The Pasture May Very Well be Greener on the Other Side…
When you are greeted by a trio of dairy princesses outside a local supermarket, it’s a fair bet you’re in farm country. Carver County farm country. The town of Waconia, exactly. Driving here from the usual start and end of Twin-City rush hour was remarkably refreshing and rural. A guy could get used to a little meandering down a few country roads of emerging corn rows on a Friday afternoon in early summer. What was about to transpire just down the road at the state of the art Waconia Performing Arts Center was an amplification of what germinated here 16 years ago.
Waconia’s very own Jenn Bostic and a treasure trove of global and local talent are here to support the release of Revival, her fourth record. I visit with her and song collaborators and co-performers, Bart Walker and Kyshona Armstrong before the show to discuss the project:
MIM: Yeah, that (song) title “Faint of Heart”, it’s rare when personal songs like that make an album, but you’re an independent artist, so you can do what you want, right?
Bostic: I can do what I want, yes.
Walker: Whether you like it or not.
Bostic: Oh, geez, yes (they both laugh).
MIM: Now, (Walker) you played on the album?
Walker: Uh, huh.
MIM: All the songs?
Bostic: Played on it, wrote on it, sang on it.
MIM: So, most of it (the album) has electric guitar, there is one song that had a little acoustic, but there are some real jazzy, bluesy tracks.
Bostic: He brings the blues out in me, for sure.
MIM: So, I mean, what inspired this compilation you’ve got. With your Berklee background, I mean that’s kind of a jazz school in many ways, it feels that way. That seems to be their push, but…
Bostic: Yeah, this is my fourth record, and I’ve done a lot of different styles of recording. So I’ve done kind of the go-out-to-Los Angeles, write a song that day, play the piano vocal, leave, the producer builds a bunch of tracks and sends an e-mail. You know, like it was really a fun learning experience, but for me, getting in with the band, and doing everything with a live feel, where everybody can feed off the energy of one another is what I prefer. Here in Minnesota, there’s a local band called Traveled Ground, and it was made up of a couple of teachers and guys from around town. My dad actually, before he passed away, he used to play accordion with them.
MIM: Oh, Wow.
Bostic: So, they’re the first band I ever saw live. When he passed away, the lead singer and guitarist, he kind of took me under his wing, and kind of saw something in my voice. And when I turned 16, asked me to sing on their first record.
MIM: Is that right.
Bostic: So, I’ve sang on their stuff since then. They’ve got four albums out now.
MIM: Oh, they’re still together?
Bostic: Yes, they’re actually playing tonight at Lola’s. So that’s where the afterparty is. I’ll go over there and jump up and do a couple with them. But, they kind of encouraged me and inspired me to start doing that bluesy, rootsy, Americana stuff. And then, when I moved to Nashville, as much as I dabbled in the pop…like I still love you know, Sara Bareilles and I love listening to pop radio still, but I love Bonnie Raitt, and Tedeschi Trucks (Band), you know…that kind of really raw emotion.
MIM: I picked up on some of that vocal style (from the album). Do you consider yourself like an alto sort of? I mean your range is actually wide. You can get up there is the stratosphere, almost like a soprano voice way up yonder, right?
Bostic: Yeah, it’s definitely a belt. It was a struggle getting there. I remember working with different vocal coaches growing up, and I think that the danger sometimes if you don’t learn properly, you’re gonna blow out your voice if it’s not done right. So, I had to learn proper technique. And then I went to Berklee and kind of really pressed in. I found a great voice teacher there, moved to Nashville and found another great voice teacher, and learned how to use my instrument differently, so I could do it flawlessly.
MIM: Is there anything special you want people to come away with from the album tonight? I mean this is the CD release. We’re focused on Revival. Obviously, the title has spiritual overtones, but there are others (songs) that…they’re not all going to be played on Christian radio, that wasn’t the idea, was it?
Bostic: No. So, for me, when I started working on this record…I’m a worship leader, we both are (pointing to Walker), and that’s at the root at why I started singing and why I still sing—and like to spread love into the world. And when I did this record, I’m always writing songs truly from my heart and stuff that I need to hear myself. Songs that are very encouraging and empowering, like I’m writing those because I need to be encouraged, so you’re writing through that stuff. And I think through that journey, I put them out into the world and people resonate with that, because we’re all going—overcoming some sort of obstacle through life. I think when I break it down, I want people when they listen to this to feel encouraged and empowered so they can overcome whatever is in their path and live a positive life full of joy.
