Jackie Venson Dog Mountain, St. Johnsbury, VT August 26th, 2018
Story, photos, and video by Kathy Hicks Murray
I was beginning to think the rain gods were playing a cruel joke on me. I had been watching the forecast all week and it still called for thunderstorms an hour before show was set to start. I had never been up to St Johnsbury before, and I was not disappointed when I arrived at beautiful Dog Mountain.
The vendors were just getting their food stands set up, organic vegan salads with fresh goat cheese and vegan or pork burritos from Chez Mami, the most decadent looking organic chocolate dipped strawberries that I had to forcibly keep myself away from, but oh did they look delicious! And homemade maple syrup and everything from maple sugar candy to maple lemonade, made by Maple Matters. Outside alcohol wasn’t permitted, but Kingdom Taproom provided beer from local crafters, served inside a cute house at the top of the hill overlooking the seating area.
I walked up the hill to where the crew were setting up the stage, a very cool trailer hauled structure, that opened up hydraulically. I was there long before Jackie was due to arrive, so I sat back on the grass and watched the cool process of the stage being constructed and set up for the show. Around 1:45pm, Jackie pulled in, with her manager, Louie and her bass player Nick Clark. Out of the other vehicle came her mom/merchandise manager, Diane, and her drummer, Rodney Hyder. I saw her waving from the driver’s seat and I grinned and waved back, standing up. Walking over, I gave Louie a hug first, then Jackie came around and I gave her a two-for hug: one from me and my little family, and one from our mutual friend, Rey. She introduced me to her mom and bandmates, and then we all started unloading the gear from the vehicles. Jackie had just flown in the night before from London, England, after playing a show at Two Tribes Brewery in Kings Cross. They were all a little jet lagged, but I could see how stoked they were to be there.
I first started following Jackie on Instagram in March after catching a small clip of a live stream performance on her page. I was completely blown away. An absolutely phenomenal guitarist and singer. So, I did my research.
An Austin, TX native, Jackie started playing music at a young age, beginning, at her mother’s insistence, on the piano; a good starting point for learning the basic rudiments of music. She stayed with the piano through high school and into college, where she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, graduating in just three years with her Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition and Studio Production.
She started playing the guitar in her senior year at Berklee, 2011. She cut her teeth on the live music scene at the age of sixteen when her dad, Andrew Venson, a thirty-year veteran of the Austin professional music scene, got her up to play keyboards with his band. So, fast forward back to March of this year. We struck up a conversation about when she would be getting up to the Boston area to play, and she told me that she had surprisingly run into a lot of dead leads trying to get bookings.
I told her about my connections through John Penny, and his wife may still have some of the contacts and that I would reach out to her. We’ve been chatting ever since then, our friendship growing out of our myriad (and, yes, sometimes odd) mutual interests and similar backgrounds growing up. I can say with all candor and without bias, that she is one of the most talented and genuine musicians that I’ve seen come down the pipe in a very long time.
Setting her playing abilities aside for a moment, Jackie composes and arranges her own music and lyrics. Her lyrics come from her heart, and her playing comes from deep within her soul. You can feel it when you hear her play, or anyone that has had the pleasure of seeing her live, you know what I’m saying when I say you can see it all over her face when she’s playing. Her energy is contagious, and she draws you in, connecting your soul to her music. Her style of music is not one-dimensional. She likes to call it “genre hopping.”
Her playing is reminiscent at times of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Buddy Guy when she’s playing the blues, or Prince when she’s playing pop, Jimi Hendrix or a little Joe Satriani when she’s playing rock, or she’ll do the neck-brushing technique used by Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, bringing that jazz feel into a tune. She does this to appeal to a broader audience and while you can’t tie her down to one genre, her style is so fluid, she seems to do it almost effortlessly. Getting back to the show, they got everything set up and did their sound check, then we went off in search of dinner.
Settling on Chez Mami, Jackie, sweetheart that she is, offered to buy me dinner. And being the starving artist that I am, I accepted. The five of us took our food into the green room, and while we ate, we chatted a bit and listened to the opening act, The Dave Keller Band, as they played. After she finished eating, she worked on her setlist, and I tossed out a song suggestion here and there. She keeps all of her set lists in a notebook, like a tour diary of sorts. She said she plans to do something with the individual lists at some point after the tour, but she hasn’t decided quite what yet.
There wasn’t a whole lot of time left for us to do our interview then, because she had to get ready to go on, so we planned to chat after she met with the fans when they came off stage. We made our way back up as Dave Keller was finishing his set. A great guitarist and lead vocalist himself, Dave was discovered in 2009 by legendary guitarist Ronnie Earl and immediately featured on Earl’s 2009 award-winning album Living in the Light as both a singer and songwriter.
Jackie’s set was dynamic and energetic. Straight from the get-go, she had people up and dancing, and they stayed that way through the whole show. She started off with ‘Destruct,’ a song that she’ll be releasing in December, exclusively to the JV Squad, her Facebook Fan Group. It’s free to join, and you can join here: JV Squad. ‘Destruct’ is a smooth and groovy rhythm and blues tune, Jackie picking out the harmony to her voice on Herbie, her parchment white Fender Strat, as she sang the melodic lyrics.
She followed that up with her hit reggae song, ‘Lost in Time’, enthusiastically encouraging crowd participation to sing with her on the “oh oh oh’s”, a la Bob Marley. It was such a thrill getting to photograph my friend as she entranced the audience, working through her brilliantly composed music. She played some of her older material, like ‘Flying’ – her most-requested song on Spotify (Click to listen to Jackie on Spotify), and a gorgeous rendition of her song ‘Back to Earth’, with a beautifully played intro on her small midi keyboard, reflecting her many years training as a classical pianist. She included a couple of her latest releases, ‘Never Say Die’, an eighties feel, techno-pop song with great guitar riffs and awesome loops.
