The Indie Artist Extraordinaire

One of the most common questions that I get out on the road is how exactly one goes about turning the hobby of music into a full-time career.

My answer usually sounds something like this: Do music: Listen. Create. Play. Share it now, worry about selling it later.  (Seems like a better answer than: uh, I dunno?)

If I had never fallen in love with ‘doing’ music even when no one was listening, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be playing today.

At the risk of sounding trite, I think, so often, we put our fullest dreams in the cart and put it straight in front of the horse. My take has always been that music is a gift. In and of itself music can and should be enjoyed simply for the sake of it regardless of the employment possibilities. Thousands upon thousands of musicians are out there plugging away regardless of hope for income, and purely for the sheer joy of what playing/performing does for the human spirit.

Honor the music, honor your creative spirit, honor the listener…Listen. Create. Play.

Nowadays, you need go no further than your own computer to record your songs, your local coffee house to play them, or a click of the mouse to listen to others. If the only measure of success that we attach to music is one of popular recognition and marketability, then I suspect that we’ll miss the full purpose of joy and deep meaning that drew us in to listen and sing in the first place.

We have to water our creativity to make it grow. To inspire as well as be inspired.

I can truly say, it is has been an honor to be a small part of that process. I pay homage to the artists that have moved me to create. I am humbled when I am marked as one who has inspired others. Honestly, I don’t know how I got here, I’m just glad to be here. I get to meet some of the most fantastic people and incredible musicians.

Over the last year, I’ve accumulated quite the stack of music from indie artists/bands, local acts, at-home musicians, vagabonds and fans. You’re out there ‘doing it’ and I’m loving it! It’s inspiring to be reminded that music is just simply a wonderful thing to be able to do.

So in honor of all these amazing folks, I thought I’d share some of what’s going on outside of the mainstream far from the maddening hordes.

Thanks for sharing your recordings with me. I’ve enjoyed listening…


Jacob Jeffries Band took the opening spot for one of my Florida gigs last year. Professional caliber musicians by any measure, Jacob and his crew are excellent performers. Jacob is a crafty song writer with hooks that last for days. I walked away with a copy of Wonderful . My only complaint is that my recording is a CD and not vinyl. Seriously, this is a classic sounding record I would describe as Billy Joel meets Ben Folds. But make no mistake, Jacob is his own man.  Watch out for tunes like “Mr. Weatherbee Freeman” and “Flashlight “. Both are super catchy with romping choruses and a vintage flair that never gets old.

Lorna Bracewell I don’t remember how her record Flowers on the Chains got into my hands (sorry if we actually met Lorna…) but I’m digging it. It’s SO super hard to be an original guitar-weilding, ass- kicking chick songwriter come rocker, but Lorna makes her way without any need to apologize. Begrudgingly, I’ll mention Melissa Etheridge, Joan Jett and Ani DeFranco just so you’ll click through and listen…but then, as fast as you can, never mention their names again…and just say “Lorna!” If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get a chance to see her live sometime when I’m in Florida.

Trees Leave unites Wyatt Espalin and Cobi Ferguson. Their indie recording The Gospel of Hurt is an honest fusion of the past and the present. Part country, bluegrass, folk and rock…I love this record! This is a work of art, modern southern men with all their joys and sorrows inexorably tied to the past. Wyatt & Cobi seem held by the haunting chains of mandolin strings, cursed by the devil in the electric guitar and released by God in the bowing of the violin…What’s better, is that these guys are local to Nashville…which means I get to see them live!

Share some of your favorite indies in the comments section. (click on the blog heading)

Writing a “RAW” forward

The cynicism that surfaces in conversations of Christianity are not merely for the secular observer, but a fact that is also often experienced by those who sit in the pews.

