Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 30, 2014
The Skylark Lounge staffer who introduced 24-year-old singer and guitar-slinger Jackie Venson was effusive about his excitement. Hosting the CD release party for her debut full-length album, "The Light in Me" cemented the club’s role in helping to launch Venson’s career and he couldn’t be happier, describing the young talent as "incredibly special." By the end of a fantastic set that ran over 90 minutes without a single lull, everyone in the steamy, packed bar got it. With an astonishing mix of raw soul, superb musicianship and laid back grace it was easy to believe that we were participating in the origin story of Austin’s next great export — a Gary Clark Jr. level talent who speaks boldly through her guitar while simultaneously entrancing with her gorgeous smoky voice.
Venson’s set roamed effortlessly between genres. She dabbled in jazz and soul, but some of the strongest moments were those she spent, in true Austin fashion, "paying her dues to the blues." Her fingers flew furiously across the fretboard as her guitar wailed gutsy riff after gutsy riff, screaming for relief.
In between songs, Venson was easy going, chatting with the audience like your goofy best friend. At about the halfway point, she confessed her love of hip-hop. "If you don’t take anything else from the show tonight, take this: hang out with rappers," she said, proclaiming a posse of rhyme-slingers an easy cure for a boring life. Then she brought local rapper K.J. Hines who appears on a couple tracks on the album to the stage. She seemed ecstatic to be vibing with Hines, backing him up on guitar and stepping in to sing choruses.
An unselfish performer who lit up whenever one of the guys in her three-piece backing band dropped a particularly impressive solo, her unadulterated love of music was apparent throughout her set. Given that, it makes sense why, as she confessed after the show, she was miserable at the Berklee College of Music. She described the highly acclaimed program’s hyper-competitive atmosphere as "‘American Idol’ the school." She hated the school so much she pushed herself to graduate early, but one good thing came from the experience. It was there, surrounded by guitarists, that she first felt inspired to pick up a six-string herself.
Back in Austin, where she can blithely discuss chakras before channelling the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan, her approach to music resounds with sheer joy. Odds are good her formidable talent will continue to take flight.