Meet Cody Jensen

In March, festival Co-Chair Katie Schacht had. An accomoplished multi-instrumentalist, Cody has been a well-known fixture of the Champaign-Urbana music scene for over a decade. A founding member of Bones Jugs, Cody can also be spotted playing in any number of other local bands. During this past year, when music venues the world over had to shut their physical doors, you could still watch Cody Tuesday nights playing live via FaceBook and YouTube on Rose Bowl TV for Chicago Farmer’s Folkin’ Tuesday.

Here’s the exchange between Katie and Cody, edited for clarity and length.

Katie: How did you first get involved in the C-U Folk and Roots Festival?

Cody: Hmmmm. I think I played the festival a couple of times with a couple different bands. I think that was my first exposure. I played with Black Coffee Fridays and Bones Jugs. And then I think it was [Festival Co-Chair] Rob Krumm – I would be surprised if it was anyone else – invited me and Charlie [Harris] to come to the volunteer appreciation party, even though I don’t we think had volunteered or anything. I really think he was just tricking us so we would sign up for some sort of volunteer job or whatever. But it worked. And at the appreciation party with pizza and drinks and all that, I think I just signed up to be a Venue Coordinator for the next year.

K: And do you remember how long ago that was?

C: That was about 2015 or 2016. And I did that for about a year at the Iron Post. Then beginning the next year, I joined the Booking Committee and did that for a couple years before we started exploring this expanded role in a Director position.

K: So, like a good six plus years of participating in, volunteering for, and now really helping to run the festival? How would you describe your current role?

C: The current role is still being designed. But yeah, you know my first major role was on the Booking Committee and that started to morph into being on both Booking and Steering [Committees] which last year started morphing into a discussion about what would it be like if we had a Director. Last year was supposed to be the pilot year for that – obviously that didn’t happen. So, this year is kind of the pilot year for that, I guess. And we are still trying to figure out what it all means. [Chuckles all around.]

K: What would you say has been your favorite Folk and Roots experience/moment so far, out of all those six years of moments?

C: There are a couple that stand out. First, I think it was the second time I played for the festival with Black Coffee Fridays. We played at the Rose Bowl, right before Devil In A Woodpile on Saturday night. The performance was fun for us but then getting to kick back to watch Devil In A Woodpile – they just totally blew me away. And they inspired me in a lot of ways. Musically, but also they opted to set up on the floor and play acoustically. And that experience, watching all that unfold, also inspired me to get involved in the festival. Because, being an artist first, I understand that side of things. So I thought I could offer a lot in terms of festival and artist interrelationships.

Another moment that jumps to my mind is when Bones Jugs played with Dom Flemons at Krannert Center for the kick-off show. And that was, yeah, I mean that was just incredible! That’s definitely one of my all-time favorite Folk and Roots memories. Getting to open the show but also getting to share the stage with Dom. There is just no beating that! It was really fun.

K: You kind of already answered this but, does a favorite performance come to mind?

C: As a performer, [Dom] was a stand-out for me. As an observer, I would have to pick Devil In A Woodpile. That one just stands out in my mind. And then in more recent years, it is interesting. Because I knew the schedule so well as someone involved in the booking, but I didn’t always even get to see the bands that I was super excited about. In 2019 one of the things that really surprised me was that I felt like I knew almost every band really, really well. There were just a couple that I didn’t know that well. Emily McKown had suggested them and I remembered we listened to them and I was like “great.” Charlie was also like “great” and we went ahead [Emily and Charlie also serve on the Booking Committee]. But I didn’t’ feel like I knew Emily’s bookings really, really well. I just kind of signed off. One of the bands that Emily booked was called Humbird and I was able to catch a little of their set on Friday night at Blackbird. It was so amazing to walk into what is a very noisy room acoustically and see everyone sitting quietly, listening to a full band that had this huge dynamic range and was fronted by a singer who just had everyone totally captivated. Seeing that in a bar like Blackbird on Friday at 5:30pm, or whatever, it was really cool.

K: As Director, what are your hopes and plans for the 2021 festival?

C: I think the big hope is just to have the festival in as normal a fashion as we can. I think that everyone could really benefit from a community event like this right now and would be pretty overjoyed to be able to gather together. In future years I might be answering with ideas that involve growth or changes of some kind, but really I just feel like [this year] we are desperately hoping for just the same old thing.

K: What are your hopes and dreams for the festival overall?

C: I think that the festival is already really great and my hopes are that we can continue doing the things we already do well and do more of them. So: find good artists to bring to town, treat them well, compensate them fairly, and make sure they have a great time while they are here. And make them want to come back. Keep the festival affordable, if not make it more affordable or offer even more free events. Make sure that our offerings are diverse and representative of varying viewpoints, varying voices.

Two more quick points. One would be trying to continue the tradition of holding the Winter Weekend. We’ve also fallen into holding a couple other events around the year, including the Winter Weekend and what was, for a couple years, the Hank Williams and Other Honkytonk Heroes Tribute Concert at the Rose Bowl. Last year it was a John Prine Tribute. This year we don’t know yet what it is going to be but we want to do something. We have developed these other events to still gather, but on a much smaller scale than the festival itself, obviously. And I want to make sure that those remain a part of our year-round offerings. I think we could even offer more things. Even if it is just sponsoring a show on a random weekend in late June, or something else. Those “pop-up” events have happened before. Typically, they happen on a whim or because an artist is passing through town and I think we can be even more intentional about them moving forward. We also have a great partnership with the Urbana Park District, co-sponsoring their summer Folk and Roots Fridays series.

K: Are there any sneak peeks for the 2021 festival?

C: We are just starting to reach out to artists. The first thing that we are hoping to do is book artists that we already had confirmed for 2020 and have them in 2021. Other than that, we’ll do what we do in most years which is to try to find some new folks that haven’t been here before, and pick out one or two acts that have been here and were a hit and we want to bring back. And, certainly, we had some wonderful first-time performers on video last year for our virtual festival that we will definitely be contacting to try to get them here in person.

K: What song are you currently playing on repeat?

C: The Cat by Jimmy Smith

K: What current activity/hobby are you doing that is bringing you joy or lifting you up?

C: I recently started watching the Marvel movies, in sequence, in the timeline order. So I have entered the MCU, as they call it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have never really watched very many movies, but this winter, and definitely this week, it has picked up a little more. It has been really fun.

K:Which one are you currently on?

C:I am on Ant Man and the Wasp.

K: What are you most looking forward to when life opens back up again?

C: There are two things I keep saying over and over when this subject comes up – and it comes up a lot – and those are: playing music with people and playing music for people.

K: Those were all the questions I had. Is there anything you would like to add?

C: If anyone has any questions about the festival or for me, or ideas about the festival, they can email me. The festival is a community event and the community can weigh in at any time.