Shooter Jennings Is Headlining a Chicago Festival That Would Make Nashville Blush

A Q&A with the musician about what this weekend’s Moonrunners Music Festival means for Chicago and country music.

photo: courtesy of shooter jennings
 

It would be weird to call him Nashville royalty, but only because his family wasn’t in the monarchy business to begin with. The Jenningses just write good country music.

Like his dad, Waylon, Shooter Jennings prefers the more diverse results of a meritocracy in his city’s lifeblood—country music that steps away from monotony and shows an assorted spectrum of the roots movements it came from.

This weekend’s inaugural Moonrunners Music Festival at Reggies is just that assortment. Jennings is headlining on the heels of releasing The Other Life, his sixth solo studio album. Already sold out, Moonrunners showcases 19 musicians in one day with backgrounds in every country, folk, blues, and rock amalgamation you could think of, from the wild growls of Texas’ one-man show, Possessed by Paul James, to the Detroit blues of Rachel Brooke.

Chicago caught up with Jennings on the phone for a brief talk (amidst train sounds and a beer order).

So in your new album, you’ve said the opening track [“Flying Saucer Song”] has bits of a Harry Nilsson adaptation, but when I listened I heard something Pink Floyd would have tipped their hats to.
Thanks man, yeah, I like the fact that the opening of the record is really gonna lead you to wondering what the hell you’re in for. It’s a pretty traditional record overall, so it’s kind of a trip up—I’m playing with my fans, I guess.

The album has a full video coming out along with it, and the preview shows a kind of apocalyptic Western is in store. I hear there will even be a graphic novel too. You don’t see too many concept projects like this in roots or country music.
I can’t pretend to not be into those things, you know what I mean? My genre has problems with it, yeah, but I grew up an MTV kid, watched cartoons … I really love multimedia projects, I love anything that’s kind of like, engulfing, you know. I love video games, I love concept records, anything that can take you away, take you to another world.

With this project, when Blake Judd and I had been working on several videos together, we’d done four, we got the green light to do a film, like, essentially a really long music video, and so that’s what we did, and uh, I’m actually real proud of how it turned out. We did a comic book—a black and white comic drawn by J.D. Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers—and it was written by R.D. Hall and um … [To someone else] Yeah, good idea … [to Chicago] Sorry, I’m walking into a little restaurant here to order a beer.

Are you already in Chicago?
No, no, I’m in Nashville, though I was in Chicago earlier this year. I produced a record for this band Last False Hope. It was end of January, it was freezing, it was snowing and hailing, and then it got warm over night, and was 60 degrees when I left—it was crazy. I hope it’s warmer this weekend.

Most of the bigger country music events we see in Chicago are the Toby Keiths and Taylor Swifts playing at amphitheaters, so Moonrunners is a pretty big step away from center.
Yeah I’m excited, man, I’m proud of it.

What do you think country music has in store? Is radio monotony something you’ll always see?
Well I think there’s always gonna be radio monotony in cycles, you know. I can’t make any predictions, but I can say that if any of what we’re doing is going to belong with what they’re doing, then there’s gonna have to be a tidal wave to completely erase this mode that we’re in right now. It’s really easy to say “like grunge did to ’80s metal,” but … it’s similar, because, this style [of country radio] has gotten to be so much bullshit fluff, so much of it, so saturated by it that it’s like … we don’t want to be invited to the party anyway, you know?

But I do have a feeling that all that stuff—all the dirt road, spring break, crazy crap that’s on the radio right now, that it won’t last. I remember being on spring break and hearing “The Dip”. Do you remember that song? It was like “when I dip, you dip, we dip”? That’s about what I hear as the kind of substance of this stuff. People will say “oh I remember that ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ song they had in 2012” [the Jason Aldean single], but overall, the majority of what’s out there selling records is all based for short-term success, and I think that a lot of the artists my age, as we get older, I’m sure we’ll have our own place firmly somewhere in all of it, but I can’t predict it.

Your dad was the perfect example of someone who broke the current mold. So as long as people keep doing that, there’s hope?
Well it’s like I don’t think anyone’s gonna forget Hank [Williams] any time soon, you know what I’m saying? Even though he may not have had any radio success, he’s gonna be around forever, and the older he gets, the bigger he’ll become, and the harder he’ll be to ignore, which means it sells.
 

If you can convince someone to sell you their ticket, Moonrunners is this Saturday, April 27, starting at 11 a.m. at Reggies, 2105 S State.

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