For my nearly twenty years in being in and around conversations of faith, I can tell you first hand, that it is easy to assume that Christianity is an exercise of separation rather than one of integration and expansion. There are points along the continuum of faith practice that incorporate  these qualities at some point, to helpful purpose as well as devastating exclusion. There are times when separating ourselves out from the whole is valuable and life-giving, but also a time when we must return. It is the strangest irony that separation can create heartache one time and yet be the greatest release into freedom and self-identity the next. …But eventually, we will seek return to community. In our return, this same irony seems to hold true. Sometimes we return to great rejoicing and community wholeness, the next we are the very fly in the ointment that seems to prove the need for distance.

Perhaps it is the artist in me that is familiar in watching these roles play out. The predictability of our human ways, acted out, for better and for worse, give insight to the beautiful narrative of our existence. More so, I am ceaselessly inspired when in our troubles and short-comings, we refuse to live shamefully, but rather with hope and courage. When, in our victories, we live humbly and charitably, sharing our bounty with others.

For all these reasons, I found it an honor to be asked to write the forward for RAW: A Poetic Journey. This inaugural offering from NuWine Press, in many ways, mirrors the conversations I have every single day out on the road. Ordinary people living out extraordinary lives. From resting in moments of silence and darkness to exploding to the surface with full strength and joy.

It’s a little book, an easy read, but trust me, there’s a lifetime in it. You can cruise through it if you want, but if you care to take the time, it will be by your side for a good, long while. Believe me, when I say, there are few books like this. No one here is trying to sell you anything, or trying to create some story to please others. These writings are ‘raw’ indeed. Unshielded, vulnerable, celebratory and often harrowing…it’s what we all think when we doubt, when we don’t believe, when we don’t care, when we care so deeply that we think we might split in two. More than that, these are vignettes of those willing to be put back together.

For more information see NuWine Press on Facebook and Twitter

The Dude & The Marmot

So, on my birthday I head to the Great Outdoors.  As is all too common, I had an encounter with a wild animal.
Cute American Mink

Whilst sitting lakeside, sunning myself on some larger rocks, I discovered I was not the only one enjoying the weather.

I heard a faint rustle from underneath a large bolder, looked over and thought I saw the face of a rat. I let out a squeal, not unlike The Dude when the marmot was thrown into his bath water. The “rat” let out a similar squeal, which was obviously not “rat-like”. Needless to say, we were both surprised and unpleased.
I quickly stood up, more than willing to vacate the premises, when the animal bounded out from hiding and atop another bolder behind me. It was definitely bigger than a rat, about 3 lbs, and a bushy long tail and ferret like face. It was blocking me from my escape. I proceeded to make scary human noises so that it would scurry away (hopefully), but it was not altogether pleased by my attempts at intimidation.
Not too long after, I made good my escape, and the “marmot” (I was now calling it) departed as well.
Scary American mink
After returning to civilization, getting to Google, I discovered this interesting fauna was in fact, an American mink. Which, I also, discovered has the capacity to spray a dreadful scent not unlike a skunk. Fortunately, the mink kept his “ink”.
Other wild animals I have been attacked by:
several various parrots, eagles, wild brumbies (horses), grey fantails (birds), kangaroos (yes, they can be quite territorial), the occasional reptile including lizards and turtles, and once, a fairly ferocious goose.
Fortunately, other encounter with more docile creatures, like echidnas and field mice have led to little or no personal injury.
I am starting to conclude that I have a threatening scent. 🙂

People Are People

Last night I went to my first lesbian night club.

(pause for you to catch your breath)

Like so many of the diverse and amazing experiences I’ve had in my life, I have music to thank for it. As usual, I am always curious as to how the music I play will adapt to those who have come to listen. Of course, the lyrics and music are set, they are the same wherever I play them. Still there is an amazing effect that happens each night when so many different individuals come together, each from their own private world, and enter into the community of a concert.

