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The Wailin' Jennys set off a "Firecracker"

By David McPherson, September 2006

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"We are also lucky in Manitoba that we have a really supportive organization MARIA - Manitoba Audio Recording Industry Association - they provide a lot of resources for artists. It's a non-profit funding body. They help artists tour, help artists record, help artists market their music...that's how a lot of artists can start out and spread the word of their music. It really has fostered a great rich musical community in Winnipeg, not just roots music, but also all kinds of music. There is a feeling in Winnipeg that people know each and people play on each other's stuff...there is a real sense of caring and community there."

The Wailin' Jennys home base is also home to one of the oldest and biggest summer music festivals in North America - The Winnipeg Folk Festival. To have such a festival on their doorstep, where aspiring area artists can get worldwide exposure, is surely another huge help to fostering local talent.

"A lot of people have grown up there and are still growing up there," Moody says. "It's the biggest in Canada. I remember in my early teens going for the first time and discovering this world of folk music, world music, singer-songwriters. I was brought up on classical music and to listen to four days of singing and discovering bands you have never heard of, and perhaps instruments you have never heard of, it really has the potential to blow your mind when you are a teenager."

"The first time I was there was when I was a 17-year-old hitchhiking for the first time across the country, and I stopped in Winnipeg and went to this festival," Chvostek adds. "I said, 'Wow I want to do that.' And this year I was finally here on the stage as opposed to an eager teenager just discovering things."

The Jennys music is easy on the ears, and their three-part harmony is something that has the power to lure you in with the various voices melding into one soulful sound, rather than competing against one another to be heard.

At heart, the Wailin' Jennys are an a cappella band - their voices are the main musical instrument. This lack of amps partly explains why their music is so enticing to people, or so theorizes Chvostek, when asked why she thinks people are drawn to their soothing sounds.

"Maybe it is some kind of post-apocalyptic enjoyment of things that don't require electricity," says the multi-instrumentalist who performed her first gig at the age of seven with the Canadian Opera Company. "We can have a good time and play our mandolins and banjos really loudly and sing at the top of our lungs. Who needs anything else? It is such an intimate kind of experience and it can be very enveloping and welcoming. These are crazy times in the world, and maybe it's something to do with that too - the need to have a connection to something more organic."

"I had no idea that when I was 15 years old and writing these very deep and personal songs that I would get into these really light and fun country tunes."

Moody says that the process of choosing the tunes for "Firecracker" was a fun and organic process. "We throw songs out there, and when they feel right, we pursue them," she says. "Some songs are 'Jenny' songs, and some are not, and we know that right away. We just picked the ones that fit the best. Some were ready to go...all Annabelle's tunes, except 'Firecracker' and Nicky's were half and half and all of mine were new to the band...Whatever ones felt like they could lend themselves to our instrumentation and whatever ones felt natural in terms of building harmonies, those were the ones we chose."

The Jennys caught a lucky break when the host of the National Public Radio show Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor) chose them to play on his show and then this summer invited them to come out on tour with a group of musicians to promote the show - a tour that included PBS filming a special documentary that chronicles the cult following of Keillor's program.

"The first time we played his show the guest book on our website was just overflowing," Chvostek comments. "People were so excited about that. It was a nice break for us in the States."

"We also did a tour with A Prairie Home Companion earlier this summer and that was a lot of fun," Moody says. "We got to do three shows out east and then finish off at Tanglewood doing the PBS special. We had never done anything like that before, and it was such an honor and also nerve-racking. Meryl Streep was on the broadcast so that was a highlight to meet her."

"It has gotten us in front of a bigger audience all at once," she says. "People love that show, so when you play that show listeners automatically have a lot of respect for you. It has really helped our profile, and the name has really gotten out because of that. We feel really lucky."

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