LIVE: Joe Jencks @ 8th Step at Proctors, 03/11/2022

Joe Jencks Takes An Enthralled Eighth Step Audience To Ireland  

Boy, was I wrong about this guy. 

Admittedly, I was outside my wheelhouse when I interviewed Joe Jencks to advance this concert, on Friday, March 11th. I’m a blues enthusiast first and a generic music journalist second. 

Jencks has a decades old relationship with the Eighth Step and is one of Director Margie Rosenkranz’s favorite acts, but my research on him led me to believe he was an academic, the performing equivalent to a writer who authors a 300-page tome that has 50 pages of notes and acknowledgments in the back of the book. The kind of person who comes to his subject second hand.  

I was wrong. 

Jencks is living his heritage, and the picture he painted of his dual American/Irish citizenship was matched by his deep and rich baritone and a mastery of guitar which he obsessively re-tuned throughout his two sets that with a 20-minute intermission lasted almost three hours. 

He was doing all the talking and singing, but he made you feel like he was engaging with you, back and forth, one on one. So comfortable was he in his role that even though he again and again tuned his guitar between songs, sometimes for minutes at a time, you didn’t care. After all, we had all the time in the world.  

Everyone in the GE Theater at Proctor’s relished that we were live together in one room experiencing live music. Who would ever have thought two years ago that such an experience would become rare, and that we’d engage in it like a starving child eating their first peanut butter and jelly sandwich in years.     

Joe had driven 1000 miles from Chicago to play this concert. Standing alone next to a tiny stage amp that looked like something a garage band would have, he delivered his songs and stories with operatic intensity and painted a history of Ireland as a country very different from the cliched vision most Americans have of St. Patricks’ Day with its excuse to get drunk while wearing a uniform of green. 

His vision of Ireland is one of extreme deprivation under the thumb of Great Britain, an overseer that stole their harvest and in effect starved millions in the potato famine of the mid-19th century. The comparisons to Ukraine, never outwardly stated, are chilling. Jencks’ Ireland is one of poets and artists. Whiskey is a sacrament, not a poison, and he is an ambassador whose combination of originals and covers had me thinking that my high school and college history lessons on Ireland are as whitewashed as that of slavery in the United States. 

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