Jennifer Markey: I was drawn to country because it's easy to play

Jennifer Markey: I was drawn to country because it's easy to play
Photo by Steve Cohen

What do you do when you lose your dad to a devastating illness while also undergoing a divorce? You sing a country song, of course, which is how local singer Jennifer Markey coped with a rough year she endured a decade ago. The country music stuck -- she and her band The Tennessee Snowpants are now beloved in the local country scene -- and this Saturday at Grumpy's Northeast, Markey pairs her love for country with her love for her dad in the third annual "Honky Tonk Fest," honoring Dad's memory and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Six country acts, including Markey's band and another visiting all the way from Austin, Texas, will perform at Saturday's event, which also promises prizes, a cakewalk and a photo booth. We caught up with Markey for some background on her dad, the benefit, and why Grumpy's was the obvious place for her to celebrate.

Gimme Noise: Honky Tonk Fest is held to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; can you tell us why you decided to host this benefit, and for this organization?

Jennifer Markey: My father died of leukemia in 2003; he was only sick for four months and our family was totally devastated. I was going through a lot at that time; an entrance into the music world, a divorce, a new relationship with a divorced father of two, and a full time job, so, as crazy as it sounds, I didn't have time to grieve. I do not recommend doing that, by the way, jumping into a relationship after a messy divorce. I don't have regrets, but that did make it very hard to deal with my father's illness and his death. Anyway, my dad's birthday is June 13 and we've never really done anything to celebrate his life; for me, at least, it was just too difficult. Ten years later and I still get weepy when I think about him. So, in 2011, I approached Pat Dwyer at Grumpy's and asked if we could do this. It was something I could do that might make a difference for someone else in the future, but it was something that wouldn't make me bawl like a baby. That time is coming but it will be on my own terms.

Jennifer Markey: I was drawn to country because it's easy to play

This is your third annual event -- for those who have attended in past years, what will be different about this year's festival?

Mostly, I hope that this year is bigger and better. We have an artist coming in from Austin, Texas that I'm really excited about, Leo Rondeau. He is doing true blue country revival the way country is supposed to be, the "real deal," as they say. This is the first year we've had an artist come in from out of town and I'm pretty jazzed about it. Also, something we're trying this year is a special deal created for folks who don't carry cash; you can donate $25 on your credit card and you receive a package deal: admission, six raffle tickets and unlimited cakewalk and photo booth. I talked to a friend who said she loves coming to benefits, but she feels bad because she doesn't carry cash and doesn't feel good about attending and not donating. So we've fixed that!

You're holding the show at Grumpy's again -- can you tell us about your connection to that venue?

Grumpy's is kind of a home base for me and my fiancé, Jon. I've always liked it because of the music connection, but it's also in our neighborhood and so many of our friends hang out there too. We almost always see someone we know when we stop in for a beer; one always turns into two or three because we end up hanging out with friends and having a good time. But the reason that bar is such a great neighborhood place is because of Pat and his incredible staff. I don't know any other bar owner in the city that would do the things he does for friends and this community; he really puts himself out there and it shows in the dedication people have to that establishment.
How did this year's lineup come together?

Trailer Trash has always been one of my favorite local bands; they've been playing forever and, to me, they are a great anchor band that can come back every year, draw a crowd and put on a fun show. The Cactus Blossoms are another outfit that are guaranteed to be amazing and draw a nice, and different, crowd. Dreadlock Cowboys feature Wain McFarlane of Ipso Facto. I know what you're thinking; Ipso Facto is a reggae band. C'mon, Jen, you're pushin' it. But my good friend Wain has been playing country music for years and nobody knows it! That dude knows a million songs and I'm confident that he is going to do something fantastic. Jillian Rae has been playing fiddle with other bands for years, but I recently saw her outfit on YouTube and I was super impressed. Her voice is incredible and her songwriting is top-notch! Her band is really tight too, so I asked her. We didn't know each other, amazingly! I like every year to have some of the same tried-and-true stuff, but I like to be a little crazy and take chances too, so I look for ways to switch things up.

You promise a Hee-Haw photo booth, a raffle, and an old-fashioned country cakewalk; tell us more.

Last year I decided I wanted a Kornfield County RFD backdrop so we could take Polaroid photos as souvenirs. Looking into it more, I found that Polaroid was way too expensive, so we decided we'd just ask for donations to use the backdrop for digital photos. My friend, artist Liz Schreiber designed and painted a beautiful backdrop that is just like the one on Hee Haw, except it features an extra detail that you'll just have to look for!

The ticket raffle features prizes from local businesses and artists, including The Anchor Fish & Chips, Ink Orchard Printing, Behind Bars Bicycle Shop, Konawerks Barber Shop, Sentyrz Grocery Store, Grumpy's, Matchbox Coffee, Liz Screiber, Doug Bratland and more. $2 a ticket and drawing will be at 8pm, so folks can take their prizes home if they choose.

The cakewalk will be done between sets and winners will enjoy treats made by local bakers, professional and home. There will be an array of baked goods available, and some fun consolation prizes as well.

We of course find it notable that this event features an all-country lineup. What drew you to country music? Was your father a country music fan?

I will be honest; I was drawn to country music because it's easy to play! Plus it was fun to sing and the lyrics were all about divorce, drinking and lost love, all of which was happening to me at the time I really dug into it. My father was a music fan, but he and my mom grew up in the era when country was their parents' music; it was super un-cool to watch Hee Haw! My dad loved The Mamas & the Papas and The Animals. But country is what I do, and it's what I know, so there you have it. But if my dad was still around to hear this stuff, I know he'd love it too.

Honky Tonk Fest is scheduled for Saturday 6/29, 2-9 p.m. at Grumpy's Northeast, $5 suggested donation.

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