There’s something special about stumbling across an artist before they make it big: graduating with them from sparse attendance at small bars to the clamor of crowded clubs and on to the grandeur of arenas. And while it’s easy to get nostalgic for the intimacy of early days, you can’t help but be excited not only for their success but for having been a part of the ride.
Discovered by Social Distortion’s Mike Ness in sleepy Santa Margarita, CA, Jade Jackson had and an auspicious debut with 2017’s Gilded and seemed poised for breakthrough success, receiving positive critical nods and topping Rolling Stone’s list of “10 Country Artists You Need to Know.” Still, the alchemy of musical stardom is unpredictable, and after heavy touring on several continents, Jackson fell off the radar for awhile. Then on April 30, she came back swinging with the release of “Bottle It Up,” an effervescent country rock anthem with sober lyrical undertones that begs to be blasted through open windows driving down a desert road. She also announced her sophomore album Wilderness, explaining the album’s title and her vision for the future: “I am incredibly thankful for the way my career has started, but I’ve always had this urge propelling me forward. I know where I want to go—I can visualize it—but right now I’m walking through the wild, still picking up tools, still learning, and making my way.”
Taking the stage at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN with longtime drummer Tyler Miller and new bandmates Julian Ness (lead guitar) and Devin Hollister (bass), the band dove into a setlist brimming with new material from Wilderness, including an already reworked rock version of “Tonight” with the wink-and-nod postscript: “If you listen to the record, don’t be disappointed. Just be encouraged to come back and see us again.”
While I gave up my high school garage band ambitions of musical greatness long ago, the acknowledgement of this disconnect between recording and performing still resonates. For artists, I imagine being in the studio is very much the proverbial attempt to catch lightning in a bottle—even when you think you’ve got it right, a song continues to spark, sputter, and change over time. Similarly, my challenge as a photographer is to capture someone like Jade’s energy and personality—by nature electric, textured, and aural—in still, silent frames that preserve the spirit of what they’ve laid bare onstage.
The Lord says that I should forgive her for stealing my baby away. He came forth to cast out my demons, but in secret I asked them to stay.
– “Salt to Sugar” off Gilded (2017)
Fan favorites from Gilded featured prominently in the set as well, but the highlight of my night was hearing the punchy opening descent to “Good Time Gone” from the bar and pushing up front to sing along. This muscly ode to circumspect hedonism was my introduction to Jade’s signature throaty voice and gothic optimism and remains my favorite track off the first album.
From the shimmering opening chords of “Bottle It Up” to the galloping closing notes of “Troubled End,” the show was a rare and special one in my books—on par with starting to follow Grace Potter & The Nocturnals at sparse clubs in the mid-Atlantic 10 years ago—and I can’t wait to see where Jade Jackson goes from here.