Mike Konen, photo credit from Heather Horton’s January 18, 2024 concert
KNOW WHAT'S REALLY FUN?
Not that stuff they have on in the background of the grocery store or the doctor's office; although that can be fun too. I mean, real, live, LIVE MUSIC that grew out of someone's life and experience that may be JUST what you need to help you move through that thing you couldn't quite get straight in your mind. That’s the experience I had at Heather Horton’s concert.
And if I haven't said it in awhile, let me say it again...we live in a GOLDEN AGE of live music in Chicagoland.
It's made by people all around you, people who have lives and kids and families and have to take out the garbage late at night because they should have done it earlier only to have the bag break and spill all over the alley, JUST LIKE YOU and ME! People you can be proud to call your friends and neighbors. And a peaceful army of live music lovers who would be thrilled to welcome you into the family.
For instance, these three artists are familiar to Haiku Milieu audiences, and each has something special happening soon:
Naomi Ashley is releasing her album LOVE BUG on Valentine's Day. YOU'RE WELCOME, those of you searching for a perfect Valentine's Day activity! And is the title song on Naomi's album a song inspired by a Haiku Milieu photo and haiku? Are others on the album as well? Why don't you come to the show and find out!!
Rachel Drew is releasing her album OLD SKY NEW on March 28, Holy Thursday for those of you keeping track, so if your family is coming into town for Easter, now you've got something excellent to bring them to. YOU'RE WELCOME! Does she have a song on that album inspired by a Haiku Milieu photo and haiku? Tell you what - you can ask her yourself at the show.
And our dear friend Steve Dawson, no stranger to Haiku Milieuvians, is mixing his new album for a Father's Day release even as he and I finalize plans for our “Life of a Song” songwriting retreat hosted by Jonas Friddle at White Oak Folk Festival on June 21, 22 and 23, more info here. He and I will share our respective creative processes and tips and tricks to bring you into harmony with your own creative capacity.
There's SO MUCH to look forward to - and it all revolves around Live Music.
So if you haven't gotten out to hear music in awhile, mine or anyone else's, why not give it a try? Whatcha got to lose but those stir crazy blues!
And, GUESS WHAT ELSE. We're bringing the party to you, Illinois and Wisconsin! We'd love see you and give you a big hug, so COME ON OUT!
Ideally, this is how the New Year has started off for you too.
Maybe not in a llama onesie, getting ready to plunge into the icy depths of Lake Michigan with 500 of your closest friends at the 44th Parallel on New Year’s Day, but nevertheless in a similar state of wild abandon.
In 2024, I feel especially grateful for music, friendship and creative community. We just finished the first-ever “New Year’s Steve,” dreamed up by Marilyn Rea Beyer, host of WFMT’s Folkstage and The Midnight Special.
The deep dive into Steve Goodman’s songs was a revelation, and working with artists like John Abbey, Naomi Ashley, Robin Bienemann, James Curley, Dennis Leise, Stephen Schuch, Alton Smith and Jon Williams to bring them to life was a joy. You can listen to the replay on the Folkstage archive here.
I’ve said many times, the audience makes the show. We write the songs, sure; but the audience tells us what they mean. I hope you’ll come out for some very special shows in January. We’ve got new some new songs we can’t wait to share with you, along with classics and a few covers for good measure.
First up: this Tuesday, January 9 at 7 pm, the Singer Songwriter Circle at FitzGerald’s. My special guests are Brandon Reisdorf and Blue Stevenson.
Then, Cary’s Lounge in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood on Saturday, January 13, 4-7 pm for the first-ever “Jenny Bienemann and People She Loves” show. Who’s my first guest? Robin Bienemann, of course! Mary Halm on bass and Matthew Pittman on guitar join us.
Then, on Sunday, January 21, 7:00 pm, we will be at The Lake County Folk Club, a group of incredible people that have been keeping Lake County a haven for those who love to listen to and make folk music in all of its glorious diversity. Must be experienced to be believed. JOIN US!
In February, we head to the great state of Wisconsin for shows with Katie Dahl, Julian Hagan, Jess Holland, and Jeanne Kuhns. In fact, we are bringing the party to the Friendly Music Community. Stay tuned for more on that!
It never ceases to amaze me how doing what you love puts you in the company of the most amazing people. My new year’s wish is that we will be in each other’s company more often in 2024.
May your holiday season be full of the things that make your heart sing!
Whether that’s time in the company of those you hold dear, or time in the solicitude of your own thoughts, the best gift we can give is the gift of our loving attention.
May we be as generous in giving it to ourselves as we are with others.
Be part of it all! Sign up at jennybienemann.com.