MIM: So, what did you guys collaborate on?
Walker: “Love You” and “Wrong Thing.”
Bostic: Yes, and Bart, as you even said, when I mentioned that he was here, is an unbelievable guitarist and writer, and there’s just a feel that happens when you get in a room with him to write a song, and he’ll start playing something and it inspires a lyric or a melody instantly.
MIM: Is that how you like to work, with melody first? Or do you feel like the lyrics start first?
Walker: It’s different all the time, really for me. Inspiration comes from anywhere. A lot of times I’m sure I lean more—I would say a higher percentage comes from music, for me. Just noodling around and stumble somewhere, and think ‘that’s cool,’ and the more I play it, then something comes out of it. God pours it through me. Out of me. Kind of hands it too ya. Then you sit around and try to put it together, right? Puzzle pieces, then ya gotta reign it in.
MIM: Are we gonna get some guitar pedal tonight? Like different tones, or pretty straightforward?
Walker: Quite a few. Some Leslie stuff, some Otto stuff (by Line 6, I think). And…just guitar.
Bostic: I would say my writing stuff, almost—like I do get inspired by the music, but for me it probably focuses more on a lyric, or the way somebody says something or a phrase I hear, and that will make it take off in my brain. Where does that go, where does the bridge take it. The two songs we wrote for the record are very different. One is very rock, bluesy, in your face. A song about moving forward, not being so afraid of failing.
MIM:: That Is “Wrong Thing?”
Walker: Uh, huh.
Bostic: The other song we wrote together is “Love You.” Which is a love song about passionate commitment to someone else. Even when we wrote it, we both said, ‘man this would be a great country cut.’
Walker: Country duet.
MIM: I’ll bet that’s the one I heard that thought might be radio ready. I could hear that on radio right now.
Walker: We’d love to. (hearty laughs)
MIM:: Are you streaming anywhere, Pandora, Spotify?
Bostic: Yeah. Walker: Yeah.
MIM: Any of the older songs that you’re really excited about? I mean you’re probably gonna share some of the older songs too tonight.
Bostic: Yes. There are only a couple. To be honest, I wanted this to be focused on the new record. I have a song, I’ll do about 4 songs on my own at the piano. A couple of older songs. And then we do two as a band (older songs). The biggest song I’ve had is a song called “Jealous of the Angels,” which is about my dad who passed away, and growing up in this town, I mean this whole community of people embraced my family when that happened. And so, there is definitely a stronger, emotional connection playing that song, of course here. I’ll do that one.
MIM: You didn’t write that here, though?
Bostic: No, I was already in Nashville. I wrote it about 6 years ago. And it’s just been, I mean it went viral and went number one for me in England, and then other people have recorded it. It’s been crazy. We’ll do that one. We’ll do “Not Yet,” which is another big ballad, overcoming song. And then we’ll do “What Love Feels Like” that was on my Faithful album that was on the radio in England.
Walker: That was the first thing we did together…outside of church.
Bostic: Yeah, that is true.
MIM: What’s your friend’s name on stage (doing a soundcheck)?
Bostic: Kyshona Armstrong, but as an artist, she only goes by Kyshona.
(Kyshona enters the Green Room)
Bostic: Oh, here she is. We can ask her a couple of questions.
MIM: So, I hear you wrote a couple songs together.
Kyshona: Yeah, quite a few.
Bostic: She’s an amazing artist on her own, but every once in awhile I can get her to come sing when she’s not out touring in Europe and all that.
MIM: Where do you reside? Are you in Nashville or are you here?
Kyshona: I live in Nashville. Been there about four years (looking at Jenn)? Moved there from Atlanta.
MIM: Oh, Atlanta. Sweet. What’s like maybe your top songs you’re proud about writing together?
Bostic: Two that we wrote for this record specifically are “Haunting Me” and “Lonely.” Tonight, we’re going to be doing “Lonely” as a duet, which should be fun. We added a few new things that she’s saying we need to practice.
MIM: There’s nothing like live performance where you can add to your own music, that you can’t put on the record.
Kyshona: Exactly. Yeah.
MIM: Now you’re a guitarist too aren’t you (Bostic)? Didn’t I see some pictures of you with a guitar in hand.