I talk about this a lot. The concept that we individually connect with music in our private rooms, tying the song to some place deep in our hearts. Then when we follow the sound, we find others at the epicenter, drawn as we were, to the place of shared ground and find that ours is not a lonely journey at all. What’s more, we are often surprised as to who find there…

In my mind, I imagined what Sisters Night Club was going to be like when I got there. Of all that I could conjure up, I can tell you I wasn’t even close to guessing. Every color, every gender, urban, sub-urban, the churched and areligious; there were straight married couples, L’s, G’s, B’s & T’s…It was beautiful! Like the biggest and best box of crayons you could imagine. I couldn’t have been more wrong about who I thought I would meet, and I couldn’t have been more delighted to be found in error.

But it wasn’t the diversity alone that made it special. It was the spirit of those who were there that made the evening so touching. As we allowed our differences to fade, we gathered our courage to connect with others around us: just as we came, are and hope to, someday, be.

Through the wars

Hop down to any pub and share a schooner with your Aussie (Australian) mates (translation: share a chat and a beer with your friends) and, before long, the reminiscing begins. You remember the good times with the bad, recall friends you haven’t seen in ages. Some living the good life and others not so much. But you still love them, and you raise a toast, wishing them the best wherever they may be. For those who have walked a less glamorous or even arduous path, there is a phrase that is commonly used: He’s been through the wars.

The conversation may go something like this:

Bloke #1: “Yeah, mate, what’s up with Jennifer these days? I haven’t seen her in a while.”

Bloke #2: “Yeah, no, yeah. She’s been through the wars, but she’s alright. Heard she’s back to the ole entertainment thing again.”

Bloke #1: “Now that’s a yarn I’d like to hear her tell…”

Somewhere in the phrase, there’s an appreciation that whatever scars we receive, they carry the hope of our potential to create character. I can think of few American phrases that we use that release us from the shame of how we get into our precarious messes and still hold esteem for the battle weary.

It’s the term that comes to my mind when I think of Christa Black.

I know Christa from our time together “on the road.” She’s a talented violinist who has spent countless hours enduring the bliss of the spotlight and the grind of the confined and yet, exposed life on the tour bus. She’s toured with me, Michael W. Smith…even the Jonas Brothers!

Like many of the musicians supporting the artists you know and love, she has a story of her own. Let’s just say, she’s been through the wars.

Recently she penned her first book God Loves Ugly” . It is a courageous account of  her head-on war with an eating disorder. From struggle to insight, she has come out the other side with a story to tell. No surprise, the artist in her has set the story free to do it’s work.

Visit her here:

Belmont University releases non-discrimination policy

The circumstances surrounding the sudden departure of soccer coach, Lisa Howe from Belmont University left many students and the Nashville community concerned and confused. What, exactly, is Belmont’s policy regarding sexual orientation? Will students and faculty face discrimination if they are open about their sexuality?

It is important to note, that from the beginning, Dr. Fisher has been adamant that sexual orientation is a non-factor in it’s hiring practices, nor is it the mind-set of the university to discriminate. Yesterday, Belmont released it’s updated non-discrimination policy to the public to include specific language of their accountability to Title IX and their commitment to those under their care.

Thank you, Belmont, for your continued efforts in what has been a harrowing time of uncertainty. To borrow thoughts from Andrew Marin, living in the tension is only the beginning of dialogue.

Cheers to long, continued growth…

News: The City Paper (Nashville)

An Open Letter to Belmont University

I am disheartened by the circumstances surrounding Lisa Howe’s departure from Belmont University.

That any employee, student or church member in our society be required to remain silent about their sexual orientation in exchange for secure employment, academic growth or spiritual support is an intolerable injustice. Unfortunately, this conditional coercion is far too often the norm.

Discrimination presents in many forms, not the least of which is passive silence. We look to our both our academic and religious institutions to engage us, lead us, and inspire us—-not to avoid our deepest needs and concerns out of fear of popular approval. We look to our institutions of higher moral reasoning as we seek knowledge, understanding and advancement as a human race. We must hold sacred the responsibility to confront our fears and biases; with all courage, engage critical thought when approaching long held traditions.

