Joe Jencks

Joe Jencks: NYC, Kerrville, TX   NEW CD

In This Newsletter

  1. Upcoming Performances: NYC, Schenectady, Kerrville, San Antonio
  2. New CD Complete: Links In A Chain
  3. Notes From The Road: Winnipeg and the Spirit of 1919

Dear Friends

It has been an eventful spring. The new record is complete, and will be (pre) released at the Kerrville Folk Festival next week, where I will play on Main-Stage opening night! I just had a magnificent trip to Winnipeg, headlining at the May Works Festival, and I will be performing in New York this weekend.

First, this weekends events:
FMSNY/ Pine Woods: Friday May 15th, NYC
Eight Step Concerts: Saturday May 16th, Schenectady, NY

And next week:
Kerrville Folk Festival Main-Stage (May 21st)
Kerrville Folk Festival Ballad Tree (May 23rd)
Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Round (May 27th)

Plus, upcoming concerts on the 30th and 31st in San Antonio, TX. Full concert details available at

The New CD: Links In A Chain
So those of you coming to Kerrville will be the first ones on the block to get it! We will be mailing pre-orders out in early June, and the radio campaign begins in earnest in July. I am very proud of this addition to my catalogue, merging original material with tributes to some of my favorite writers and mentors. The theme, Links In A Chain, speaks to a great many matters both musical and personal, and there are extensive liner notes and some great photography that help tell the story. Cover songs include works by Phil Ochs, Bob Gibson, Rod MacDonald, Chet Powers, Earl Robinson and Mark Spittal.  Original songs include, On Eireanns Shore, Fire Flies, Crossing Over, Love Is The Reason, and of course Links In A Chain.

The disc features guest appearances by Jon Carroll (Keyboards), Jim Robeson (Electric Upright Bass), and Pat Wictor (Guitars). In addition, a Grammy Winning team of engineers, Charlie Pilzer (Airshow) & Jim Robeson (BIAS) helped create a warm yet pristine sound. My thanks to these gentlemen for another great record!

The recording process was hair-raising as usual, with the last recording session captured at the aptly named Cliffhanger Studios, in NY.  The production was speedy too! We worked for 10 days, spanning 2 weeks, 3 states and 4 studios and a partridge in a pear tree! And it sounds fantastic. I am excited to hear your comments.

Many thanks to those who preordered, providing nearly half of the recording budget!!! Much gratitude! And for those who did not get on the bandwagon please do order the new CD, and help us take care of the other half of that budget! Orders can be placed via e-mail, ( or phone (206) 619-4104.

Notes from the road

So I mentioned that I was in Winnipeg, Manitoba this last weekend. I was invited up to sing at the May Works Festival. May Works is a great celebration of the power and value of working people throughout North American History, especially in Winnipeg. Back in 1919, the laborers of Winnipeg rejected the usual scraps and dregs that were being handed them by the establishment and called for a general strike. The call went our across the city, and miraculously, workers from every industry and walk of life, workers from every ethnic and religious group answered the call for solidarity! The unified statement sent by the workers was unprecedented in North American history. Never before had laborers in the US, Canada or Mexico affected such a successful and organized effort to protest inhumane working conditions, child labour, and starvation wages. For nearly six weeks, the laborers took over Winnipeg, and affected a marked increase in the respect that the establishment had for Labour.

The Annual May Works Festival is a celebration of the on-going spirit of 1919, and a marvelous reminder that the work of our hands still has value and that we should stand up with pride for our efforts, be they driving a truck, sweeping a floor, teaching a child or singing a song. Our work has value. All of it!

I had lunch with my wife in Chicago the day I flew up to Winnipeg. It was about 78 degrees as we sat on the sunny shores of Lake Michigan and had our picnic. As I left the terminal in Manitoba only a few hours later, it was ZERO degrees and snowing. May 7th friends! And I had not even thought to bring a sweater. I was greeted by folk stalwart Mitch Podolak and spirited away to his house for some great stories and good company. The next day, I was heading out of my hotel to meet my other host, Derek Black. Derek is the organizer who lends focus to Mitchs dreams. They are like two peas in a pod but opposite ends of the pod.  Anyway, I was on my way out of the hotel, and was approached by an African-Canadian about the Obama pin on my jacket.

