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"An excellent storyteller with an impressively direct, matter of fact way of looking at our world."
-Laura Land (Chicago Crowd Surfer)

Joybird is Chicago fiddler, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist, and arts educator Jess McIntosh. Backed by Chicago's busiest traditional and experimental musicians, Jess writes songs informed by her background in social work and time living in both the heart of Appalachia and the City of Big Shoulders.

 

Growing up the daughter of a traveling hospice chaplain, playing violin for strangers in their final days of life, then pursuing a career in social work before she rerouted as a professional musician and violin teacher, Jess finds a strong majority of her songs call on the single most unifying human experience we know - death - and our living relationships to it. Joybird collaborators trade banjos, guitars, fiddle, drums, bass & keys, and most recently  saxophone and flute as well. Since taking its name in 2017 Joybird has evolved collaboratively, though it's core members Aaron Smith and Bill Harris have written and played together since 2014.

For someone who has spent more than ten years collaborating with and supporting other artists, it’s not surprising that McIntosh’s debut album, Long Time Exhaling, (2016) inspired audiences and musical connections alike. It started out as just a song or two recorded with friend & percussionist Bill Harris. Harris experimented with percussion on that song, then it was one more, and another, until a full album was on the horizon. The need for a bass brought in Aaron Smith and the three found a groove. From those roots grew an open-hearted rendering of folk ballads, old-time-inspired instrumentals and plain sound experiments released under Jess McIntosh. Covering the grief of moving to a new city and love lost, the songs on this debut bore the intimacy of a letter to a friend, noting each day’s particulars—the way a knife cuts through butter, the absence  of a beloved’s jacket. At times playful, at times immersed in longing, the album is fiercely hopeful and deeply communal. "If all the world is a motherless child, we will fill up every glass," Jess sings in the album’s title track - "we will sing to all our fears as the years go on to pass and we’ll wake up taller than the questions we have asked.”

Joybird’s 2019 release, Landing, extends a broad focus on the communities we live in, the voices that define our nation, the spirit of those who came before us. These songs prove a healing balm for burned-out activists, tired hearts, anyone who has tried and failed. Jess sings with hardened confidence in "My House," painting “not good enough” and “should’ve tried harder” as dust in the corners of her mind. Landing highlights the fluidity of Jess's writing, 

This growth accompanied Joybird's collective expansion as well. This album features double fiddles, (adding Dan Andree of The Henhouse Prowlers), dobro & telecaster from Steve Doyle (The Hoyle Brothers), three-part female harmonies from Sara Leginsky (Glass Mountain) and Emily Nott, clarinet from Cass Pautler, and french horn and trumpet from Anna S. Jacobson.

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BANNER PHOTO BY RACHEL WINSLOW