This Thanksgiving Sunday's Haiku Milieu is a celebration of our dear and beloved family and friends near and far, like those in the photo the band The Zimmerman, taken mere moments before we went onstage for our annual Black Friday concert of The Last Waltz at FitzGerald's.
Photo by Jeff Givens backstage at FitzGerald's, November 24, 2023
I hope you, too had a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend with friends and family doing all the things that remind you that being alive is wild and precious gift.
And as wonderful as it was to celebrate with family and friends, our hearts were full for those who lost someone dear this year.
Whether they left our world through their passing, changing professional affiliations, or just by moving away, it is a loss especially noticeable at this time of year. We all live on in the hearts of those we love and have loved. Our missing of them is infused with a golden gratitude for being forever changed by the simple fact that we were together for a time.
I am so very grateful to those that live on in my heart, those family and friends old and new, near and far, then and now who have taught me so much, loved me so well, and even not loved me so well sometimes.
I give thanks for all of it, and hope you do too.
When my daughter was little and learning to speak, she called everyone in the family by the second half of their first names. So my dad, Grandpa, was “Papa;” her dad, Daddy, was “Didi;” my mom, Grandma (who would ultimately adopt the moniker Gams) was “Mama;” and I, Mommy, was “Mimi.”
So it happened that my son had a son, and when it came time for him to call me something, we settled on Mimi.
I love my name.
I, of course, call him Ezra. His parents call him E-Z. He is wrapped in love on both sides of his large extended family. Health concerns, the press of work and other family responsibilities combined with geographical distance conspires to bring us into each other’s company just a precious few times a year.
And what a few times they are!
Already at 5 years old, Ezra knows his mind about many things. Crocodiles are the fairest of God’s creatures. Green is the best color. Alligators are NOT the same as crocodiles. And when I don’t do what he wants me to do, he says, “Mom, this Mimi is broken! You’ll have to get me another one.”
I didn’t have grandparents on either side growing up, but my kids were blessed with three intact sets of two grandparents (six people total) until deep into their adulthood. Even now, four of these wonderful adults walk the earth. What a gift!
A mere bystander, I watched the confidences, the little jokes, the candy slipped between them. How my kids kept in touch with them, how they told them things they didn’t tell me.
And as special as it was for my kids, it was just as special for my parents. “United against a common enemy,” some have characterized the bond between grandchild and grandparent, and while that was not so much my experience, I know the gentle, sweet loneliness of being “left out” because of the deep love between grandchild and grandparent.
It’s a special time of year.
We are a tuning to the cycles of the Earth, the temporary fallowness of the fields, and all that we may have neglected in ourselves in the rush to make the most of the sunlit hours of the warm seasons.
I have found this growing quietness in me can be confused for kind of sadness, nostalgia, or even depression, but it is really a gentle knocking at the door of my heart, an invitation to accept that all of life is change.
When this brings me to the kind of dark places I have trouble navigating alone, I turn to the light of others. My friends. My fellow artists.
This week in Haiku Milieu, I will be sharing collaborations between me and other people.
Some of them I’ve known about for a while — a particular photo from Jason Bennett some months ago inspired this idea of a collaboration week in the first place — and then an image from Missy Isley Poltrock, tumbled me forward into a haiku. But it yesterday's photo taken by my husband Robin, who does Sidewalk Rorshak, that confirmed this path.
Is it a coincidence?
Every show I am a part of in November and December is a group show, bringing together the talents of multiple artists to share their gifts over the course of just one night.
I hope you’ll join us for as many of these shows as feels good to you, and particularly the one coming up with a Kyle Rausche at Jarvis Square Pottery. Kyle is a spectacular human being, a Kerrville winning songwriter from the state of Michigan, and a dear friend.
As the daylight hours condense, let us seek the light of friendship and music to raise our spirits.
Cheers to you my friend, and to us, as the shadows lengthen and the home fires burn brighter.
I had the good fortune of learning about the Farther Foundation, and speaking at their benefit this past Thursday.
In addition to helping a great cause and helping send young scholars to travel the world to inform their aspirations for themselves and their future, it was a chance for me to reflect on my life, past and future and dig deeper into elements I have been sharing with you in this blog.
If you click this link or the photo, you will be taken to the video of me reading the story. There are captions! If you prefer to read it on the page, you’ll find it below.
Either way, I hope you will take a moment and learn more about The Farther Foundation.
“As we learned in 5th grade, Haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.
I started writing haiku as a way to be creative every day, and because I thought it would be faster than writing a song.
That madcap misunderstanding has kept me very busy for the last six years. When I started, I hoped the endeavor would blossom; and it did, it just didn’t make me faster at writing songs.