He said very apologetically, May I have your pin? I tried so hard to get Obama buttons up here, but they were always back ordered, and we never did get our shipment. I would just love to wear that pin!

Without a moments hesitation, I removed the campaign button from my jacket and handed it to him with a firm handshake. The smile on his face could have lit up half of Winnipeg. I felt right, fostering a little international goodwill! It was my last one, but hey! Why not share the wealth right? Besides I had a nagging feeling that it was important to give him the pin. So I did.

So that night, Derek drove me out to Brandon, MB for a concert I was giving there. We talked all the way out about the history of Labour in Canada, families, work, passions etc. It seemed like less than two hours. When we got to Brandon, the local Polish Community Hall (Sokol Hall) had been decked out for Brandons May Works celebration. The parade of workers led by bag-pipes (kilted men and all) arrived at the hall and the festivities began. Honoring of fallen workers, awards for friends of Labour, and a righteous Polish dinner including sausage, cabbage rolls, and perogies. GREAT perogies! I led the assembled in singing Solidarity Forever, and then gave a two-hour concert. It was amazing. As I sang songs from the American Labor movement, I realized how common our heritage was as workers. They knew every one of the old standards, and sang along with vigor.

After the concert, I saw someone wearing a cool Brandon Labour Council pin. I asked if I could buy one locally for a friend in the states, and the woman immediately took it off of her coat and handed it to me. Now I do believe in Karma, but it so rarely reciprocates in such an immediate fashion. Pin for pin on the same day? I headed back to Winnipeg for the night. Content with humanity and spirit, and wondering what marvels my third day in Canada might bring.

Well the third day was my guest appearance with the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra. Thats right, I said Mandolin Orchestra. Wow! It was astounding. If you have never heard a Mandolin Orchestra go find one. Look them up on the intranet and get thee to a show! I was grinning from the moment the conductors baton struck the first note until the very end. From classic Russian composers to modern Canadians the repertoire was first rate. In my mind, I could see young immigrants coming to dances in the hall, I could see union meetings going on in there through the decades. I could see the challenges of life over those same decades forgotten by all on a Saturday night in The Hall.

The Winnipeg ensemble dates back to the 1920s and the performance took place in the regal Ukrainian Labour Temple. It is a sight to behold. It was built all by volunteer labour in 1918 and 1919. It stands resplendent even still, and is a Canadian National Historic Landmark. Cyrillic writing all around, beautiful woodwork, statues of the ancestors, and brilliant paints that could have been copied from the domes of St. Basils Cathedral in Moscow! I rarely get nervous on stage anymore. But I was nervous that night. And it was not the people in the room that had me on edge it was the ancestors the spirit of the people who had filled that room since it was built in 1918 asking us if we would carry on the legacy they built? Wow.

The ULT was built as part of a larger community movement in Canada back in the day called the UFLTA or Ukrainian Farm Labour Temple Association. There were chapters in various other places in Canada. And from this community, one of the most successful peoples co-ops in North American history was brought to fruition.

In 1928, some younger members of the Winnipeg UFLTA decided that they wanted to set up a model of commerce that would help people in the community rather than take from them. They set up a co-op. At first they were sourcing fuel, coal, and wood for members. Shares were sold, and even in the first year, they paid dividends in excess of 4% to share holders, while providing better wages to their workers than similar employers.

They quickly went into the dairy business, and for nearly seven decades, provided the best quality dairy products Winnipeg has seen. All the while, they maintained solid wages, higher than normal benefits, paid the milk producers better than average rates for their products, and paid dividends to share holders at rates up to 8%! In addition members could start savings accounts at the co-op, and rates of return were between 5% and 18% depending on the times. All the while, they provided the highest quality products to the consumer at lower than average prices! How were they able to do this? Because the company was owned 100% by its members and employees. The company was at all times in service to the members. They were a cooperative rather than capital driven corporation. AMAZING!

It was called the Peoples Co-Op. And it was. I say was, as it was disbanded in the mid 1990s. But they ran lumberyards, and other co-op ventures, built affordable housing that members could apply to live in, and they did so in the face of numerous political and economic attacks. They provided assistance to people decimated in Winnipegs many floods, and they provided a great deal of free dairy to the needy, mental health institutions, retirement communities, schools etc. They were able to accomplish all of this because their primary goal was not profit per se, but progress. Progress with a social conscience! Many of us are willing to pay more for Green products or Organic products. Why not a Fair Wage sticker on your banana?

