"THAT" is the only "WHY" we ever need 

Who knows why something resonates. I wish I knew. 

Once, I was a substitute teacher and got to work with two sets of students in a row. The first class was incredible: they were doing what they did at a very high level, were harmonious and encouraging of each other, and really just needed someone to hold the space so they would keep doing what they were doing.

The next class started later, was at a higher skill level, and while very invested in each other and each other’s work, they were fractious, testy at times with each other, calling each other out. The work they were doing would not have been perceived as more “successful” than the early group, but it was…way more interesting. Challenging. The second group was the group that was making the work that was pushing the whole industry into new places.

One class was being good. The other class was simply being.

If you are a songwriter, a poet, or even practitioner of the gentle art of being a friend...why did you want to become "good" at what you do? To help people feel better? To help make sense of your and their lives?

Or, was it to prove to yourself that you can do it? To prove to someone who said you couldn’t, that you could? To belong?

What I'm hoping Haiku Milieu does is remind us that while the "why" matters, it is less important than the “that:”
- That we want to make things.
- That it is our nature to create.
- That enjoying the process of making things is our birthright, even if no one else understands the finished product.

Whether we call ourselves artists or not, we are a creators who can't help but create.

And THAT'S the only "why" we ever need to make anything.

***______***______***_____***

I've poured thoughts like these and more into my new book, "Sundays with Jenny." If you would appreciate a little friendly support on your journey, get "Sundays," and the other three Haiku Milieu books, here.

Kerrville: That's a Wrap! 

Well, that's a wrap on the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, Texas, where songwriters from all over the world gather to celebrate songwriting and the creative spirit. 

Here's a quick recap: The Grassy Hill New Folk Song Contest happens over Memorial Day weekend in Kerrville, TX. Out of 1341 entries this year -- a record! -- there were 24 finalists. One of them was my husband Robin Bienemann, another was our dear friend Katie Dahl of Door County, Wisconsin. 

Robin was one of the six award winners, and in the week between the competition and the 2024 New Folk Award Winners Concert that happened all week, we attended Song School. Taught by Mary Bragg, Scott Cook, Vance Gilbert and Steve Seskin, they shared insight into the art, craft and business of songwriting. 

We, who's job it is to "play" music, actually took time to PLAY! 

That's how this "Gangs of Kerrville" series came to be. Between these photos and YouTubes of the Grassy Hill New Folk competition from May 25 and 26, and the Award Winners contest you'll get a sense of this place, these people, their songs, voices and points of view. 

And yet, even as just a plus one, and the plus one of a "winner" at that, it was a deeply emotional experience with unexpected highs and lows - and I'm not just talking about the weather (though it did reach 106 one day (!). Maybe when the dust settles, I'll have more to share.

For now, the sense of gratitude for music, art, community and friends like you is profound.

Do we ever truly give ourselves enough time to take it all in?

After this week, I'm going to make a point of doing that more often. I hope you will too.

 

May 10: Haiku Milieu at The Venue! 

It’s TRUE!

Haiku Milieu comes to The Venue in Aurora, May 10, 8:00 pm. The trailer is all ready for you, here

Get your tickets and get your carpools going, you do NOT want to miss this!

20 amazing artists, 7 who have never participated in Haiku Milieu before, at one of the premiere listening rooms in the Midwest! 

I will be posting about these amazing Haiku Milieu artists for the next seven days straight. So get your beauty rest tonight. We ride at dawn!

And as if that were not enough – 

IT IS THE CELEBRATION FOR THE RELEASE OF MY BOOK, “SUNDAYS WITH JENNY!”  (You can get your copy here: https://haikumilieu.com/shop.)

And if you really want to be ahead of the curve, you can get your copy at Jenny Bienemann and Haiku Milieu Preview at Yellow Bird Books Aurora on Sunday, May 5 at 1 pm!

May 10 artists include:

John Abbey, Ethan Adelsman, Ryan Joseph Anderson, Cait Arq, Naomi Ashley, Robin Bienemann, Demi Clara, Ralph Covert, Dana Maragos, Gerald Dowd, Noah Gabriel, Emily Hurd, Rebecca Jasso, Pete Jive, Aaron Kelly, Kara Kesselring, Chris Neville, Matthew Pittman, Dave Ramont, Chris Rawlins, Jodi Walker, hosted by Jenny Bienemann

NEW BOOK: "Sundays with Jenny Bienemann" 

Brand new book!
"SUNDAYS with JENNY BIENEMANN” available Mother’s Day, 2024!

