NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The acoustic folk-rock trio The Wailin’ Jennys returns to Bethel College’s Memorial Hall and the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts (HBPA) series for the only Kansas appearance in their current tour.
Perhaps best known to south central Kansas residents from their appearances on public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” the Jennys first played Bethel in March 2008, also as part of HBPA. They will be on the Memorial Hall stage Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m., for the first event of the 2010-11 HBPA season.
The Wailin’ Jennys are Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse, who all have solo careers as well and who bring a wide range of musical experience and training to the group.
Soprano Moody (guitar, accordion, banjo and bodhrán) is a classically trained vocalist and pianist. She is the former lead singer for the Juno® Award-nominated (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy®) roots group Scrüj MacDuhk.
Mezzo Mehta (guitar, harmonica, drums, ukulele) is a trained dancer and was nominated for a Canadian Music Award for her 2002 solo album, Weather Vane.
Alto Masse (upright bass), a frequent guest on “A Prairie Home Companion,” is steeped in both bluegrass and jazz. She is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in jazz voice.
The Jennys tour with Jeremy Penner from Scrüj MacDuhk on fiddle and mandolin.
The Wailin’ Jennys famously began in 2002 as a “happy accident,” when Moody, Mehta and Cara Luft got together at Sled Dog Music in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for a one-time gig. It went so well the guitar store’s owner invited them back for another performance and then suggested they go on tour and call themselves the Wailin’ Jennys (a play on the name of country music singer Waylon Jennings).
In 2004, the Jennys recorded their first full-length album, 40 Days, which includes the single “One Voice.” It won a Juno® Award in 2005 for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year.
Luft left the group in 2004, to be replaced by Annabelle Chvostek, a singer-songwriter from Montreal. The Jennys’ next album, Firecracker (2006), included four songs each written by the members of the group.
Chvostek in turn left the Jennys in 2007, to be followed by New York native Masse. The Jennys recorded their third album, Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, on Aug. 30, 2008, at the title venue, in Jim Thorpe, Pa. The opera house is one of the oldest vaudeville theaters in the United States, built in 1881. The album was released in 2009.
“The Wailin’ Jennys, with their tight harmonies, superb musicianship and exquisite songwriting, were a huge hit with audience members of all ages at their last appearance here three years ago,” said Matt Schloneger, HBPA director, “so much so that their music has become an integral part of the fabric of our campuses. I can’t remember an event that has created more buzz among students than this one. We’re thrilled to have the Jennys back in North Newton for their only Kansas concert of the year.”
Prices for single tickets for the Wailin’ Jennys at Bethel College range from $19 to $23 depending on seating section and discount eligibility (students and senior citizens). The Jennys will also lead a harmonizing workshop with music students from Hesston and Bethel Colleges from 2-3 p.m. Oct. 21 at Hesston Mennonite Church. The event is free and open to the public.
HBPA season tickets are still available at prices ranging from $60 to $70. Upcoming performances are Viver Brasil (Afro-Brazilian dance), Friday, Nov. 5, in Memorial Hall; the men’s a cappella group Chanticleer, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in Memorial Hall; Lyric Arts Trio (vocal and instrumental), Sunday, Feb. 20, at Hesston Mennonite Church; and Three Part Invention (instrumental), Sunday, April 17, at Hesston Mennonite Church.
This program is presented in part by the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes a great nation deserves great art, and is supported by Mid-America Arts Alliance and Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment, with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Arts Commission and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
The Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series, now in its 29th year, started in 1982 as Hesston Performing Arts (HPA) with funding and planning provided by Hesston College and the Hesston community. In 1998, HPA planners launched a partnership with Bethel College, North Newton, and the series name changed to Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts. Hesston College and Bethel College host five performances by world-renowned or regionally acclaimed artists each year.