It’s a great name – but talent helps 

Nicky Mehta would like to believe that her band’s star-making performance at a music conference in Florida was based on talent alone. But she’s guessing that wasn’t entirely the case Nicky Mehta would like to believe that her band’s star-making performance at a music conference in Florida was based on talent alone. But she’s guessing that wasn’t entirely the case.

At the Folk Alliance festival last February, the music of The Wailin’ Jennys-which Mehta fronts with Ruth Moody and Cara Luft-was rapturously received by the influential radio and festival programmers in attendance. What the three friends ended up with in return was a number of unexpectedly packed showcase concerts at the influential music industry event.

Looking back on it now, the 30-year-old with the rich alto voice believes the immediate response was as much due to the acoustic trio’s talent as it was their shrewd marketing.

"We took the worst shot of us that we could find and plastered it everywhere," says Mehta. "This one shot in particular was just brutal. Ruth looked like she had been stung by a wasp, and we had this fan on us so our hair was blowing everywhere. But people loved the name. We had all these people loved the name. We had all these people coming up saying, ‘We don’t know who you are, but good name!’"

Great name, in fact. And while its likeness to a certain outlaw country star has caused the occasional double-take-"We got booked into a hotel room as Waylon Jennings at the Ottawa Folk Festival," Mehta laughs-the moniker has served a valuable purpose in the short term.

Together just under a year the Winnipeg-based group has already shot to near the top of the folk scene in Canada. Early support from the CBC helped put the band on the fast track, Mehta says, but hitting the road and playing in front of people has been crucial in breaking the band’s heartfelt harmonies to folk fans across the country.

Each Wailin’ Jennys was a veteran performer before joining forces with the other two, which has been a blessing, she says. "Had we been fresh as performers period, it might be a different story. But I think that our collective experience helps. That extends from everything to booking a solid tour to stage presence. Everyone is a seasoned enough performer that nobody loses it on stage."

The group’s run of good fortune began almost immediately. A mutual friend, who also happened to own Sled Dog Music in Winnipeg, had the idea of staging a performance at his guitar shop, and he asked the three performers to assemble a group for it. They agreed.

But never did the quickly formed trio, who had met the year prior at the Winnipeg Folk Festival when Moody was still a member of Scruj MacDuhk, expect their free-wheeling set-which featured originals and Led Zeppelin and Kim Mitchell covers-to warrant the reaction it did.

"The interest in that first show was so good that we booked a second date," says Mehta. "We had such a great time. I think we were all so burned out from pursuing our own stuff that this was just a chance to really have some fun and learn some songs. It was for fun and nothing else. There was always this very relaxed, noncommittal attitude towards it."

Mehta says The Wailin’ Jennys maintain the same devil-may-care attitude, but there’s no denying the fact that the pressure is mounting for this young band. Its first-ever summer festival date was as a headliner at July’s Winnipeg Folk Festival; their eighth gig together was at the massive Harbourfront Center in Toronto.

Mehta says a highlight for the band was during the Comox Valley’s Vancouver Island Music festival this summer, when the group was schedules to perform a Sunday morning gospel set. At the time, The Jennys had just enough material for two sets, and precious little of it was gospel.

Still, the trio performed flawlessly.

"We were madly trying to figure out what we could tackle from our existing set that could fit into a gospel thing," Mehta says laughing. "Anything remotely, even possibly connected to God was used. We were really stretching to the limits there."

It didn’t appear to be a stretch for the audience, which responded to the band’s endearing treatment of songs, some of which appear on the group’s new self-titled EP.

But as for doing it again, Mehta isn’t so sure that her band would get the same crowd reaction. "I think people have heard our stage patter too much since then. It’s not so devotional."