It came up suddenly. The urge to make a new book and have it ready for our show at the venue on May 10, 2024 the Friday before Mother’s Day. 

Reason kicked in. "That's so soon," I thought, and pushed the thought aside. "I'll think about this for August," I said to myself and went on living.

But right after Easter, the feeling came over me like nothing I have experienced before.

If you have ever felt the pull of your calling, you know that it actually takes less work to heed its call than to pretend you can't hear it.  

Suddenly, my early mornings, lunch breaks, and late nights were all about feeling into the haiku of the past 3+ years to share with you in a book that was more than a 250-page, full-color collection of haiku and images, it would be a summoning tool for the strength, peace and clarity that is uniquely present on Sundays.

"Sundays with Jenny Bienemann."

Full of everything I’ve learned from publishing the Sunday Haiku Milieu newsletter since September of 2019, every Sunday of the year with no exceptions: things I’ve experienced about the creative process, grief and love and more.

Yes, it has haiku you’ve come to expect, one image, one 3-line haiku, and in abundance.

But "Sundays" also has long form poems, the answers I have found to living life day-by-day, moment-by-moment, through ease and difficulty.

And by answer, I mean response, not the nail in the coffin of the question.  If there is one thing I've learned from doing Haiku Milieu, it's that the questions will never, can never, and should never stop. It is what propells us forward!

You reading my work and coming to Haiku Milieu, Jenny Bienemann, and/or Jenny and Robin Bienemann concerts means the world to me. You have a special place in my heart, and you need do nothing more to secure it.

That said, if you care to pick up this book for yourself, or for Mother's Day, or for no reason at all, I'd be heartily grateful.  Simply go here.

I could tell you that sales of “Sundays with Jenny” will help provide the financial foundation to help me bring Haiku Milieu concerts to life. I could say that proceeds from the book help me continue to share the haiku and music that you have come to enjoy on a free-will basis. I might also say that, like the cost of everything else, the cost to create books has greatly increased, especially if you choose (like I do) to work with US printers.

But on a much more essential level, your purchasing the book will encourage me. It will fill the gas tank of my resolve. It will raise my spirits.

Whether you purchase a book or no, I'm grateful for you.

If you decide to make this new book part of your life, or part of the life of someone you love, simply click here or the image above for advance purchase"Sundays with Jenny Bienemann." 

And, if in addition to purchasing a gift for someone you love around Mother's Day, if you happen to be looking for an unforgettable experience, I heartily recommend joining us for Haiku Milieu at The Venue on May 10. You can click here for tickets, or on the photo below. 

Thanks for being part of my 'Milieu.

 

Jay Sebastian, forever in our hearts. May 21, 1953 - March 29, 20204 

 

For Jay

I don’t know how many times I told him I was proud of him
I couldn’t have said it enough
there was too much to say
and I wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it
        but I know
        he knew
        that I knew
 
I don’t know how many times he paid me a compliment
how often I waved them off
returning them to him
but each one warmed my bones
        and I know
        he knew
        that I knew
 
I don't know if we'd had more time
what, if anything, we would have done differently
         because in our hearts
         you know?
         I really do know
         that he knew
         and I did too

*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*______*

My husband Robin Bienemann and Jay Sebastian were Itzi Rothowski and Red Klatz of the musical duo Twang Bang.

Twang Bang and their producer David Blum took Chicago audiences by storm with legendary live shows. You'd be as likely to find them at one of the iconic Chicago clubs like The Hideout or The Metro as you would be to see them street performing, or playing before 'Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" at Neo Futurists, or comedy clubs.

They loved to play where you'd least expect it. With outrageous guitar, inventive drumming and tight harmonies, they were often mistaken for a multi-piece band rather than a duo. Here's one of my favorite performances from "Wild Chicago," introduced by Will Clinger, who has since become a dear friend.

