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Homegrown Plus: Joe Jencks

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Portrait of Joe Jencks, with the Homegrown 2020 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2020 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."
Joe Jencks. Photo used by permission of Joe Jencks.

By now, experienced readers know how these Homegrown Plus posts work: we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with our friend Joe Jencks, who is an accomplished singer-songwriter but also a lover of traditional songs, especially work and labor songs. For his Homegrown concert, he performed an entire set of songs from the AFC archive, making this concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge.

Joe’s path to performing in the Homegrown series began through meetings with him at the Folk Alliance International conference. Most years, Jennifer Cutting and I attend the conference, which is a meeting of musicians, producers, promoters, folklorists, and others with a stake in the art and business of folk music. We’ve known Joe for years as a regular Folk Alliance attendee, both as a solo artist and as a member of the excellent trio Brother Sun. In fact, I have some amusing memories of Folk Alliance meetings involving Joe. He and I have a passing resemblance, which was stronger in those days when our hair was more similar. As a result, the day after Joe played one of his excellent showcases, either solo or with Brother Sun, I was always congratulated by several people, who would say things like, “Great job last night, Joe!”  The first few times this happened, I corrected the mistaken fans, which left them disappointed and embarrassed. So after a while, I learned to just smile and say thanks!

Three men lean on a windowsill; they are inside the building looking out.
Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks, and Pat Wictor are Brother Sun. Photo used courtesy of Brother Sun.

About five years ago, Joe talked to us about performing in the Archive Challenge, a Folk Alliance showcase in which artists perform materials from the American Folklife Center archive. We were eager to have him, and after several appearances in the Archive Challenge, it was a natural progression for Joe to learn a whole set of songs from the Archive and perform them as a Homegrown at Home concert. We’re delighted that Joe took the challenge, and we think he did a fantastic job in his exemplary concert video.

By now, you’re ready to watch the concert.  See it in the player below!

In my conversation with Joe, we talked primarily about music. Joe is conservatory-trained, and mentions influences including classical compositions as well as pop musicians such as Procol Harum, the Moody Blues, Billy Joel, and many others. Of course, he also talks about folk music, both in archives and among his friends and collaborators, including Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Reggie Harris, and Ysaye Barnwell. It’s a fun exploration of the mind of one of our favorite contemporary folk musicians. Watch it in the player below!

As another bonus, we have one of Joe’s Archive Challenge videos online as well. Find it in the third player below.  (We hope to get at least one more of Joe’s videos online, and if we do, we’ll add it to this blog!)

You can find all three of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link, the oral history at this link, and the Archive Challenge at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.


  1. Lovely! Thank you. Good songs well sung, something we all need more of right now.

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