For Austin guitarist Jackie Venson, opening for Gary Clark Jr. on tour this past fall began the same way every night. Venson and her band would walk out onstage to the sound of cheers from sold-out audiences, excited because the show was about to begin—and as soon as Venson slung her Strat over her shoulder, the crowd would go silent.
“They’re all just standing there confused, and I know what they’re thinking,” she says with a laugh. “ ‘Oh no. I hope she’s good. I’ve never seen a girl that’s good.’ It’s like they get this train-wreck anxiety. There’s no other reason why 3,000 people would get quiet all at the same time.”
The tension never fazes her though, because she knows what’s coming next. “They’re gonna love it and realize that yes, I can stand up to Gary Clark Jr., and were nervous for no reason. I start the song and within four seconds, they’re screaming. I love it.”
A classically trained pianist who didn’t pick up an electric guitar until her final year at Berklee College of Music (“It just didn’t feel right, devoting my life to playing old dead guys’ music.”), Venson credits her return to her hometown in Austin and its supportive artistic community with shaping her skills so quickly. After sitting in on blues jams for a few years, she assembled her own band in 2013 and has since released two full-length albums and three EPs.
Her latest EP, Transcends, was born from a concept to craft an album out of songs with one-word titles. An electrifying five-song collection of those songs that shared a common theme of “universal love and acceptance and transcending all the weird darkness we experience as humans,” it showcases Venson’s blues and funk-influenced playing, full of empowerment to face the turbulent times we’re in.
“The state of the world when I wrote the songs was bad, but that was before certain people took office. This was before it got way worse,” says Venson. “It was a very strange coincidence. But that’s alright. At least we’re all in it together and music can give us all something to love and have in common.”
• GUITARS 2016 Fender Elite Stratocaster, 1958 Les Paul Junior reissues
• AMPS Fender Blues Junior, Fender Blues Deluxe
• EFFECTS Boss DD-7 delay, Keeley-modded Boss DS-1 distortion, Boss RC-30 looper with an Electro-Harmonix POG for bass line loop, Roland SPD-SX drum pad