Back in December 2016, the Austin American-Statesman’s website featured several Texas musicians performing Christmas songs. The first band was the Old 97’s, so that’s what brought me to the page. I decided to listen to the rest of the artists and one of them, from Austin, made an impression on me. I checked out Jackie Venson’s website and signed up for her email list. Turns out she was going to be in NYC and I planned on going to see her. When I got to the LES club, the line was around the corner and I didn’t feel like standing on line or standing inside a small crowded club after a long day and I went away disappointed.
But recently I got an email that Venson would be back in NYC this month. Four nights in three boroughs – one in Brooklyn, two in Manhattan, and one in Queens. Between my schedule and thinking about travel, I decided to go to LIC Bar in Long Island City. I’d been there once before when my friends The TarantinosNYC played there. It’s a good-looking dive bar with an outside patio. That night it was quiet and the band set up in the back of the bar. This time I walked into the bar at 5pm on a Sunday and it was packed. And it was loud – with people talking and with a blasting sound system.
I had just walked through the rain from the subway station (after the weather website told me that the rain would be over at 4pm) and I was not in the greatest mood. I found a small space at the very end of the bar right in front of the stage. This time the back of the bar was filled with tables, which were filled with people. Opposite the bar was a very small riser and a guy was setting up the mics, amps, and drums. The stage is so small the band members were each behind each other. I ordered a sangria and waited. Then all the people in the table right next to me got up and left, so I sat down. Others joined me at the table. An older blind man was led to the drums and a young man was at the bass. At about 5:40pm, Venson got on stage and her smile filled the room.
She started singing and people started taking notice, although there were still many at the bar who were still more interested in their conversations. Then she started shredding her guitar. I love a woman who kills on electric guitar. Tell all the boys to go home – this woman has come to play and you can’t touch her.
As the band performed, more people left the bar, which was a shame in one way because they missed seeing a great show. But it was great that those who remained were attentive. It was fun to see people’s faces as they watched her perform and they realized they were watching magic and possibly history – this is someone who very much could have a long successful career ahead of her and we got to see her in a dive bar in LIC.
Venson was born and raised in Austin and mentioned that that’s as rare as a native New Yorker. She asked who in the audience was born and raised in NYC and four of us raised our hands. Her father is Andrew Venson, a prominent Austin musician in the 1980s.
Venson studied classical piano at the Berklee College of Music. She liked Boston, especially when she could go outside. But she missed seeing the sun and the warmth of Austin. One day she heard the blues song “Nice and Warm,” which made her think of how she felt about Boston and she decided she needed to learn how to play blues guitar so she could play that song. And that’s the direction her life went.
She adds some looping and effects but the effect is pure. So is her singing voice. Both the bassist and drummer were wonderful (Venson introduced them several times but she spoke so fast that I didn’t catch their names.)
After the show, I bought the three CDs she had for sale and the bassist asked if I was one of the native New Yorkers and I confirmed that I was born and raised in Queens. After I left, I realized that I should have told Venson the story about how I’d first heard [about] her and how I was so looking forward to seeing her live. Instead I just said, “Thank you,” and left.
By Carene Lydia Lopez