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Jackie Venson personifies perseverance by relentlessly ascending the music industry's creaky, overcrowded, and failing ladder.
The Northwest Austin native undoubtedly "Went Above & Beyond" during a year defined by despair and death. Unable to cast her trademark joy on physical audiences due to pandemic, the ever resourceful independent artist maintained a virtual presence at every juncture of 2020 (archived on Instagram @JackieVenson). This ray of light in a disaster area, presented free of charge, makes her the rightful and inaugural title holder of Best Livestreaming Artist.
Two volumes as Jackie the Robot zoom the former blues ensemble bandleader past even her pivot to a self-sampling solo multi-tasker and catapult the guitarist into future worlds, yet it's October's Vintage Machine that travels the farthest among a whopping five releases in 2020. Her third studio album delivers a batch of good vibrations creeping closer to pop without sacrificing instrumental virtuosity. Opener "Awake" explains its creator's commitment to fulfilling the dreams of her father Andrew Venson, former bassist of Austin R&B act Blue Mist.
Across 33 minutes, Vintage Machine journeys autobiographically, so musically that yields uplifting vibes in a downbeat year.
2020 feels like a seed for Austin's ever popularizing hometown hero. Rising star these past several years, her wicked guitar solos and radiating glow got everyone to take notice, but this contemporary era of stark division absolutely uncovered in Venson a palpable hunger to fight. Increasingly, she uses her voice for change – refusing to halt or conform.
"Instead of being silent, today I'm going to demand that my city, Austin, Texas, be better," Venson tweeted on June 2. "I hope you still believe Black lives matter when you're choosing lineups for the major Austin concert events and festivals, when you're picking out music and songs for your radio shows, when you're doing artist spotlights."
Strong billing greeted her on the livestream edition of ACL Radio's Blues on the Green, but she took a defiant stand for further diversity and wound up curating an all-Black Blues on the Screen herself in July. Venson performed only briefly during R&B singer Alesia Lani's set.
In November, she remedied that by debuting on PBS live concert long hauler Austin City Limits with an incredibly bold statement. A black dress stenciled with the names of 73 victims of police brutality reaffirmed the priorities of the only Black woman to win an Austin Music Award for Best Guitarist (2019). In the midst of actualizing a lifelong goal, she once again diverted attention to people in need.
Time to eliminate "rising" before "star." Jackie Venson is Austin's Musician of the Year. – Derek Udensi
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