Bostic: I have played guitar a little bit. It’s more—I’m definitely a songwriter, like every once in a while, puts a piece out on guitar. I wouldn’t call myself a guitarist.
MIM: (looking at Walker) Yeah, leave the guitar work in the hands of the professional, right?
Bostic: But Kyshona has an album out that we wrote a lot of songs together on. So that’s available.
MIM: What’s that called?
Kyshona: It’s called The Ride 2.0. A couple of the songs Jenn has on her record are also on mine, just totally different versions.
MIM: I haven’t heard any of your music, so do you find yours is a certain style or genre? Singer/songwriter?
Kyshona: To help everybody out, just say I’m ‘roots.’ So that includes gospel, blues, soul. You’re gonna get a touch along that—down south.
MIM: And you grew up in Atlanta?
Kyshona: No, I’m actually from South Carolina. A little town called Irmo, right outside of Columbia. I come from a family of gospel quartet players.
MIM: One last thing I was curious about (Jenn). What was your trigger point? I saw in your Berklee bio that you had an opportunity to go down to the Grand Ole Opry and perform briefly—was that a pivot point for you to say ‘hey I really want to pursue this for the rest of my life?’
Bostic: So, the first time I performed at the Grand Ole Opry, I was actually in high school, on a show choir trip. And so that definitely planted a seed of ‘I want to perform from this stage—like my own music.’ That was always a dream for me. I would say the pivotal moment, I mean I had already decided to do music, but when “Jealous of the Angels” kind of went viral in England, then the Opry invited me to sing on the Opry stage, so it was kind of coming around full circle. A month-long period of all these dreams coming true.
MIM: That was when you decided to be an artist. You were a writer, right?
Bostic: No, I kind of started as an artist. When my dad passed away, I was ten, and he was always kind of a musical influence for me. So, songwriting was kind of like therapy for me. Because it was my connection to him still, I threw myself into it. So that’s when I went out to Berklee. I did study music education. I didn’t have the confidence to be an artist, I didn’t think. I was encouraged to, but it was also going from a small town to a big city, you’re feeling everything out. By the time I was leaving college, I knew I wanted to be an artist. And I do love writing so much. Who knows what God’s got for you. You know, in the next few years. It’s a great thing right now I love doing…but the struggle is real. All three of us feel that at times, and it’s good we have each other.
Inside the Waconia Performing Arts Center
Thirty minutes before show time, dozens and dozens of cars fill a large portion of the parking lot of Waconia High School, and people pour into the auditorium after fanning their home-printed concert tickets with assigned seating to a busy staff member who is helping others with seat assignments. There is an honor code here, really.
The show starts at an unusual 7pm on a Friday night, a hint that this is a family-friendly event. There are people of all ages filling the seats. Allowing a little extra time for late-comers, the show kicks off with Kyshona sharing several songs with singer-songwriter finesse and an angelic voice. She easily masters her acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Opening with “On the Line,” she promptly exposes the audience to an easy-feel groove that makes one realize that worry is a waste of time, and the ‘sun is gonna set, and tomorrow it’s gonna rise, the flowers keep blooming, and birds are still on the line.’
With a background in music therapy, Kyshona has found a better way to share music’s therapeutic value by sharing her heart with the world publicly as an artist and writer. One of the songs she shares was co-written with Jenn Bostic, inspired by a theme of ‘finding grace in a graveyard,’ and is called “Burdens Down.” The music explains that laying your burdens down is a way to find a personal kind of relief.
In her seasoned performance style, she has an uncanny way of doing a call and response, repeating herself away from the microphone as needed. Kyshona happily leads the audience to sing along or clap during portions of a few choruses. They obey when she says, ‘here’s your part.’
Her close-to-the-heart song, “Same Blood” carries the message of how we ‘bleed the same blood,’ and that equality is a universal truth, but is an especially high-tension issue in America that we can overcome if we just think about how we’re really the same.
Her set ends 35 minutes later, and the audience is encouraged to visit with her in the lobby during an early break, while VIP ticket holders join Bostic in a secluded hallway for pics and exclusive music business chatter.
