After another break, the Wailin’ Jennys are back


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The Wailin' Jennys are arguably one of Winnipeg's greatest success stories.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2014 (3075 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Wailin’ Jennys are arguably one of Winnipeg’s greatest success stories.

There are the perennial sold-out shows in the United States, their frequent appearances on American institution A Prairie Home Companion, the TV placements (The Parting Glass was used in the Walking Dead Season 3 trailer), the Juno Awards and the rave reviews from fans and critics alike who have been knocked out by the Jennys’ three-part harmonies.

But success to the band — whose ranks include founding members Ruth Moody (soprano) and Nicky Mehta (mezzo), along with Heather Masse (alto) — isn’t defined by those traditionally accepted markers. These women don’t have time for industry politics. They don’t play anyone’s game but their own.

Rare is the self-managed band that can survive two hiatuses — Mehta and Masse are both mothers — lineup changes and, in Moody’s case, a burgeoning solo career. In fact, Saturday night’s show at the Burton Cummings Theatre is the long-awaited release show for 2011’s Bright Morning Stars.

But the Jennys endure.

“It’s been surprising in some respects, because you never know how taking time off will affect your career,” Mehta says. “A lot of people said it was career suicide, but we never felt like the band’s success is more important than what we want to do for ourselves. And I think our fans appreciate that we do these things for ourselves.”

By tuning out the fear and the what-if-everyone-forgets-about-me? anxiety that hums through the music industry in 2014, the Jennys can pour all of their energies into creating music that’s built to last. If there’s one word one could use to describe the band’s music, it’s timeless. And over three full-length records — 2004’s 40 Days, 2006’s Firecracker and Bright Morning Stars — as well as a live album, 2009’s Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, the Wailin’ Jennys have established a dedicated fanbase.

People connect to the Jennys’ music in meaningful, powerful ways.

“This band is what it is because of the way our fans have stuck with us and because they remind us why we’re doing it in the first place, and it’s probably them who make us continue to aspire to doing meaningful work instead of chasing for some level of success or status,” Mehta says, acknowledging that it hasn’t always been easy to keep the Jennys going.

And then there are the emails. Many fans take the time to write personal letters to Mehta, Moody and Masse detailing the ways in which their music has been there for them during the worst times in their lives.

Mehta shares a heart-wrenching message from a woman who used the Wailin’ Jennys song Arlington at her husband’s memorial service after he took his own life.

“I am now raising my daughter on my own and listening to your music,” the woman wrote. “Sometimes she asks me to sing Arlington to her when she is lying in bed at night with the lights out. I think it’s her way of feeling a connection with her beloved daddy, since she remembers it from the memorial service, too. I wonder if you had considered the legacy and impact your music may have on little souls still forming and memories they will carry the rest of their lives.”

“When you get emails like that, you realize that you have a place in people’s lives,” Mehta says. “It’s an honour to be able to play music like that.”

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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