The first time I experienced Jenna was at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance). I had heard her name prior to that but didn’t know what to expect when I was finally able to sit back and experience her doing her thing….totally captivating an audience within seconds of taking the stage. I immediately knew that this was a singer-songwriter that had not only some very good songs to share but had such a sunny disposition and outlook on life that I needed to do what I could to introduce her to more people. If I could bottle Jenna’s enthusiasm and zest, I sure would.
Learn more about Jenna by checking out her website.
Here’s a video of Jenna playing “Harbor and My Boat.”
I’ve got to say…I love your biography. It’s so right on about you being one part wise old woman and one part goofy little kid. Do you alternate personas on stage? What can people expect to see when they come to see you in concert?
I’ve always loved musical theater! I’m not much of an actor though so as for alternating personas, not so much. I feel like my truest self and am most at home playing music. You’ll meet the same person onstage as you would walking (or riding bikes!) down the street. I’ll wave whether I know you or not. If you have a dog, I’ll most likely stop to say hello. You’d probably be able to guess that when you come to a show. The truth is, I find joy in the simplest things and delight often in the ordinary; there’s no hiding it and every so often it will come through in a trill of excitement or moment of “unabashed enthusiasm” between songs. There’s definitely a deeper vein beyond that sense of wonder and wide-eyed curiosity though and I think it comes through in my writing most of all.
What made you pick up the much maligned banjo and actually learn how to play it?
Haa! Such a reputation. When I moved to Asheville, North Carolina it was a full on, live music immersion. All of a sudden, the sounds and artists that I found so captivating were playing in venues all over town ~ The Duhks, Abigail Washburn, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Avett Brothers. It was like seeing the music come to life in a new way altogether, and I found the banjo absolutely mesmerizing. Something about the nature of the venues and festivals in those mountains also made me feel like I was closer to the music, like it was tangible, and that mysterious sound was more accessible. Following a conversation with Abigail after a show one night, Leonard (of The Duhks) gave me an encouraging nod and I got the idea that I actually might be able to learn how to play clawhammer. Gorgeous music spilling from front porches and pub windows inspired me to explore the notion. I wound up borrowing a banjo from a friend and as synchronicity would have it, I found myself taking lessons from Scott Ainslie at the Swannanoa Gathering shortly thereafter.
What inspired you to make music your career? Did you play or sing as a youngster?
Yep, I lucked out with incredible music teachers as a kid. The song “Thank You Jane” tells the story about my piano teacher growing up. I took lessons and played the saxophone in junior high and I loved singing, but I never even thought about making music a career. Looking back, it astounds me that I used all of my elective credits in college for calculus and foreign language and didn’t take a single music class. Absurd! I’m certainly not using the calculus now. Anyhow, I got my degree in Outdoor and Experiential Education and after graduating, I found a songwriting class at a community music school and for the first time, began sharing songs I’d written. That was the most terrifying and absolutely exhilarating experience of my entire life! During that same chapter, I encountered a great deal of loss and it sparked the question, “If we have limited time on the planet, what are you doing and who are you spending it with?” In that moment, I knew I wanted to give more energy to music, build community, and connect with people through song. At first it felt like a major change in course, but music has clearly been the longest running thread, the oldest part of me; I simply hadn’t seen it as a possibility or set out to make it my career until more recent years.
I’d love to hear some tidbits about the making of your CD Jasmine Parade. What was the experience of working with Lorne Entress like (I happen to be a big fan.) Who played on the album with you?
Oh my goodness, Lorne Entress is incredible! Working with him was a dream and I could not be more happy to have him at the helm for Jasmine Parade. His creative vision and ability to see the heart of these songs made for one of the most inspiring and gratifying collaborations I’ve been a part of. We recorded primarily out at Signature Sounds with Mark Thayer in Connecticut; this in and of itself was pretty amazing as several of my heroes have made records in that very same barn. No denying there’s some magic in those walls. For most of the tracks we recorded live with Jesse Williams on bass and Sonny Barbato on keys and accordion, Lorne on percussion with some special appearances by Kevin Barry, Peter Mulvey, Kai Welch, Catie Curtis and Edie Carey to name a few.
What does the title of the CD signify?