One of the great pleasures of Haiku is counting the syllables with your fingers. I invite you to do as I do, place your hand over your heart, and count along:
If you told me then // Things would be like they are now // I would be amazed
What do you think of, when you think of things that have blossomed, but not in the way that you planned? Maybe you think of yourself, your garden? Maybe it makes you think of your mother. If you’re like me, it makes you think of all three.
My Saintly Mother, Loretta Ann Carol Marie Therese Lind. Mrs. McCarthy, as they called her at the High School, or as I called her in the grocery store when she wouldn't turn around after I yelled MOM! a thousand times.
If you said Mrs. McCarthy she would turn around and give you her full attention, unless it turned out that you were me, calling her Mrs. McCarthy because you knew she had been deliberately ignoring your poorly behaved self as you wandered the aisles begging for a treat until she had no alternative but either lose her mind or push the cart forward and pretend she didn't know you.
This all took place in Naperville, just to the west of us. We grew up in Naperville, Illinois, when Naperville was a little river town, set on the roaring DuPage River, which was neither roaring nor hardly deserving the title of River.
What is currently known in Naperville as the Riverwalk, was where you took your recycling.
There was a bridge along that river, the middle of town, Washington Street Bridge, where flanks of hippies sat, wedged one next to the other, inspiring dark imaginings and the fear that one of them might fall off the bridge in a fit of blissful inebriation. “Don’t look at them,” my mom would say to us, clutching my dad’s arm in an ultimately successful effort to control his impulse to push the peace-loving hippies off the bridge into the river.
Meanwhile some guy who went to Naperville North High School (the wrong high school) would go on to pen a joke for Chris Farley about living in a van down by the river. Story for another time, but yes, Bob Odenkirk went to Naperville North High School around the time my older sister went to Naperville Central High School (the right one), and as an early career, unknown SNL writer, he penned an iconic sketch for the now-deceased icon, that grew out of my home town, Naperville, Il. But I digress.
Back to my saintly, still alive, still feisty mother. She wants you to know she is either sweet 16 or 105, whichever you prefer, and she has been on the planet long enough to learn a few things. One of them, is how to lower your center of gravity so when your children try to pick you up they can't actually do it.
Except for this one time...
We were in Alton's Drugstore in Naperville, Illinois. My little sister and I had been trying to lift her off her feet for YEARS, and through some amazing convergence of events, we successfully caught my mother just before she could lower her center of gravity and lifted her into the grocery cart.
None of the three of us could believe it. The achievement shocked us into silence. We had to lift her out of the cart, and then she just walked out of the store. My sister and I just looked at each other, followed her, and never spoke of it again. My saintly Mother.
We were the four McCarthy children, born of a Northside/Southside marriage, to parents who each had only one parent from the time they were young. We did what was required of every child growing up: having opinions, testing limits, lifting each other into grocery carts...and they did their part.
Trying to hold back the young hellions from their own untimely demise, trying to protect us from the riptides of the past, and trying to prepare their children for a future none of us could have anticipated.
I think my Mom thought she would be raising four similarly-saintly children. She kept our faces clean, tried valiantly to keep us on the straight and narrow, and trained up us in the way she (and my dearly deceased father) believed we should us to go.
Yet despite her best efforts to tame what she might have termed “the weeds” growing up in our personalities, all four of her kids went their own respective ways. And while all four are gainfully employed and changing the world in own respective ways, only three of them got married, one of them twice. Only two of them had children, one just within a hair’s breadth of wedlock. Only one of them brought grandchildren into the world (so far.)
Can you imagine what she must think, when she thinks about what she was trying to do, and what actually happened?
Place your hand on your heart with me again, if you will.
hopes for the future // I should have used a pencil // but I used a pen
not all dreams come true // not all dreams are supposed to // that’s the point of dreams
how sweet the visions // that made me do all I did // and become myself
This makes me think of my garden.
Over the course of the 20 years we’ve lived in this house I have invested the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, as well as copious financial resources, into a garden that for whatever reason simply will not take. I have even had a garden service keep the earth around my fledgling plants weed free to support their growth!
One day through a misunderstanding, the gardeners came and they removed all vegetation. I called them, while the operator was sympathetic, the owner of the company was not. When it came time for them to do the fall cleanup, as we have paid green green American money to have them do for us for the past 15 years, he said we don’t have a time for your house.
That day I turned to a dear friend who is excellent at gardening and said: what do we do? These patches of dirt have hosted countless plants, and been lovingly maintained to the limits of my imagination! Nothing seems to grow. Even the vinca vine bought from a reputable establishment only hunkers down in its own little cluster, and though its branches reach towards each other from plant to plant, each year the attempt seems a little more halfhearted.
She said that focus on keeping the planting beds "clean" means the soil has received no nourishment, and that those patches of dirt, weed free as they may be, will admit no growth.
Does this sound familiar? The weed-free, shining-faced garden beds, clean, on the straight and narrow, and trained up in the way we believed they should go?