Her abilities to multitask on stage, play lead and rhythm guitar, sing, play keyboards, create live loops and play over them are very reminiscent of the multi-talented Geddy Lee. The other recent release she played was ‘Rollin and Tumblin,’ A straight up “my man did me wrong, so I’m leaving him and moving on,” blues song. One of my absolute favorites of her new material, it has a great downbeat and groove, the lead riff is solid and the guitar solos are just smoking. Love singing harmony along with that one. “I need me to find another way, a way to carry on, on my own, don’t need no man, just my guitar.”
During her set, she previewed two other songs set for release this year. ‘I Will Find a Way’ is set for release in September, and I included a little teaser clip for you all to enjoy! A rock anthem, with an almost Satriani vibe, it will have your feet tapping instantly. Her other debut, ‘Million Moments’ is set for release later on this year. A pop song with a slight Michael Jackson flavor, Let’s just say, it will get you right in the feels. Her solo break on the midi keyboard, looping it and then playing her lead solo over that just floored me, and it truly showcased how gifted a musician and composer Jackie is. She wrapped up the show with the blues classic ‘Nice and Warm’, the song that inspired her to learn how to play the guitar in her senior year of college.
Being from Texas, and suffering, unused to the awful cold winters here in New England, she began getting really low – so she decided that she wanted to play the blues so that she could write about it. They did a smooth transition from ‘Nice and Warm’ into her blues rock song, ‘See What You Want’, a high energy song where a father teaches his young daughter to open not just her eyes, but her soul to the world to truly experience the blues. She featured Nick and Rodney both on killer solos as they blended the classic ‘Funky Town’ and ‘Brick House’ in, before bringing it back to ‘See What You Want’ to close the show to roaring applause and a standing ovation. Afterwards, when everything was broken down and loaded up, we sat down for our interview and we talked about her current tour and what she has coming down the line in the next few months.
This week is pretty busy. Monday is a travel day, Tuesday is Willis in Detroit, Wednesday is Schubas in Chicago, Thursday is the Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee, the Turf Club in St Paul, Minnesota on Friday, then a day off, and the Coltrane Jazz Festival in North Carolina on Sunday. They’re off for most of September, but they may do a corporate gig in Portland, OR, and she’s hoping to fly out and stay a couple extra days and hit an open mic or a jam while she’s there. We spoke about the listing of East Coast venue contacts I had gotten to her a while back, and she said that they are hoping sometime next year to work through the contacts and start working on an east coast tour, and come back to New England again. They are working on a new touring strategy, planning on spending more time in each city, to get into the community and maybe try to team up with a non-profit to do a charitable event while she’s there. She doesn’t want to just show up and be like, “Come to my show, bye!” She wants to get to know the people in the communities that are supporting her and her music.
Her approach to recording and releasing music is different than a lot of artists. She explained to me that it was a strategy she and her manager, Louie Carr, came up with. They are producing and releasing a song and video every month this year. She said that the entire way people consume music has changed, because of the internet and the way people behave in a society as a whole. Their attention spans are much shorter now. It’s not that albums are dead, it’s just that full-length albums only get fully listened to or purchased if you’re a true and or loyal fan of the artist. So when you’re trying to build a fanbase, and you’re introducing yourself to a person for the first time, you have anywhere from fifteen seconds to four minutes to get their attention, depending on the patience of the person.
Say she were to release a full album, then releases a single and you share it out and some people are like “meh.” And they ignore it. That’s two years of work down the drain, because likely they aren’t going to give the rest of the album a chance based on that one single if they didn’t care for it. So the idea with the singles, is she just keeps popping up every month with a new song, different genre, different album art. She started in January. So as an example. She releases a rock song. You, as a consumer and fan, share it with ten of your friends. Five of them like it, but the other five who don’t really like rock are like, meh.
February comes around and she releases a pop song, and you share it with those same ten people and maybe you get three of the five who said meh before because they like pop more than rock. Then March comes around and she releases a reggae song, and maybe you net the last two of the ten of your friends, because they’re fans of reggae music. The single for July, ‘Keep On’, was released in July, and the video was just released this past week.
The August single will be slightly different. It’s set for release in the beginning of September, and will be available for Patreon subscribers only. Basically, Patreon is like an artist supporting GoFundMe. You can donate any amount, but if you become a VIP subscriber, and the minimum is wicked cheap, $5 a month, you’ll have access to Patreon only exclusive content, early concert ticket access and special live performance stream access.
By donating to her Patreon account, you’re becoming a Patron of the arts and supporting her bottom line costs of mixing and recording new music. She wanted to assure me that the members of the JV Squad will still have access to their own exclusive content, still be able to chat with her, and see live stream performances. This is just a different level of support. She doesn’t want anyone to feel like they have to contribute, but she’s not a label and isn’t signed, and is paying for all this on her own. She wants to put the opportunity to help her out there for those who love and support her music, that can do it, to be able to. This will help get the new music out to us all much quicker.
A couple songs that will be coming exclusive to Patreon are a solo performance of ‘Oh Holy Night’, with her accompanying herself on the piano, just in time for Christmas, and also a solo version of ‘Run’ also planned for later this year. I thanked Jackie again as we wrapped things up, and we hugged goodbye. I said goodbye to Nick, Louie, Rodney and Diane and thanked them all for an awesome day. I can only see good things in store for Jackie Venson. She has the drive, the purpose, the ambition and the talent to get where she wants to go. #squadlifeforlife Peace, Love and Music, y’all!