Acceptance of LGBT persons as full and equal community members must begin with a welcome invitation in clearly defined anti-discrimination polices, as well as public accountability to address and act upon any ethos that would diminish the right of any human being.

Belmont, as a gay person of faith, I humbly challenge you to inspire us with your willingness to facilitate safe, open dialogue on matters of faith and sexuality.

In this Advent season, I encourage the Belmont community to boldly embrace the opportunity to act with the human compassion, leadership and abiding love that honors Jesus Christ, the university, and your Nashville neighbors.

Such an endeavor could begin with both an offer for Coach Howe to return to her position and with a sincere apology to all who have been harmed by her dismissal.
Peace—-with justice—demands nothing less.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Knapp

Associate Press
Dr. Robert Fisher’s statement
Nashville Scene
Mike Curb, Nashville speaks out

To say nothing…

On the weekend of November 12, I was invited to speak at a symposium at Highlands Church in Denver, CO. Rev. Mark Tidd laid forth a daunting request. Would I be willing to speak open and candidly about my experience as a gay person of faith? He’s not the first person to ask. From the moment that others have become aware of my story I have received many requests to comment, admonish, endorse or simply just appear in the on-going, emotionally charged conversation about being gay and Christian. At the same time, I have found much encouragement to simply remain silent. The message seems to be clear: It is ok that I am gay, but it is not acceptable to some that I speak of it.

That being said, it took several long emails and phone calls with Rev. Tidd and the symposium facilitator, novelist, Jonathan Odell, for me to agree to participate in a symposium entitlted “The Evangelical Church & Homosexulality”. They worked hard to convince me that this was a moment of hospitality; an opportunity to release the tension of silence by means of sharing stories. Stories of loss, of joy, compassion and of spiritual growth. Stories not fully written, continually evolving, fragile and potent. Not unlike the stories any of us could relate to, regardless of gender, ethnicity, spiritual traditions, or social class.

Yet the elephant in the room remains, we are talking openly about the experiences of being gay in the church. I find that anytime I write it down (gay) or say it out loud (gay) or talk about the joys of sharing my life with a partner (gay)…there is always someone who comments that they wished that I would not speak.

In the words of a pastor who came out to his church, “Pastor, we all knew you were gay. We’re just made as hell that you told us.”

But here’s the rub. How well do we, or have we ever, responded when assumptions are made about our unique person? When we meet a new friend, join a new group, continue a relationship with another human being, we tell the stories of our lives. We share the narrative of how we grew up, what experiences have shaped us. We confess our sins, our misdeeds, waiting for the other person to make good their escape. We lure them back in with tales of our accomplishments, our victories, our strengths. We secure these bonds by showing our vulnerabilities and willingness for the capacity to love.

Along the way of living we accumulate the joys and sorrows of our individual experience that grow into ‘our story’. We learn by listening to others. We learn in the telling of our own journey. We wound, heal, divide and unite, over and over again.

I cannot avoid it. I have a story. Occasionally, someone asks me to share it in questions like: Where did you grow up? Why do think that? What’s your family like? How did you get that scar? What’s it like being gay?… Every time, the dizzying risks of vulnerability sound their alarm and I am left with a question:

Will I share my story?

What’s in the bag?

Ok, my brain is fried, so for now, I thought I’d write about something a bit on the lighter side of things. I’m not much of a gear junky, but I am picky what I use out on the road. As I’m doing the solo acoustic thing a lot these days, I’m traveling very light. But what I do carry has to earn it’s keep when it comes to carrying it all around on my back like a pack mule.

First and foremost, I’m playing a Taylor 810ce. She always gets the most attention, so I’ll save space for my less acclaimed gear.

