When I chatted on the phone with singer-songwriter Jeremy Facknitz during a few free moments before he resumed full-time dad and home-school duty on top of his prolific musical efforts, you’d never have guessed it was so early in the morning. Of course, Facknitz had been through a musical weekend that could definitely leave one wired, having performed a rare, honest-to-goodness live show in the form of a private yard concert, and then performed virtually as a Top 24 finalist in the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Songwriting Competition.
“I don’t consider myself a folkie,” says Facknitz. “I just love the festival; I love the magic of the festival. So I looked at my submission as more of a donation, but somehow I was selected out of over 700 entries, and that was a great compliment and honor.”
Typically, Kerrville finalists have the opportunity to perform their songs in front of a crowd of 600 people at their outdoor theater, camp out with fellow songwriters, and participate in late-night “in the round” campfire song sessions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to relegate its performances and interactions to the online, livestreamed realm.
“It’s just a great way to meet other musicians who are kind of in the same boat as you, who are writing songs and networking,” explains Facknitz of the typical Kerrville experience. “It’s wonderful for when you’re planning tours; it’s nice just to meet people you can play with or open up for, or stay with on the road. Of course, due to COVID, we lost all that camaraderie. So it was a little strange, the virtual experience. But Kerrville did a wonderful job of still hosting the new folkers virtually; we’ve had things going on where we can do, like, virtual campfires, we can play together and we’ve been talking together online. So I’m glad they didn’t just cancel the whole thing, like Lyons [Rocky Mountain Folks Festival] did. It’s better to have something than nothing, and virtually is the way everything had to be this year.”
If you’ve had the opportunity to catch Facknitz’s own livestreamed shows during the pandemic-inhibited year, you’ll know he does it exceptionally well. However, he was initially not fond of the idea.
“When everything got shut down, I had a 10-day tour of Alberta planned in March, and I was actually up there when everything started shutting down; I had to drive back. I had someone suggest to me that livestreaming was where it’s gonna be at for a while. But I really pooh-poohed it. I was like, ‘Ugh, playing to my phone?’ I don’t want to do that. But as I did more livestreaming, people really enjoyed it. I found that I was getting really nice feedback, I was making some money because people were donating to my Paypal, and people who can’t leave their houses — people who are unable to get out due to health concerns or just playing it safe — were really grateful that I came to them through their Facebook feed.
“It’s still kind of a very strange experience, though,” Facknitz continues. “It takes a lot for a performer to get up onstage and engage with people; look them in the eye and connect with them, tear down any walls you might have or any fears you might have. And then to be thrust back into your basement and singing for your phone... it’s not ideal. But it’s better than nothing, that’s for sure.”
Every physical stage and physical audience feels different, so did the livestreamed performance for Kerrville, then, feel different as well?
“Obviously it’s a bummer to not be playing live in front of 600 people, being in your basement in Colorado Springs recording your submission. But I tried to remember that lots of people were going to see this... and they did! I had a lot of people reach out to me; a lot of strangers reaching out.”
Facknitz is usually one of the more prolific performers based in Colorado Springs, keeping a healthy touring schedule throughout the U.S. and Canada, and this year, he released a new LP, From Those Sweet Ashes. Facknitz describes the album as “a musical Hail Mary” following a frightening battle with viral meningitis in 2017; an attempt to write “the best 10 songs [he] could write.” The album’s material was further refined through the feedback of a monthly songwriters’ circle, comprising Edie Carey, Edward Keneski, Facknitz, and his wife, Lindsay Weidmann.
“We’d get together and eat chocolate and drink wine and bitch about politics... and then we’d show each other our songs!”
The emphasis on songcraft is immediately apparent, and the album is an artistic triumph. So how, then, has the musical year panned out for Facknitz?
“It’s been the best of times and the worst of times,” he laughs. “When I recorded the album, I had Jarrod Headley record and produce it at North Park Studios. He’s just a really smart producer. I had my band in there, and it was the kind of thing where I’m really making an effort to make something very sonically beautiful, that can maybe help advance my career. So this was all building to April and releasing the album, and of course in April, everything was shut down. I had 32 of 35 shows canceled that I had booked.”
That said, Facknitz says the Kerrville nod has already begun to open doors for the future, a livestream for Denver’s Swallow Hill Music resulted in a hopeful future booking, and he received a semi-finalist award for songoftheyear.com. And livestreaming, as “not ideal” as it is, has proven to be both a source of income and a source of deepened connection to fans old and new.
“So I’ve just tried to look at the positive,” says Facknitz. “All those shows that were canceled, a lot of them are re-booked. Now, some of them might have to be re-booked again until we figure out when this pandemic thing is going to be over and we can safely convene indoors again. It’s just delayed. It’s still coming to me, it’s just delayed. In the meantime, all this other stuff is happening in the virtual world that is going to make that touring even sweeter; it’s exposing me to far more people. So it was hard to have everything canceled, but I just look at it as a pause, not a stop.”
Despite what Facknitz views as a cloud of tension surrounding the upcoming election that has exacerbated the already-tense ongoing pandemic, he seems optimistic; clearly cognizant that the appetite for live music is greater than ever, as exemplified by the reactions he and his band have received.
“Oh my!” Facknitz exclaims, recalling the crowd at the private yard concert hosted by John and Sue Daugherty. “You know, my stuff is not especially weepy or emotional. I write from the crotch more than I write from the heart. But people were crying! Like, people were just sitting there crying, and it wasn’t even necessarily a sad song. People came up to me afterwards and tears were welling up in their eyes; they were speechless. It’s because they missed this, having that connection of live music and having that sense of normalcy. People are starving... and so are we.”