Q&A: Jena Skinner of Hardscrabble on the future of local live music and being an audiophile ahead of Ghost Light Sessions concert
Hardscrabble is the next band to play in the Vilar Performing Arts Center’s Ghost Light Sessions, a series of live-streamed shows from the empty concert hall at the Beaver Creek venue.
The band plays a bluegrass sound that draws influence from different genres, including originals and covers that pay homage to the original artists in a respectful, authentic way. Viewers can see that on full display during the concert, and contribute via virtual tip jar. To tune into the stream, visit vilarpac.org/streaming.
The Vail Daily sat down with lead vocalist and mandolin player Jena Skinner ahead of the stream, which starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 28 to talk about the state of live music and why live music in the Vail Valley is so special.
The conversation has been edited for length and flow.
Vail Daily: How did you and the band get involved with the Vilar for this series?
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Jena Skinner: We’ve been around for quite a number of years now. Eric [Lovgren, banjo and vocals] is really good at seeking out opportunities and we saw this came up. We are actually somewhat connected to Duncan as well, from being a big part of the community and being around for a while.
VD: That’s great.
JS: Yeah and the Vilar stage … what a great stage. I’ve done choir on there, I’ve done stuff with the Vail Valley Theater Company. To get the Vilar stage is a really amazing thing to happen during this time.
VD: Yeah, live music has been hit pretty hard by the pandemic, in that it doesn’t truly exist right now. How has that affected you as a musician and the collective of the band?
JS: We all have jobs so we’re not financially dependent on this, we’re hobbyists. But the idea that you can’t get together when you want to… when the inspiration for a song comes up, you can’t look forward to going practice and introducing it to the band. It’s been rough. Robbie, [Brown, vocals and] our lead guitar player, works at the hospital too, so we’ve definitely been distancing him even more. It’s great, the phrase “get the band back together,” was awesome. As soon as we were permitted to have small gatherings, we were back in practice.
VD: I know too that everyone’s rolling with the punches and it’s really hard to plan things. Having the Ghost Light concert come together so quickly must have been really exciting.
JS: Absolutely. Not only that, but music in this time frame has really morphed. Online music really exploded more than it ever had. What people don’t realize is that you’ve actually opened your market quite significantly. I’m from a different country.
VD: Oh, really?
JS: Yeah, I’m Canadian. I’m a Canarican.
VD: Love that.
JS: I anticipate that there are people in my hometown that will see us. This is probably conceivably the largest audience we’ve ever had in one swoop. There’s this whole audience that you may never have seen at a show. My sister can watch me in Virginia. I’m just so extremely excited, and a little nervous.
VD: It’s also cool that these Ghost Light Sessions are still a production. And it’s very different from someone starting a live stream in their bedroom, saying “Hello, can you hear me?” and starting to play. You have to put in that time.
JS: Yeah, we’re not doing it for the money. But we’re still getting paid for our time. We’re going to spend a whole day at the Vilar. Soundcheck, lighting check… everyone took the day off.
VD: And the result is definitely a better product.
JS: Absolutely. And we get this recording for forever. We have a couple Jam in the Vans, how fun was that? Will we ever get a chance to do that again?
VD: Well it’s also cool because it’s like those Queen “Live In Monteal” well-produced live concert videos. And you’ll have one of those now? That must be really cool.
JS: Yeah, that’s the positive side of the digital world that we are embracing, is that you can create a positive legacy for yourself. From a musician’s standpoint too, there’s something very different from being on stage versus off stage. There’s something that you love about it so much that you can’t touch it with everyday life. And every now and then you get on stage and something comes together that you’ll never be able to recreate. I’m really looking forward to being able to do that with the band again.
VD: I don’t know if I’ve seen another venue do full-production live-streamed concerts from the stage, either.
JS: I’ve sang on that stage several times, and the gratitude and sound quality that goes with that is off the hook. At the Vilar, you’ll be able to hear a pin drop. I’m an audiophile, so I’m really addicted to sound. To be able to hear things authentically is a real game-changer in so many different facets.
VD: And I feel like that special experience speaks to how special the Eagle Valley is as a whole.
JS: I’m really hoping that this whole pandemic causes people to take a beat and say, “gosh, I took for granted so much music we have in this valley, because now I see nothing. It’s going to be really hard for it to come back.” I think this relationship to our community culture and our music: it’s so important that, when it does come back, I hope people will be more in love with the experience that they may have forgotten. We do have a lot of music up here and I hope people are a tinge more grateful when we can get back out there and support local live music even more than before.