PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF SUSAN WERNER
Susan Werner is excited. The Chicago-based musician and Iowa native has been making a name for herself in folk music since the early 1990s, and her most recent creation, Hayseed, is her 11th full-length album. In classic Werner style, it explores new untapped musical territory. This time, she says, Hayseed is like her own personal boomerang effect—a return to her Midwest farming origins and life in “the greenest corner of God’s green Earth.” The album is dripping with rural charm, banjos, mandolins, farming wisdom, and hilarious regional lore.
But the tour for Hayseed is particularly interesting. And it might be the first of its kind. Almost every concert (including her City Winery show on July 5th) will also serve as a showcase for local growers: dairy, cheese, brewers, vineyards, etc. In a time when traditional farming is scarce, Chicago's farmers' markets are thriving, and the public’s appetite for organic meat and produce is insatiable, Werner hopes to pay homage to her agricultural roots while having a hell of a good time doing it.
Tell me about your motivation for the Hayseed project.
People have such affection for farmers and their connection to the farm. I think this project, if I did it right, honors some of that, explores some of that, and blows up some of that.
It does seem like farming is becoming ‘cool’. Our generation has been so far removed from it that it's novel again.
Well they say that a farm is romantic until you own one…but that's what was at the heart of this project, the strength of the feeling about that. It was affection. For the way I grew up, for that part of the upper Midwest and real affection for that part of this country, in every corner of this country where it exists. And to write an album out of that feeling instead of grief or the usual break up album…is it possible to make an album out of something else? Yea, I think it is. It feels good, and it's surprising how people will draw around it and energy will draw around it. And it's fun! This isn't so deadly serious. If we're having fun, then I honor the best things about my own family, they all have a sense of humor. This isn't gonna make me rich, but I play these songs for people and they laugh, and it's really great. I raised my little crop of songs. No farm, but that's as close as I might be able to get.
After all, you’re still in the entertainment business.
Well I’ve done projects with that kind of great serious import, and this one’s fun. Really, really fun. And I think I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of the value of entertainment. People think funny isn’t serious. But the jester tells the truth.
So is music entertainment or political action?
Entertainment is the most effective political action there is. How about that!
What does Chicago mean to you?
It’s my home. I’ve lived here 13 years, I was out in Philly for a while, but Chicago makes me really happy. Every time I come home on the plane, the skyline makes me really happy. I actually long for it, and I look for it. I remember coming in on the Kennedy and thinking I had never seen so many lights. And the city remains fabulous to me. That sounds over the top, but it’s really true. I guess I should write a Chicago project at some point since I’m blowing kisses at Iowa. I could do something about right here.
Well you had to write your origin story first.
Yeah, well not at first, it was like a boomerang. You have to go away so you can see it clearly.
Susan Werner plays July 5 at 8 p.m., City Winery, 1200 W Randolph. citywinery.com; $20.