Jennifer Markey: I was drawn to country because it's easy to play

Photo by Steve Cohen

What do you do when you lose your dad to a devastating illness while also undergoing a divorce? You sing a country song, of course, which is how local singer Jennifer Markey coped with a rough year she endured a decade ago. The country music stuck -- she and her band The Tennessee Snowpants are now beloved in the local country scene -- and this Saturday at Grumpy's Northeast, Markey pairs her love for country with her love for her dad in the third annual "Honky Tonk Fest," honoring Dad's memory and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Six country acts, including Markey's band and another visiting all the way from Austin, Texas, will perform at Saturday's event, which also promises prizes, a cakewalk and a photo booth. We caught up with Markey for some background on her dad, the benefit, and why Grumpy's was the obvious place for her to celebrate.

Gimme Noise: Honky Tonk Fest is held to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; can you tell us why you decided to host this benefit, and for this organization?

Jennifer Markey: My father died of leukemia in 2003; he was only sick for four months and our family was totally devastated. I was going through a lot at that time; an entrance into the music world, a divorce, a new relationship with a divorced father of two, and a full time job, so, as crazy as it sounds, I didn't have time to grieve. I do not recommend doing that, by the way, jumping into a relationship after a messy divorce. I don't have regrets, but that did make it very hard to deal with my father's illness and his death. Anyway, my dad's birthday is June 13 and we've never really done anything to celebrate his life; for me, at least, it was just too difficult. Ten years later and I still get weepy when I think about him. So, in 2011, I approached Pat Dwyer at Grumpy's and asked if we could do this. It was something I could do that might make a difference for someone else in the future, but it was something that wouldn't make me bawl like a baby. That time is coming but it will be on my own terms.


This is your third annual event -- for those who have attended in past years, what will be different about this year's festival?

Mostly, I hope that this year is bigger and better. We have an artist coming in from Austin, Texas that I'm really excited about, Leo Rondeau. He is doing true blue country revival the way country is supposed to be, the "real deal," as they say. This is the first year we've had an artist come in from out of town and I'm pretty jazzed about it. Also, something we're trying this year is a special deal created for folks who don't carry cash; you can donate $25 on your credit card and you receive a package deal: admission, six raffle tickets and unlimited cakewalk and photo booth. I talked to a friend who said she loves coming to benefits, but she feels bad because she doesn't carry cash and doesn't feel good about attending and not donating. So we've fixed that!

You're holding the show at Grumpy's again -- can you tell us about your connection to that venue?

Grumpy's is kind of a home base for me and my fiancé, Jon. I've always liked it because of the music connection, but it's also in our neighborhood and so many of our friends hang out there too. We almost always see someone we know when we stop in for a beer; one always turns into two or three because we end up hanging out with friends and having a good time. But the reason that bar is such a great neighborhood place is because of Pat and his incredible staff. I don't know any other bar owner in the city that would do the things he does for friends and this community; he really puts himself out there and it shows in the dedication people have to that establishment.

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