooning crowds at stadiums. She has the blues; but like a true millennial, she’s not mad about it.  Her blues shows leave you with a mellow kind of hopefulness.

On “Now,” from her debut album The Light in Me, Jackie opens, “Breathe, just breath. Be happy. And I don’t want to see what lies ahead for me, and I don’t want to be in any time or place but now. Time leaves us behind; so many people are afraid. Get lost inside of me; I’ll take you to a higher place. There’s only now.” Rapper KJ Hines is featured on the track and echoes, “Right now is a gift to me, we’ll call it the present.”

Beginning in February, Jackie will release 10 singles throughout 2015 via YouTube videos. She’ll release one song at a time, and a compilation CD will follow. See what’s in store in the YouTube presentation of her performance earlier this month at Torch Club in Sacramento, CA.  

Jackie’s skill as a musician and performer are clearly phenomenal. She’s a graduate of Berklee College of Music; Guitar World magazine compares her expertise to that of Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone, while the Austin American-Statesman compares her talent to that of Gary Clark, Jr.; she was one of 5 Belk Southern Music Showcase winners in 2014. And though she had 15 years piano playing experience as a foundation when she began teaching herself to play guitar about 4 years ago, and though her dad is a 30-year veteran of the Austin live music scene (having played bass with Blue Mist and fronting Seeds of Fulfillment), Jackie clearly has a unique gift for playing the blues. 

For example, returning the favor to Hines, Jackie features piano playing and vocals on his track “Dreaming.” Watch on YouTube the magic that resulted at EvenBreak Productions studio in Austin. Rap, classical piano and blues beautifully collide.

Jackie played a show about two months ago at Skylark Lounge, an old-school blues bar on Airport Boulevard in Austin (show photos), to raise funds for a European tour. She called Mike Reardon, a friend made at a local blues jam, up to the stage to play harmonica. Jackie performed in an Afro wig, accompanied by a wolf-masked Alán Uribe on bass and Gilbert Ayala on drums. She then traveled to Europe for the first time, where she played shows in Berlin, Germany, where she “met all the right people at the right time, and everything just lined up.” She realized that the U.S. is not the world, and there are a variety ways to approach daily life.

“It was nice getting away from the vibe of the U.S. Unlike the United States, people in Europe are happy with what they have, and people are generally doing something that they want to do. They don’t go do it just to make money. They have a place to stay and they have food, so they don’t feel poor, and they aren’t poor: They have food and a place to stay. 

“When I was there, people would ask me what I do, and I say I’m a musician and they just say, ‘Cool.’ Here (in the U.S.) people ask and when I say that I’m a musician, they, ask ‘Do you have another job?’ People here think they are poor if they don’t have a big screen T.V. or a car. You don’t realize how materialistic it is in the U.S. and how the focus is on having a ‘productive’ day until you get away from it.”

The youngest of 9 children, Jackie can be disarmingly rational. You might imagine that when a young musician is experiencing enough success to carry them around the globe, but is feeling down, they’d turn to partying to relieve loneliness and boredom. But whether it’s her generation, her grounding in family and friends, or just her personality, Jackie takes a more mature, even Zen, approach. 

“I felt like this in L.A.; I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find any open mics, any jams. I felt stranded. So, when I feel that way, I realize it’s probably my mind playing tricks on me, and I go to bed and start over the next day,” she says. “I felt that way two days ago. I just tell myself that I’m already here; so, I take it for what it is, go to bed and start over.”

At the same time, Jackie is quintessentially American. She’s been listening to 90s Hip-Hop non-stop lately, Digable Planets, Lauren Hill, De La Soul, D’Angelo. She’s concerned about current events and is wary of the media. She has a blanket position on everything from the recent shootings by police of unarmed black men to the recent earthquakes in Dallas that some say are the result of fracking (the process of cracking the earth to reach oil and gas) north of the city.

“I’m all for human rights, so anything that is against human rights, I’m going to be against,” she says, noting that she is now less likely than ever to publicly take sides on most issues. “I think we don’t speak up because we don’t know the full stories. There is fire on both sides, and there are innocent people getting hurt on both sides, whether it’s a cop or a person who seems violent toward cops. All we know is what the media tells us, and we know the media is not very reliable.” 

Rationality aside, Jackie enjoys Big Macs now and again, as well as pizza, whether it’s delivered from Papa John’s or it’s an Alamo Drafthouse Godfather pizza when catching a flick with her brother.

These days, you’ll likely find her around Dozen Street Bar and Lounge on East 12th, or at Bennu 24 Hour Coffee Lounge on East MLK. She likes to be around the people, the ones with their shoes off, with their dogs, and with appreciation for earth’s green goodness. She says it makes her feel like what Austin must have been like when her dad was coming up in the 1970s, a young musician.

Tickets are now on sale for Jackie’s Feb. 8 show, in celebration of her 25th birthday, at Gypsy Lounge.

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