Jasmine Parade comes from a line in the song “Eleanor’s Garden,” and it’s really about savoring the sweetness in the midst of sorrow. It’s about gratitude and a celebration alongside devastation and tragedy. Those pivotal moments that remind us to slow down because we’re racing through the days, AND simultaneously ignite us to begin and get started because we’ve been waiting or we’re simply going through the motions. It’s about waking up to the beauty every day and saying yes to this opportunity we have to dance.
You’ve toured quite a bit with Catie Curtis. How did the two of you meet? It sounds like you’ve had some fun times. Any interesting touring anecdotes that are blogworthy?
Catie and I actually met at the Swannanoa Gathering, the same place where I picked up the banjo! Swannanoa is a song school held at Warren Wilson College just outside of Asheville, NC ~ anyone interested in stellar workshops and classes in a stunning location should check it out! Anyhow, Catie is one of my favorite songwriters and a longtime inspiration so connecting with her at the Gathering and then joining her on the road has been a huge gift. I never would have imagined that one of my musical heroes would become a mentor and a friend, she’s like family now. We were just talking with some fellow musicians on a flight back from the West Coast and laughing about how Catie and I are so compatible on the road, in part because we are both dog lovers and we both like naps. As an example, once we were in Fort Collins getting coffee on our way out of town and I met an ADORABLE golden retriever outside the cafe ~ we stayed and hung out with the pup for half an hour and still talk about Brewster to this day : ) Kindreds. I love singing with Catie and it’s been an honor accompanying her and sharing stages all over the country, tremendous.
I’d like to know about the workshops about cultivating joy and gratitude in your life. How did you get into that kind of work? Have you always been a joyful and positive person? How can people find out more about this?
A few years ago, I began collaborating with Jill Stratton from Washington University in St. Louis. Jill is a positive psychologist and we both share a love for music and are passionate about helping people connect with their gifts and what brings them joy. We’ve created workshops and retreats for college students, faculty, early childhood educators and the general public to help people identify ways to develop and sustain joy in their careers and cultivate meaning and purpose in their lives. It’s pretty exciting work and we’re finding that people are hungry for it, the ideas really resonate and people walk away feeling renewed and inspired.
I’m definitely an optimist, but one of the things we talk about is how everyone has a predetermined “happiness set point,” kind of like a metabolism, that makes up about 50% of your over overall happiness. The other pieces of the pie are “intentional acts” which account for 40% and lastly, “circumstances” contribute only 10%. When we really focus in on the intentional acts portion, it’s exciting because we have huge potential to effect and create change in our lives in a meaningful way. Just as a start, ask yourself: What brings me joy? How would your life be different if you spent more time doing things that bring you joy? Some people see this as selfish or indulgent, but I really believe that self care helps us to better serve our fellow humanity, no matter what we’re doing. I love this quote from Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
It’s important to note too that this is not simply rose colored glasses. One thing we talk at length about is holding both joy and sadness at the same time. We have much to celebrate in the midst of tragedy and too often disheartening news. Savoring. Practicing gratitude and being intentional about where we put our focus is paramount.
We’re working on a new Joy&Flow website, but in the meantime you can visit www.jillstratton.com for more information and resources. Is this the same about The Dream Ride OR is that something else?? I think I need a Dream Ride in 2014!!!
Right before I released my first album, Strings & Spokes, I was out on a bike ride and thought, “WOW! This is really happening. A few years ago, I wrote down this idea that I wanted to record a CD of original music and here it is, coming fully into bloom!” The words, that dream, that I’d written down years before had been collecting dust in a notebook under my bed and yet here it was coming true. I began to wonder, what would happen if we wrote our dreams on streamers, tied them to our bike handlebars and actually put them in motion…?!? And with that, The Dream Ride was born. People ride for causes. People ride for cures. Imagine what will happen when we ride for our DREAMS! The collective momentum of people writing, sharing, and riding with their dreams is pretty amazing and it’s been incredible to see the impact that the experience has in people’s lives. I’m excited for this event to happen in more communities across the country (overseas too!) and I’m definitely looking for partnerships and sponsoring organizations ~ please be in touch if you have ideas and would like to bring The Dream Ride to your neighborhood! Community ride and concert? Count me in!
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Goethe