The Prolific Year Of Jackie Venson

For Austin-based artist Jackie Venson, the past year has been a whirlwind of creation as she released five albums in one year (two studio and three live), brought awareness to and directly challenged the lack of diversity in the lineup for the long running Blues On The Green in her hometown and maintained a constant online presence with her dynamic live streams.

“I don't know how to relax,” says Venson who will perform at Rockefeller’s on Saturday, November 20. “None of us could handle it,” she says of the past year and a half. “Some of us handled it better but that doesn't mean that we could handle it. The way that I handled it was going into work overdrive,” she says comparing her anxiety when slowing down to a hamster on a wheel. 

For years Venson has created a spot for herself in Austin as a talented guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. In 2019 she was named best guitarist by the Austin Chronicle and in her busiest year, Venson won four awards for her live streams, Vintage Machine album and her contributions to improving the Austin music community as she was named Musician of the Year along with the Above and Beyond Award.

As live shows came to an abrupt halt in 2020, Venson, like many artists, turned to live streaming and quickly created an online community where people would frequently tune in, pay the affordable donation and even buy merchandise to see her do what she does best: rock out.  She will be starting her first in-person residency in February of 2022 at Lamberts Barbecue.

During the summer she was offered the opportunity to perform for the adapted Blues On The Green event, Blues On The Screen, along with two other white, male Austin based artists. With the weight of the widespread protests for racial equality, Venson could not ignore the lack of diversity in the lineup for the festival.

After some embarrassing back and forth between Venson’s manager and the festival organizer, who later apologized for his racist and wildly inaccurate remark that Austin didn’t have enough Black artists that could draw interest for the festival, Venson was offered the opportunity to curate an all Black lineup of artists for the 2020 online event.

“It might have lost me fans, but all it did was lose me the wrong type of fan,” says Venson wisely of the very public conversation around race and who creates lineups for large festivals that she sparked.

This year, Blues On The Green clearly took Venson’s advice to heart as they had planned a widely different looking line up, which sadly had to be cancelled due to the resurgence of COVID cases this past summer.

“It was going to be awesome in that individual event,” says Venson. “I did see a change. It’s pretty crazy. It's pretty cool. I’m just glad that more people are being able to go along for the ride.”
Venson also released Vintage Machine, a poppy and structured album filled with sexy, feel good songs and showing off Venson’s non stop brain as she layers sounds in her particular style while showing off a more polished sound.
It was just one month after she released Live In Texas which spotlighted her guitar skills and ability to get down and jam loosely with her band. In one year, Venson managed to release two drastically different albums.

“I love pop, I love rock and I love the combination of pop and rock and guitar driven music. If you listen to Live In Texas again, a lot of those songs are poppy too except that we are a live band playing them and so they're like six minutes long.”

“It’s kind of like a book versus a movie,” she says of comparing studio and live albums to each other. “You can't make one the other and you have to respect the medium of both.” She also released Joy Alive, a live recording of her 2019 album at the Paramount Theatre.

“This is what the song is supposed to sound like, let's start here,” she says of the studio recordings. “Any live performance or live version of the song from then on out is just that song living and breathing.”

In 2020, Venson also got to record her first ever performance at Austin City Limits which airs on PBS. For her set she wore a black dress designed by her sister with the names of those who have died due to police brutality.

“It’s just a timestamp,” she says of her now iconic dress. “First of all it’s a message that’s going to be rerun because that show reruns so that's in the archive of Texas history forever. The other thing it's a timestamp, this is what was happening and here it is in front of your eyes for anybody who tries to white wash it later or anybody who tries to just conveniently not talk about it later.”
Most recently she released Love Transcends, an album that shows off Venson’s roots in the blues. In the beginning of her career, it seems people were quickly wanting to put her into the blues box but if her proficient year hasn’t finished proving it, Venson is not just a blues artist.

“The ability to see something that is not there is huge in music. You’re trying to carve out a little spot for just you. I think competition and music do not go well, it's what makes music sound like shit,” she says.

“The ability to see something that is not there is huge in music."

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For such an accomplished guitarist, it’s mind blowing to think that only a short ten years ago she stepped out from behind the piano she had been playing and studying in Berklee College of Music not only to get more freedom and movement, but also to take her own advice and "carve out" a spot just for her as she cites the rise of Alicia Keys at that time as another motivating factor in switching to guitar.

For an artist with such a range of sounds, her live performance and ability to select the set list depends on her backing band as Venson can do plenty on her own using loops and pedals. “For a show, I'm obsessed with the show sounding full so if I’m alone, I don't want it to sound like I’m alone.”

For her Houston show she will be playing with a trio, allowing her to perform any of her songs. “Basically, I always have to be thinking about the live show when I’m releasing new records.”

Jackie Venson will perform on Saturday, November 20 at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington, doors at 7 p.m., $20-28.