The Wailin’ Jennys to perform in Breckenridge for the 1st time
Folk group continues Colorado tour with Summit County stop
The music industry can be fickle, and it often requires a lot of luck. Being in the right place at the right time has the ability to change career paths. Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Cara Luft are familiar with that firsthand.
Their group, The Wailin’ Jennys, was born out of a performance at a tiny guitar shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The store’s owner suggested the name, and it stuck. While the band was only supposed to play that single time, Mehta said they’re thankful that the energy and momentum from the tight Canadian music scene has propelled them beyond what they imagined.
“In retrospect, had we known the band was going to be around for 20 years, we might have chosen something different, but at the same time it’s done very well for us,” Mehta said of the name. “It catches people’s attention.”
Mehta, the mezzo-soprano of the trio, grew up singing but didn’t initially peruse it professionally. And instead of a piano or guitar, one of the first instruments she learned was an organ because her mom and sister both played it.
“I don’t know why we just didn’t have a piano,” Mehta said, laughing.
What: The Wailin’ Jennys
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: $30 to $40. Visit BreckCreate.org to purchase
After a year of lessons when she was young, she then switched gears to dance before eventually receiving a degree in media studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Mehta planned to go to graduate school, yet she took a year off to be a back-up singer and perform covers at coffee shops. She said she didn’t have intention of writing her own music, but that changed when the then-24-year-old grabbed a guitar.
Soon thereafter she released her solo album “Weather Vane” and then joined soprano Moody and alto Luft to create The Wailin’ Jennys. The band released “40 Days,” their first album, in 2004 and won a Juno Award, the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy. The band has since come out with four more albums, netting additional awards.
Mehta said they’re lucky for loyal fans and continued success.
“It’s an extremely hard business to be successful in,” Mehta said. “So few people actually have careers in music. I’m glad I didn’t realize the truth of that until I was already on my way. … We haven’t aimed for huge stardom, ever. We just want to write music we love to play — and play to the people we have.”
One aspect that helps The Wailin’ Jennys stay popular is the background of each member. Mehta said Moody brings a Celtic and Americana influence while alto Heather Masse now brings a jazz influence. Masse has been with the group for 15 years, replacing Annabelle Chvostek and founder Luft.
Meanwhile, Mehta is influenced British groups like the Eurythmics, The Wonderstuff, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Queen and more. Mehta said they never got stale because of the changing members, yet the harmonies are still recognizable.
The diversity extends to the groups instruments. Masse plays the upright bass; Mehta plays the guitar, harmonica, drums and ukulele while Moody plays guitar, banjo, accordion and an Irish drum, a bodhran.
The Wailin’ Jennys aren’t traditionally bluegrass but nevertheless have made it on the bluegrass charts. Mehta reckons that’s because of the Moody and the banjo, similar to how placing guitar in someone’s hands turns them into a singer-songwriter by default. The international folk group jumps genres and has played everywhere from the aptly-named Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival to Stagecoach, the country version of Coachella. However, Mehta said it was Garrison Keillor’s public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” that led to them finding footing in the States.
Hiatuses due to side projects or personal reasons have also helped the artists remain creatively sharp.
“We have five kids between us and needed to take four breaks because I had twins,” Mehta said. “We had to take four years off throughout and people kept coming back and more people came. … We’ve done everything ‘wrong’ that you’re trying to do when building a music career, but it has worked for us.”
One of those extracurriculars is Mehta’s children book that released in 2018. Called “Away But Never Gone,” it is based on her same-named lullaby found on The Wailin’ Jennys’ 2011 “Bright Morning Stars” record.
Mehta said her songs often include death as a topic, and the book serves as meditation on life and death to act as a grief aid for young children.
“I think there aren’t enough resources out there for people about death in general — especially with little kids and trying to explain to them what has happened,” Mehta said.
Following the start of the coronavirus pandemic, The Wailin’ Jennys resumed touring in fall of 2021. They visited Colorado in August and are playing in Boulder and Steamboat Springs before coming to Breckenridge. Though familiar with the state, Mehta said they are excited for their first performance in Breckenridge.
At the show, the audience will hear the trio as well as accompanying musicians. Richard Moody, the soprano’s brother, tours with them and plays the viola, violin and mandolin. Anthony da Costa joined the group in 2021 and plays the electric and acoustic guitar.
“It’s a great ensemble. It’s so much fun,” Mehta said. “They’re killer players. Everybody is in a good place, and it feels really cohesive.”
Following the tour, Mehta said they’ll start work on the next album. A basic plan is set and they’ve tested some songs out on the road, but she said they hope to spend a block of time on it in December, and they are aiming for an early 2024 release.
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