And then, I happened to notice the vinca vine I planted under my yew bushes had jumped the cement sidewalk into my neighbor's yard, where it is THRIVING!
My garden had a mind of its own.
This makes me think of my Mom.
Much of the good my Mom, at great personal expense, tried to do to get us to bloom in the direction she thought we should go, might look to her like it did not take.
But just like the vinca, the gifts she gave us did take root, and they did blossom just like she hoped they would, just maybe not in the way she thought they should.
This makes me think of Haiku Milieu. On some level, I was trying to “fix” a deficiency, and train myself to be “more” creative, “more” quickly.
In the process, I learned two things:
One: all I can do is permit the forces of creativity to move through me, I can’t dictate what it turns into.
Second, it takes a village. It takes friends, and family, and community. Especially now.
Whatever it takes to forgive others, and yourself, is worth it. When things don’t turn out the way you planned, forgive. When you forget to lower your center of gravity and your kids lift you up and put you in a grocery cart in front of God and everybody, forgive.
Because love for the people who surround you is what inspired you to try anything, and is what makes life worth writing about.
Hands on hearts again please.
by the light of day // the mistakes were innocent // the sun rests its case
it is not your job // to fix other people, just // to love who they are
one day we will see // that things only could have gone // the way that they went.”
On the third Tuesday of every month, I host the Songwriter in the Round series at FitzGerald’s Sidebar.
This past week my guests were Jeremy David Miller, a well-known Chicago-area music veteran, and Erich Specht of the Push Puppets, who has a new album. They were both GREAT. We had a FANTASTIC time with D. Anson Brody on sound, sharing new songs, seeing mutual longtime friends like Michael Dailey, riffing on themes, and generally just acknowledging that it is good be alive, in all of its messy splendor.
By the time these shows wind up, folks from nearby establishments make their way to FitzGerald's, like Kim, Tammy, Isaac David Lyons, Braxton, Robin Rolder, and John, to sit at the bar as Gonzo tends it, alongside each other, laughing and talking. It's happened for several shows, but I somehow just made the connection that it happens every Tuesday.
If there is anything I want my songs, haiku, shows, this email and actually - my meals, my conversations, my drawings, my work at my day job, anything I set out to DO - I want it to feel like it feels at FitzGerald's, before, during and after these Tuesday night songwriters shows, where we come together, share who we are, and have a good laugh, maybe a cry, and go home a little better than we came out of the house.
The next one is on Tuesday, October 17 with Michelle Held from Michigan and Christina Marie Eltrevoog from non-Chicago Illinois. I hope you'll join us, and who knows - maybe we’ll hang out at the bar afterwards.
Robin and I had the great honor of playing at the Celebration of Blair Hull’s life concert with a number of fellow musicians we are lucky to also call friends.
Blair is truly an example of living with generosity and compassion, bringing the Divine into all things. It was incredibly gracious of Blair to let those who love her celebrate her now, and incredibly generous of Jan Krist to organize it.
The artists who performed brought stories, traditional and original songs, and poems as befitted the occasion of honoring a woman who dedicated her life to lifting others up. Blair herself sang us a song!
It was a meaningful afternoon with friends who gathered from near and far to celebrate this remarkable woman’s life.
Here is the Mary Oliver poem Andrew Calhoun shared aloud.
I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some—now carry my revelation with you—
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world—its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself—I imagine
this is how it began.
As hard as we work
the best things in life are free
and freely given
It means the end of summer to some of us, the beginning of our favorite season to others, and with the beginning of the school year, an almost universal feeling of return to days of deeper and more profound labor.
The Haiku Milieu event at FitzGerald’s this past Friday was itself a celebration of labor, the kind of labor you are born to, but have to choose over and over again.
Do anything you do with love, and it becomes an art. Cooking? Yes. Listening to a friend? Yes. Cleaning? Debatable, but likely yes. Done with love, these things are all an artistic practice.
And what is an artistic practice but a kind of prayer, a hymn to the great, loving, irrepressible and irresistible calling of one wild beloved thing to another, the call of all of creation to each of us, saying, take what you’ve been given. Here, it’s FREE! And make some thing of it.
Make something beautiful! Make something ugly! Make something life affirming, make some thing challenging!
Embrace what you have been given, and turn it into something.
Do it again and again, wielding it like a scythe through the wilderness of EVERYTHING.
All that you asked for that didn’t turn out the way you expected.
All the things you didn’t ask for, and don’t know what to do with.
And all the things that went way better than you dared to dream they could go.
Making anything -- make that, laboring intentionally and with love -- makes finding the path of joy easier, even if nothing makes it easier to follow.
To our labors, my dear friends, and always with love, Jenny