Jenny Johnson: Making a Modern Folklore of Makanda

Jenny Johnson: Making a Modern Folklore of Makanda
Jenny Johnson

Jenny Johnson

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Jenny Johnson

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Venues & Businesses
Alto Vineyards
Walker's Bluff

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Who: Jenny Johnson
What: Americana
When: 2017-04-08 - 2017-04-09
Jenny Johnson said the work on her master’s project helped her learn about communicating better with
Leah Williams Wright

Jenny Johnson said the work on her master’s project helped her learn about communicating better with others.

“I was really interested in the oral history,” Johnson explains. “I really like people’s stories. I learned how to listen to people and not just be waiting for a turn to talk.”

This weekend, Johnson performs Saturday, April 8 at Walker’s Bluff, and Sunday, April 9 at Alto Vineyards in Alto Pass with the Jenny Johnson Band for the Sandra’s Comfort Halfway to Raddle benefit.

Johnson recently chatted with Nightlife about her album Ballads of Makanda: A Modern Folklore, talking with strangers, and finding inspiration in small communities.

Her new disc is part of her recent course work that finishes her master degree in fine arts from the College of Mass Communications and Media Arts at SIU.

Johnson said when she first started graduate work, she was interested in learning more about the people of her home region.

“I wanted it to be about Makanda and the people who lived there,” she said. “I focused on where I lived now and went from there.”

It appeared everyone had a story to tell, and was more than willing to share what the small Jackson County village meant to them. Johnson said the hardest part of her project was not to lead the questioning but allow the subjects to organically direct their own memories and narratives.

“What I wanted to do was to just to get them to start talking, and they tell me what they want me to know,” she said.

The music on Ballads of Makanda sticks to the Americana vein, with some jazz and twelve-bar blues.

“As a songwriter, this project allowed me to prove the framework to create reactionary pieces about life,” Johnson said.

The songs on the album tell stories about the entirely female-run business of Lipe Orchards, flooding in the valley, and the buildup for the upcoming solar eclipse later this fall and the culture that celebrated similar astronomical events.

Based on the real-life love stories she heard, Johnson said she also composed her first instrumental song, “Courting in the Valley.”

“It was amazing how many people said they met their significant other there in Makanda,” she said. “So I collected them all together and had them represented in this completely instrumental piece. It became a central common thread.”

Now that she has already successfully defended her project and her sights are set on graduating, Johnson said she valued the experience she received in producing and engineering the album. She also said she was grateful for all the musicians and sound people who helped her make the album a reality.

“This was a complete community effort,” she said.

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who: Jenny Johnson

what: Americana

where: Walker’s Bluff; Alto Vineyards and Winery

when: Saturday, April 8; Sunday, April 9

Halfway to Raddle (the Bottoms)

A wonderful annual fall benefit expands into the spring.

Raddle the Bottoms, usually in September, raises money for Sandra’s Comfort, which helps pay for portions of cancer treatments that insurance doesn’t always cover— among other things, transportation, lodging, and side-effect medication.


Halfway to Raddle will augment proceeds raised by the main festival Sunday, April 9 at noon at Alto Vineyards. Joseph Huber is coming down from Milwaukee to headline a bill that also includes the Jenny Johnson Band and Ethan Stephenson. Proceeds from the gate, raffle tickets, and food sales will go to  Sandra’s Comfort.