Bostic and Company Focus on Live Version of Revival
Backlit by a massive purple-blue screen on the back wall, the moving silhouettes of lead guitarist and vocalist Bart Walker, local musicians Alex Tackmann (drums), Ryan Butler (bass), and Jordan Hedlund (keys) hint that the main event is about to happen, as people return from the break. They launch into a sharply contrasting groove compared to Kyshona’s session, with Jenn’s leading song “Wrong Thing.” This mantra is about taking risks before this life is over:
But at the end of my days, at the pearly gates,
I don’t wanna stand there to say
I was so afraid of doin’ the wrong thing…
With a strong wah, wah pedal effect (I don’t use them, so I’m guessing) from Walker, they follow up with “Haunting Me,” after Kyshona and backup singer Jennifer Gulsvig join the party on stage. This is a lyrical and melodic masterpiece from Bostic and Kyshona that delivers with rich detail:
There’s a gunmetal blue on the walls in the room where we used to sleep
It keeps comin’ on through no matter how many coats of white I paint…
The enthusiasm from the stage is thick and personal from Bostic, noting how authentically her the album is, and how very thankful she is for the support tonight. ‘It’s been a work in progress for two years, and am delighted it’s finally out.’ But she dusts off a song from 2012 quickly into the set when sharing “Not Yet,” a song that notes the hardship of dreaming big and staying in the fight.
In short order, she has the audience practicing raising their hands upward for the chorus of “Hollywood,” a tune that pokes at the west coast flashy lifestyle that contrasts sharply with her middle-America modest upbringing. She paired that song with “Follow Your Own Star,” which meshed well with a similar, but stylistically different message of making your own way, and going against the grain.
Celebrating her love life and acknowledging her husband Michael’s presence in the audience, she belts out the sultry, smoky “Love You,” co-written with Walker.
It’s a memorable song that points to marriage and envisions ‘sittin’ in a rockin’ chair, with weathered skin and silver hair, spinnin’ this ring on my hand.’
Flashing back to her short yesteryear, she and the band share their version of “Love You Like a Man,” which she says was a ‘wildly inappropriate song for a 16-year old,’ when she learned it. We are given a glimpse of Bart’s confident bluesy vocals in a verse of his own, and of course his signature axe work is stunning. Other members of the band join in on the open measures to highlight their own artistry.
The stage darkens, and a spotlight focuses on Bostic at the grand piano in her brilliant orange-red dress with decorative embellishments. The wall screen on the stage comes alive with closeup video of her hands at the piano. She shares herself confidently and personally with her friends, family, and fans, pouring through “If You See Him,” and “Just One Day.” And being a realist, she doesn’t deny that relationships can be the source of joy…and angst. The tune “I Don’t Like You at All” is a lyrically comical song about that sort of friction for people who might live together.
And even though the focus of the night is Revival, Bostic, who is an unapologetic fan of Bonnie Raitt, shares her famous song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Reminding us why we’re there, she brings out another song from Revival called “Faint of Heart.” She confesses that songs don’t just pour out of her, and that chasing a dream takes work. When she wrote this song, it was a day when it didn’t seem like anything good could come out of it. But something did.
Out comes her very favorite song that she’s ever written, and the only song on the album that was written entirely by herself. Passionately, she invites the audience to pursue their dreams and to visit the photobooth out in the lobby to grab a picture of themselves holding the dry-erase board to write down a personal dream, followed by “is not for the faint of heart.”
As the show nears the end, a cluster of high school chamber choir singers join the band on stage and become the backup chorus for the very big arrangement of “Revival.” Beforehand, she invites everyone out to the lobby for a hug as they leave, but will respect those who don’t like hugging. The song has a rich gospel feel to it, but lyrically it is universal enough to be a tune about a personal revival about overcoming:
There’s a revival, comin’ this way
Yeah there’s a freedom that breaks every chain
Better get ready, it won’t be long
Before revival’s comin’ on
The evening would feel a little incomplete without hearing “Jealous of the Angels,” and the standing ovation draws Jenn out for an encore to share this very personal composition, that originally wasn’t intended to be shared with the world. Joined again by Gulsvig and Kyshona, they shared this live version that melded into a brief version of “Amazing Grace.” The show closes out with an extended live version of “What Love Feels Like.” The production is top tier. Bostic, Walker, and Kyshona brought it tonight.
Something big is on the horizon for Bostic. Whatever germinated here in Carver County farm country back then, is now bringing a harvest, one song at a time. And if anyone knows Bonnie Raitt, tell her Jenn will clear her schedule if she’d like a killer opening act. Jus’ sayin.’