I recently added a Taylor T5-C2 to my quiver. It’s a Koa topped hollow body electric that Taylor describes as blurring the line between electric and acoustic guitars. It’s an accurate description. Currently, I’m running it direct, interchanging on the same line as my acoustic set up. Basically, I’m working the vintage, hollow body sound, and getting the front of house to add some reverb. It’s a nice aural change from listening to the acoustic all night.

L.R. Baggs Para DI

My gear on the floor is pretty basic. There are tons preamp options out there pitched to acoustic players that promise to deliver the warm tones of the unplugged, natural sound of an acoustic. For years I toured with a Demeter VTDB-2B tube DI. It is amazing, but it’s also a bit pricey, heavy to carry around and needs to be handled with a bit of care (although mine took a pounding and seems to have survived!) That’s where the LR Baggs Para DI comes to the rescue. It’s no accident that just about every performing acoustic artist has had one of these in their gig bag for better than a decade. It performs exactly as promised, it’s affordable and always reliable. It has saved my bacon on more than one occasion from feedback & EQ nightmares.

Boss TU-3

Of course, good tone is pointless if you’re not in tune, so before my guitar hits the DI, I run it through my Boss TU-3 Tuner pedal. The TU-3 is a very accurate chromatic tuner, which makes it versatile for alternate tunings. It also mutes while tuning which is handy.

Now that it looks like the T5 is going to stay on the road with me, I need to get a dedicated line for it, which means carrying a little more gear. So I’ve just ordered an LR Baggs Venue DI. It’s basically the same specs as the Para, just updated a bit and has a chromatic tuner built in for good measure.

Last, but certainly not least, are my Mono cases. The M80 series of guitar gig bags are without rival. They are durable, water resistant and not to mention… sexy! I feel like a rock star with these bags strapped to my back. Oh, and did I mention it is the best protection I’ve ever seen in a soft case? As airlines have started charging for every checked bag, I try to carry on all that I can. (This tactic also avoids the lost luggage dilemma when I’m traveling the same day as a show!)

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. With a different stage every night, bringing some of my own gear is one of the easiest things to help me feel at home.

Name Brand Labels

Ok, I’ve been inside my head all week. Mulling and obsessing as usual. Here’s what it looks like:

You may have caught the news, that former gothic novelist, Anne Rice has decried Christianity, in the name of Christ…Her words, not mine. With all the eloquent prose befitting her talents as a writer, she’s attempting to shed the label but not her faith.

The blogosphere went nuts; instantly posting, judging, cheering and jeering Ms. Rice’s exasperated expression. Many comments to the effect of “Get in or get out!”, “Put up or shut up”, “Be either hot or cold”…

I’ll be honest and say that after a week of ruminating over Ms. Rice’s comments I have experienced both elation and devastation on both sides of the coin. I so very deeply understand the frustration of identifying with the label of Christianity with which many parts of me seem incomplete when attempting to please all under its banner. At the same time, I have an acute awareness in recognizing that I am equally a powerful agent for the legacy, definition and culture of a diverse, mysterious faith.

But the questions that come to my mind this week are sociological/psychological in nature:

What are some of the labels I adopt, willfully or intrinsically?
Are there ones I wish I could choose/remove?
What is the value/effect of the personal adoption/rejection of these labels to me? To others?
Am I content with how the diverse elements of my life form the picture of my whole being?
Is it the label that makes me recognizable or valid?
Is the person I seek to be still honored without the assignment of grouping?

I know, I know- it’s a lot of questions. So let’s start small.
Here are a few ‘labels’ I have adopted and have been given:

woman, musician, artist, business woman, world traveler, writer, daughter, lesbian, country girl, student, employee, employer, leader, servant, Christian, Kansan, Australian, American…

I’m really curious, what are some of the labels you wear?

(click on this blogs header to view the comments section)

Links: Anne Rice Facebook, gestalt : principle of totality

Another view: Michael Rowe/Huffington Post; Alisa Harris/Patrol Online

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