Mile of Music Interview: Joy Clark

Photo by Smouse

Last updated on August 12th, 2023 at 01:45 pm

New Orleans-born singer-songwriter Joy Clark celebrated her second Mile of Music Festival by bringing a calm wave of radiating positivity to all of her sets. Clark has received national accolades for creating soulful songs that celebrate peace and the overwhelming power of love. Her contributions to the Black Opry and her all-encompassing passion for performing make her an important voice in the music industry.

Photo by Smouse

Music in Minnesota: I read in your bio that your music is described as “a balm to the anxious heart,” which is something we all need in today’s world. When you’re playing on stage, do you feel the vibe of the audience? Do you get a sense of an emotional change that happens in the room?

Joy Clark: Some of it is presenting your art on stage. Sometimes things can come in where you’re like, “Oh, should I play this? Am I changing the mood of the room? Are people gonna leave? Are people picking up what I’m putting down?” So my job is to really tune into myself first. I can’t figure out what people need, but I can figure out what I need at the moment, and if that resonates with them, then they’re gonna latch onto it. I’m sharing, and whatever lands will land. And if it doesn’t, then it’s okay.

MiM: This is your second time at Mile of Music. What makes this one stand out to you?

Clark: The literal care that it gives to artists and bands. I don’t know of any other festival where the artists are the centerfolds. It’s not just, “Oh, we’re coming to play our music and sell our merch.” It’s like, “What do you need? Oh, you need a bed, you need this?” Everybody’s really happy to see us. It doesn’t feel extractive. I know it sounds a little cliche, but it does really feel like a community, even among artists. There’s not a feel of competition. We’re all playing stages. We have the same rooms to eat in. It’s not separate or tiered. There’s a warmth here in Appleton, it’s like a little heaven.

Photo by Smouse

MiM: For you personally, what value do you get from playing this festival? Is it the networking side? Is it getting in front of fans that maybe don’t know you?

Clark: I’m a people person. I really enjoy just meeting people whom I haven’t met before or who haven’t heard my music yet. I feel it’s really organic. If you’re looking for a way to expand and broaden your audience and just get more ears on your music, I think this festival is unique in that we’re sort of all together and really genuine. And there’s no frills about it. You walk up on stage, and the people are right there. They can talk to you right after. There’s no barrier between the artist and the fans or supporters.

I just had an experience with a woman named KK. One of my songs, “Tell It To The Wind,” I had just performed. She came up to me after, and she said, “That’s my song. I bawled, and it just resonated with me.”And I’ve never met her before, but now she’s heard a song that helped her and touched her, and she got to tell me about it.

Photo by Smouse

MiM: In covering Mile of Music and other festivals, I’ve seen an increased representation of LGBTQ and black artists in the lineups in recent years. I know you’re very involved with the Black Opry and helping to push that representation. When you’re planning out your shows and where you want to go, are there conversations that come into play to make sure you’re being put in the right spots?

Clark: I want everyone to have access to my music. I live in New Orleans, so our culture is open. So I never feel like I don’t want to go to a certain place when I’m touring. My job as an artist is to be authentically who I am wherever I go, no matter if it’s in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska or in San Francisco. I am a black queer woman. I’m from New Orleans. I don’t really think about whether I’ll be accepted somewhere. This is my job, this is my ministry, and intimacy is my superpower.

Photo by Smouse

MiM: In all of your photos and videos, you have a smile that just radiates positivity and happiness. But obviously, life on the road, traveling and playing music, can be a really tough job. Where does that inner strength come from?

Clark: This is a great question. I appreciate you for asking this question because there are some people that think I just walk around with a plastic smile. I guess I’m an incredibly blessed person. I think the positivity that radiates from me is because I absolutely know what it feels like to be done. There are no positive songs without hopelessness.

My name is Joy, but I’m saying that comes from never feeling like I’m in the right place, or times where I’ve been othered, or where I’ve felt ostracized. So the fact that I’m able to do the thing that I love to do and really feel like I am in my calling, that’s where it comes from. This is a very lonely job, but I just go back to knowing that I created my world.

MiM: Have you ever played in Minnesota?

Clark: Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” But the Mississippi River starts there, right? So there’s a connection to my home. Ellen Stanley has a show called Womenfolk Radio. She featured my EP on that station maybe last year and played my music the whole month. I feel a connection just by her showing me love out of the blue. Shout out to Ellen Stanley, who put me on and put so many other artists on. She’s a real one, and I appreciate it, so I can’t wait to come to Minnesota.

Photo by Smouse

Written by Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.


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