Tuesdays are busy days for Jeff Plankenhorn. Lots of Austin musicians have turned to weekly livestream shows during the coronavirus pandemic, but Plankenhorn has doubled down on the residency-from-home notion.
At 1 p.m., he’s the host of "20 Question Tuesdays," a lively interview program in which he invites fellow artists to share their insights and answer questions from viewers who join the livestream chat. After a lunch break, he gets ready for his 8 p.m. solo show, "From Here to There," playing his own material along with select cover tunes on acoustic guitar and dobro.
We’ve chosen Plankenhorn’s shows as a two-tiered Austin360 Residency of the Month for September. It’s a big month for the interview show, as he’s scheduled five diverse and acclaimed Austin-area acts for the five Tuesdays this month.
Joining him Sept. 1 is Pat Byrne, the Austin-via-Ireland singer-songwriter who recently returned from recording a new album in Nashville. In 2012, Byrne won the Irish version of the TV show "The Voice," an experience he shares with Sept. 8 guest Nakia, the Austin singer who advanced to the semifinals of the show’s U.S. version in 2011.
Next up is a Sept. 15 show with Grammy-nominated gospel-soul-blues-and-more singer Ruthie Foster, who released a live album earlier this year that was recorded in 2019 at Austin’s Paramount Theatre. On Sept. 22, he welcomes Carolyn Wonderland, who’s become an ace guitarist with legendary bluesman John Mayall in recent years and has her own popular Wednesday evening livestream.
He’ll wrap up the month on Sept. 29 with Texas outlaw-country great Ray Wylie Hubbard, with whom Plankenhorn has worked often as a sideman. Hubbard’s had a big year in 2020 despite the pandemic, releasing an album called "Co-Starring" on major-label Big Machine with special guests including the Beatles’ Ringo Starr.
Plankenhorn did his first livestream shortly after the pandemic began, from a mostly empty house in Austin after he and his wife had packed up for their annual drive to his wife’s hometown of Campbell River, B.C., where they typically escape Austin’s summer heat. They left early this year because of the pandemic; good thing, too, because they caught the very last ferry from the U.S. to Canada before the border was closed.
A generous outpouring of tips from that Austin livestream covered the expenses of their trip, which partly motivated Plankenhorn to keep the shows going. Space is tight in their small Canadian cottage. "I either have to squeeze in by the bookcase and hope that the bed is not very much in the shot, or I have to go in the kitchen," he said with a chuckle.
The bookcase spot has proven to be the dependable backdrop. He stands at a microphone on the evening "From Here to There" livestreams, after taking a seat during "20 Question Tuesdays." The interview show developed two months ago after Plankenhorn initially had been doing a workshop-style Q&A show in the afternoon, taking answers from those who tuned in.
"There were friends of mine who were professional musicians, but also there were people who were just curious about the life and the creativity and the writing," he says. "One person wanted to know about the process or a little bit about what we do. And then the next person was asking me a technical question about scales. And then the next person was asking a question like, ‘How do you feel about going out and doing shows during the pandemic?’ That (variety) is what I loved about it."
When Sheila Steele of community-access network Austin Music TV, which airs locally on cable Channel 16, asked if Plankenhorn wanted "20 Question Tuesdays" to air on the channel, he accepted. He downloaded an app called Restream to help accommodate the logistical hurdles of an additional outlet.
"One day I popped open my Restream and I saw that they were going to beta-test inviting guests, where you could have people call in," he says. "The very first week, I tried it with Michael O’Connor. And aside from a couple of technical snafus, it was so much fun. We’re not playing a gig, but the camaraderie is there, and it’s such a joy for the audience. I was like, ‘OK, I'm going to do this every week now.’"
Subsequent guests have included Scrappy Jud Newcomb, his bandmate in Saxon Pub collective the Resentments; Jaimee Harris, a former Austin singer-songwriter now living in Nashville; and 70-something Austin guitar-slinger Bill Kirchen. Last week he welcomed 13-year-old Metroplex phenom Jack Barksdale, who wore a Mickey Mouse shirt and offered insights beyond his years.
RELATED: Our 2018 interview with Jaimee Harris
A congenial and loquacious personality, Plankenhorn seems to be a natural as an interviewer. He’s had some practice as an occasional co-host of Sun Radio’s "Texas Radio Live" broadcasts from Guero’s Oak Garden. Gigs at former Austin venue Strange Brew with the Purgatory Players and Apostles of Manchaca also helped draw out his more talkative side. But it hasn’t always come so easy to him.
"When I started playing with the Resentments, I didn't speak at all," Plankenhorn says. "Even in my own shows, I would just go play music and not talk. But the Resentments have such a banter. Also, the people I’ve played with over the years are almost all storytellers, whether it's Ray Wylie or Joe Ely or Eliza Gilkyson."
As revelatory as "20 Question Tuesdays" has been for him, if pressed he might still say that "From Here to There" is where his heart is. The September livestreams will mark shows 21 through 25 for the evening series, which initially was on Mondays but recently moved to Tuesdays.
"‘From Here to There’ means a lot to me because people get on and request stuff I haven't played in years, and they keep my chops up for performances," he says. "I didn't know I was going to have fun doing a talk show, but of course I want to push my music more than anything."
Most of all, he appreciates that people take the time to tune in. Contributions via Venmo and PayPal, as well as those who subscribe to his Patreon platform, don’t make up for income lost during the pandemic, but they help.
"Any time somebody puts $5 in the virtual tip jar, in today's day and age with everything that's happening," he says, "I feel super grateful that they chose to help me keep doing what I'm doing."
More from our Austin360 Residency of the Month archives:
Monks Jazz Club finds new life as a YouTube series
Eve Monsees & Mike Buck bring garage rock back to the garage
Ulla brings the sound of Ireland to Austin