They expanded their empire to Japan, earning a place on the medalist dias at the Japan Open song contest (think America's Got Talent, 25 years earlier), and in later years expanded the band roster to include the wonderful multi-instrumentalist Casey Stockton on bass as Jingles. When Jay was sidelined by a wrist injury, they heeded their respective callings and began to explore other artistic endeavors.

And while Jay’s life as an artist expanded to encompass theatre projects like 'Time in a Teacup, ' premiering at Rhinofest, the Bridgeport Pasty eco-friendly foodtruck with his wife Carrie Clark and so much more, he always made time to collaborate musically with Robin and me on songs like Never Rhyme Head with DeadSample the Dog and What will Kill You First for the Haiku Milieu concert series.

One week to the day he passed, he was planning a medically-focused podcast. His idea was to get Tom Hanks to host it, and we are pretty sure that Tom Hanks, like the rest of us, would have been powerless to resist Jay’s persistent enthusiasm.

Jay Sebastian was an inspiring example of a life well lived, and he will be dearly missed.

 

Joe Jencks’ “Let It Breathe” live from Two Way Street Coffeehouse 

Dear friend and award winning singer/songwriter and Joe Jencks wrote “Let it Breathe” inspired by this Sunday Haiku Milieu:

Lay down your weapons
Love has got you surrounded
There is no way out

I had the pleasure of witnessing Joe's performance from the stage at Two Way Street Coffeehouse, contributing harmonies, and being part of the heavenly choir when Joe invited the entire room to sing towards the end of the song. Enjoy the video Robin captured of this special song.

Learn more at joejencks.com. You can also enjoy Joe performing “Let It Breathe” solo live on TV here.

You can find more songs inspired by my haiku at the Haiku Milieu YouTube channel, here.

“Let it Breathe” Copyright 2023, Joe Jencks – Turtle Bear Music, ASCAP

"The Life of a Song" a workshop with Steve Dawson at White Oak Savanna 

June 21st - 23rd, 2024
The Life of a Song with Jenny Bienemann and Steve Dawson

Email to reserve your spot!

"The Life of a Song," is a songwriter's retreat Steve Dawson and I created just for you at White Oak Savanna, a center for sustainable creativity, collaboration and community.

Attendees will learn how to mine inspiration from the world around us, refine ideas into finished songs, and how to stay inspired and connected to the creative muses while navigating the logistical challenges of performing, recording and releasing new music. 

We'll address all of your burning questions, including:

- how to connect with the creative flow when you feel locked out
- how to make peace with yourself as a creative being and as a music businessperson
- how to protect your songs and leverage opportunities
- how to know when to push through and when to take a break

and most of all:
how to honor, prioritize and ENJOY yourself and your creative process
always, and in all ways.

We have crafted a weekend of songwriting workshops, prompts and exercises with plenty of time for reflection and sharing, designed to empower YOU to write your own incredible songs and bring them into the world, owning the entire process. 

There is no better place to refresh, renew and focus on one’s craft than White Oak Savanna.  The tranquil nature sanctuary provides peaceful surroundings in which to create while the modern facilities, including stage and sound, provides opportunities to perform in a professional setting.

Meals included in the registration fee are: Friday Dinner, Saturday Continental Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch. Camp on-sight or find a local B&B or hotel.


June 21st - 23rd, 2024
The Life of a Song with Jenny Bienemann and Steve Dawson. Email Noah to reserve your spot!

Steve Dawson making me laugh with something so true I don't know why I didn't think of it before.

Naomi Ashley's new album "Love Bug" 

Naomi Ashley’s brilliant new album, “Love Bug.”

Singer/songwriter Naomi Ashley has a phenomenal new album out!

And guess what else: a number of the songs were inspired by the haiku and photo I wrote and shared as part of Haiku Milieu, and presented first at a Haiku Milieu concert. I could not be more honored!

Naomi was featured on WBEZ this week. Listen to the interview with Sasha Ann Simons here on Spotify and read the interview with Mark Guarino here.  

Then, I hope you purchase the album, listen to it on repeat and let it inspire your own creative endeavors, creating one big, beautiful circle.

Live Music is THE FUNNEST! 

Mike Konen, photo credit from Heather Horton’s January 18, 2024 concert

KNOW WHAT'S REALLY FUN?
Music!

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! 

Extraordinarily Grateful! 

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.