They had their own labour union as well. The workers tried being a part of the mainstream labor movement many times, but were always pushed out as they were accused of being communists. The Teamsters refused them entry unless they were to purge from the company all such persons as would support a communist agenda. That was basically the whole darned outfit. But they were not out to advance a political agenda so much as an economic model of cooperation. They wanted to show what a corporation whose goal was not profit but rather service could accomplish. And they were remarkably profitable while they were at it. What made them different was what they did with the profits. They reinvested them 100% in the employees, the shareholders and the community. And the differential in salary between the line workers and the management was almost nonexistent compared to modern corporate structures.

Politicians accused them of funding Communist Russia, and tried to have them shut down many times. Horrific and unfair articles appeared in the newspapers about them but they went on. They had no official policy of supporting political causes in any country other than Canada, where they did openly support a long-term communist member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. But they really got under the skin of corporate dairy interests, as they were able to provide a better product at a lower price, and were thus exceedingly competitive for many decades. People still lament the loss of Co-Op Cream Cheese. It was apparently the best anyone ever tasted and it is rumored that it contributed to the best cheesecakes in North America.

But alas the corporate farming conglomerates made them all but obsolete by the mid 1990s. And so they closed the doors and sold the equipment and facilities to the employees, who merged with a larger corporate dairy. And then, the Co-op Board spent years closing out accounts and running down shareholders many of whom did not even know they still had shares. In some cases those shares were worth genuinely substantial sums of money. During the Great Depression, the Co-op was all that stood between hundreds of families and abject poverty and they came through it together, while paying workers better than most employers. They came through all sorts of external persecution and slander, through wars and good times and they were the first stop for immigrants in Winnipeg, looking for a break. And they gave those breaks to thousands of people over the years.

It was a beautiful dream that lasted nearly 70 years. Cooperation. How many American firms can boast that kind of community service record, that kind of employee support, and still turn out the highest quality product in their field for 70 years? Cooperation will win the day. I feel so much like Don Quixote as I wonder this marvelous continent suggesting that there must be a better way. Well I finally found a long-standing viable model for a different sort of economy and I cant wait to learn more.

So as I stood on stage last Saturday night, in the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg, I was nervous. I was nervous not because of the Mandolin Orchestra, not because of the audience, but because of the Standing Room Only feeling that the ancestors filling that hall gave to me. They are still alive in spirit and asking us if we are going to do right by the visions and dreams they labored to carry forward. We stand on their shoulders, and they are asking us to honor what they worked so hard to build. It was they who made me nervous. I wanted to be worthy of the legacy of that room.

I wanted to be worthy of my own ancestors legacy. From County Kildare and Alsace Lorraine, from Wales and from Quebec, from Rhode Island prior to the American Revolution I felt my ancestors calling out to me, asking me to honor their sacrifices and to help build a future that we can all be proud of.  And then one day, hand it off to a bunch of kids who will never know what we went through to make it this far. Just as we will never fully understand what our ancestors went through to get us here.

I was nervous because I still dont know if I am worthy of their legacy, or able to pay it forward in a meaningful way but I will keep trying. And that is perhaps all the ancestors ask. That we continue to be Links In A Chain!

Well, I am here to tell you those links are strong in Winnipeg, and in so many other places. We live in difficult times and yet we also live in a world our ancestors could have scarce imagined. We have solutions to problems they would have thought insurmountable.

The trip culminated on Sunday with the official May Works Festival concert. It was a fantastic co-bill show with Anne Feeney and myself. We had dinner at great Sushi place before the show too. And then it was back on the plane and back to Chicago like slowly emerging from a dream. But a dream that changed me. And now as I close my eyes  I can hear the weighty and yet light-hearted strains of the Mandolin Orchestra recanting musical stories of the ancestors and see the vivid colors of the Ukrainian Labour Temple and smell the perogies and taste the crisp Polish beer, and feel the ancestors dancing on a Saturday night free of cares at least until Monday.                  Copyright  2009 Joe Jencks

In Gratitude & Song...