The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Photo by Fallon Kreye
“After Jack” band members, from left, Emily Blankenship-Tucker, Mary Allison and Rachel Blankenship-Tucker have just released their first album, “Echo,” and are on getting ready for festivals and tours around the country.
Friday, April 25, 2014
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
It all started over jars of pickles.
Three musician friends who had met and performed together at The Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre had been asked to sing at the annual Front Porch Fest in Patrick County in 2011.
"We were canning pickles," said Emily Blankenship-Tucker, who has been a familiar Franklin County name for years with her work in the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre and the Jack Tale Players. "We had been asked to play at Front Porch Fest and said, well, if we're going to play at the festival, we may as well start a band."
And from that pickle-canning session was born "After Jack," named after the hero of the Jack Tales, whose quick thinking and good fortune always brought him out on top.
The three friends went from canning pickles together to creating a band that has seen phenomenal success in just three short years.
With that success has come the release of the Americana band's first album, "Echo," produced by Aaron Ramsey of Mountain Heart.
The 10-track record includes seven new songs written by Emily and fellow band members Mary Allison and Rachel Blankenship-Tucker.
Ramsey and fellow Mountain Heart bandmate Josh Shilling are also featured on the album.
A release party for "Echo" was held at the Sun Music Hall in Floyd last Saturday night, drawing an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd.
To describe the music of After Jack is not an easy task since the band incorporates so many genres of music and does so in upbeat, high-energy performances.
But band members say After Jack is "a musical celebration of togetherness," a unique take on traditional mountain music, combining modern sensibility with a distinctly old-time energy to mix bluegrass, gospel and folk elements.
They write most of their music and all sing and play various instruments, which include guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, bass, accordion, oboe and drums.
Emily, a Potter County, Pa. native has a master's degree in music education and a bachelor's degree in theatre.
Rachel is a product of Radford University and Mary is from Ohio, attending Ashland University.
Emily said the band originally had the tagline "Man-catchin' music" but has since changed that to "hot folk," alluding to the idea of bringing back old music with a new flair.
The flair is evident as the band has a reputation for immediately drawing in the crowd.
"The people really respond," she said, adding that the band responds as well and the rapport with the audience is contagious. "You really appreciate it when things start to go well. You can feel it in your shows -- the energy."
"I don't think any of us expected how fast it would take off," said Rachel Blankenship-Tucker, who is from Patrick County and first started taking fiddle lessons when she was 5. "It is going fast, but we worked hard for it."
That hard work is echoed by Emily, who said the band has spent countless hours working together and has taken advantage of every opportunity to play.
"Well, we don't have weekends," Rachel said. "We have traveled a lot, done a lot of driving. You never realize how much work goes into a band (the business as well as the creative side)."
Although such hard work, stress and growing popularity often put a strain on relationships, that's not the case here.
"We work better together than ever, and we're always learning how to do that," Rachel said. "Our desire is to keep going, pressing forward, and becoming stronger than ever as we find more success."
Pressing forward means writing more songs, expanding their instrument entourage, performing in more venues and possibly even adding another band member at some point.
After Jack performed at Floydfest last year and is one of the featured acts at this year's Rooster Walk, set for Memorial Day weekend in Snow Creek.
They have also been added to the lineup at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, an annual festival in Bristol TN/VA that typically draws more than 50,000 music lovers.
They have several upcoming performance dates in North Carolina and will spend the month of June performing in Colorado.
Emily said a recent concert in New York City may be indicative of the attention the band receives.
"It was such a positive response," she said, adding that the uniqueness of their music in that venue probably drew attention. "Some people get really excited."
That excitement carries over with the band, of course, Emily said. "We pay attention to people's reactions."
They also are astute students and have enjoyed playing with many other bands.
At their album release party, After Jack shared the stage with Kerosene Willy and Yankee Dixie as well as musicians Ruth Trochim and Cathrine Conner, who are both featured on "Echo."
They have played with such bands as Lost and Found, Mountain Heart and the Lonesome River Band.
"We've had the opportunity over the course of the last couple of years to be part of the lineup on stage with some great bands," she said.
With the experience comes a more polished, more mature band, she added, working on what they want to say with their music and developing overall themes.
But Emily and Rachel both emphasize their music is simply a retelling of traditional music.
"We are singing about things that have already been sung about," Emily said, "making everything old new again."
Although their schedule can be grueling, they agree it's great to have a home base near Ferrum.
"All of our families have been so supportive of us," Emily said. "They even take care of our animals and chickens while we are gone."
For Rachel, it all started with her family when she began learning how to play the fiddle when she was only 5 years old.
Her father's words may have been prophetic when he said of her potentially lucrative musical abilities: "One day you are going to pave our driveway."
"It feels like we are doing what we were meant to do," Rachel said of After Jack. "Even in hard times, you can't let go of that. We do whatever it takes, and we will continue to do that."
And what they are doing is already being critically acclaimed.
The band was recently recognized by the Appalachian Cultural Music Association as the 2014 Americana Vocal Group of the Year and 2014 Uprising Star.
"All of these neat things fell into place," Emily said. "it's what we envisioned going in without overthinking."
For those who don't want to wait until Rooster Walk to hear After Jack, the trio is playing Saturday at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds for an Earth Day celebration.
They will also play at a July 4 celebration at Fairystone Park after returning from their tour out West and will once again play at the Labor Day Front Porch Fest, in Stuart.
They are also lining up a tour in the Northeast.
"Echo" was released this week on Travianna Records, and is available on iTunes and Amazon.com. For more information about the band, visit www.AfterJackBand.com.