Change the world we first must change ourselves 
Raise the vibration of someone else 

‘Til their eyes and their hearts are open 
And we cause a chain reaction 
Free ourselves from mental slavery 
Never falling for false security 

I wanna see higher I wanna grow further 
Open my eyes and fight the good fight, good fight 
I wanna dive deeper I wanna love truer 
Open my eyes and fight the good fight, good fight 

 – Jackie Venson, “Fight”

 

As soon as Jackie Venson started playing, I was surprised — not by the skilled blues fingerpicking or her crystalline voice, but by how quickly the audience showed their enthusiasm for her performance with “yeahs” and “woos” and various mm-hmms of approval. After a few minutes, though, I realized, wait, that’s not the audience. That’s Jackie. Her love for the music is so strong that she punctuates it with her own joy. I hadn’t noticed this feature of her performance style on YouTube; it was a happy surprise for those of us lucky enough to hear her in person.

It was, of course, just one of many special elements experienced when seeing Jackie live and up close. She began the show playing acoustic guitar, easing into her oeuvre of dizzyingly energetic and complex tunes in their unplugged form. No one would have felt deprived at all if she’d stayed in that lane, but one thing you figure out fast with Jackie is that she’s got too much to offer to stick to just one thing. After all, as a Berklee conservatory piano student, she taught herself guitar during her last semester, and now that’s her job.

As soon as Jackie switched to her Stratocaster and started building layered loops to create her song “Mysterious,” I could see people craning to look at her feet and figure out how she was making a whole band come out of those pedals. Her sound is a powerhouse, but even with the energy she brings to each song, she doesn’t lose the intimate connection to her work.  Jackie’s artistry is in combining big, ripping solos with delicate intensity, like an artist who can master both 8-story murals and rice-painting. Even when covering Stevie Wonder or Duffy (you know, that song), she made the music utterly her own.

Jackie ended the night with “Fight,” a chugging exhortation to stay positive, look out for others, and keep working for a better world. It felt like a perfect summary of her songwriting vibe and lifestyle in general.

Jackie’s most recent release was recorded at Memphis’ own Royal Studios, and she’s clearly a fan of the city. It was an honor to help Memphis become a fan of her.

 

 

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