A Musical Odyssey

by Randy Reichardt

Part 2

1993: Jessica (Owen) Schoenberg, and Life Beyond The Infinite

I first heard of Jessica Schoenberg in 1992. The City Media Club would host Folk Open Stages once a month, and through the efforts of the amazing Georges Giguere, a cassette was produced and released featuring tunes from some of the major contributors to the monthly folk evening. Mark Holmgren and Co. had been asked to play on it, so we recorded two songs, and one of them, "Chameleon", made it onto the tape. We all received a copy, and while listening to it, I took a liking to Jessica's contribution, "All I Have Known."

Sometime later (unless, as usual, I'm getting my time frames all confoosed...), Mark Holmgren and Early Warning played a gig at the Full Moon Folk Club. Unbeknowst to us, Jessica had been invited to be the opening act that night. I was intrigued as she took centre stage, and played five fast and furious tunes, only to bolt out of the club before we had a chance to talk to her. One night shortly afterwards I suggested to Mark's group that we invite Jessica to open for us, I think it was at the Rumpus Roon on Jasper Avenue. In any event, I contacted her, she came to meet me at the University of Alberta, and we started to become good friends, musical and otherwise.

Intrigued with Jessica's music, I started to play with her a little, and learned some of her tunes. At various open stages and coffee houses, we would often play a handfull of her original songs, while at the same time she was also working on her own with other musicians. As time went on I began to play with her more and more. By the time I had left The Invisible Jug Band, we were building up a considerable repertoire of original tunes, and by then Jessica had decided to record an album.

During a two week period in February of 1994, we laid down the basic tracks for the album "Sounds Like A Plan!" On 9 of 10 tracks, we played guitars and Jessica sang all the vocals and harmonies. It was a labour of love for me, as by then I was seriously enjoying the musical relationship that had formed between us. Jessica continued to smooth out the rough edges of the recording, and two months later, in April of 1994, she released the album at a party at The Next Act in Old Strathcona.

What turned out to be critical for me was how the album sounded, and how much I contributed to it without even realizing it at the time. I was thrilled with its sound, and for the second time again became very aware of my ability to arrange music. None of this would have been possible without Jessica's input and encouragement, and I was (and still am) grateful to her for it. I still listen to this album (600 copies were pressed!) with pride and emotion. Her song, "Heartbeat" remains one of my all time favorite songs, period.

Subsequent to the release of the album came a flurry of activity involving changing musical partnerships. There was a short period in which Jessica added Curtish Ruptash and Andrea Rabinovitch for a short time, then another in which she began playing with a different guitarist as well. In the summer of 1994 she was asked to play the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, and for the second time I too was asked to play, this time accompanying Jessica. One of the workshops we played included Marie-Lynn Hammond of the legendary Canadian group Stringband, Pamela Morgan of the famous Newfoundland band Figgy Duff, and Bill Bourne and Shannon Johnson. Despite having to play in pouring rain, we had a good time that morning. In addition, we also were given the chance to play two songs on the main stage of the festival, the same night Joni Mitchell was the featured performer. Needless to say I was excited (to the tune of 140 beats-per-minute - I recall Jessica laughing at me as she told me not to pass out on her when we were playing!). We were called on stage, plugged in without a sound check, and played two songs back to back, "Heartbeat" and "All I Have Known". Six minutes later it was over, and I was able to calm down again!

The seminal event however would happen not on a folkfest stage, but rather at a stage at the Edmonton Inn, always the official hotel of the EFMF. Each year at the Edmonton Inn, during the FolkFest, three rooms are set aside for acoustic jamming, and the main ballroom is booked for parties on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night of the weekend. The parties always feature scheduled performers, from midnight until 4:00 or 5:00 am every night. At the 1997 festival, for example, Oysterband seriously rocked out one night, playing from 3:00-4:15 am - the dance floor was packed.

In any event, one night Jessica and I were jamming in the hallway outside the acoustic rooms. At around 3:15 in the morning, a technician came by, anxious to beat all hell, and asked if we would quickly come downstairs to the ballroom and play a couple of tunes, as the scheduled band hadn't appeared. I was a bit concerned, because we were just two acoustic guitars and Jess's voice without percussion, but he insisted, so we figured, whatthehell! We rushed downstairs, did a two-minute soundcheck, and kicked into one of my all-time favorite songs of Jessica's, "A Heavy Rain is Falling" (which she rewrote for her first CD). The song kicked serious ass, and about halfway through it, with Jess and I pounding on our acoustic guitars and her voice filling the room, I noticed bodies coming up on stage behind me. I turned and recognized the bassist, pianist and drummer from Blue Rodeo!! They settled quickly, and began to join in with us. As the song neared its end, I screamed into Jessica's ear, "SING THE WHOLE THING OVER AGAIN", and thus began 15 minutes of pure performing fun, as Blue Rodeo and Jessica and I flew on three of her best tunes. The dance floor filled immediately, and I experienced the joy and heady feeling of having to direct the Rodeo boys (Bazil Donovan, bass; James Gray, keyboard; Glenn Milchem, drums) with head movements, etc., and also letting Bazil watch my left hand to get an idea of what chord was coming next, while continuing to play the song and enjoy the feeling of being on stage and playing with this amazing group of musicians, Jess included of course!

When it was over, we both floated off stage, and Jessica was beaming. It would prove to be a seminal moment in her musical career, the first time she experienced her music with a solid rhythm section backing her. By the end of 1994, she had the foundations of a rock band around her, and following personnel changes (yes, including my departure), she recorded two well-received CDs. As of this writing (April 1998), she has dissolved her Edmonton-based band, and is preparing to move to NYC with her husband, where she will resume her musical career.

I continued to play with Jessica until Dec 31, 1994, when we played out last gig together, at the Edmonton First Night Festival. To this day I miss playing with her. Playing with her brought me great joy and satisfaction, and I still hope someday that we'll connect musically again. Recently Jessica released her fourth recording, called Humanisms, sadly available only in the NYC area. She graciously sent me a copy, and having played it many times can confidently call it her best work yet.

1995 to the Present: Amelia Returns (Having Never Really Left!)

During the years from 1995-1997, I was as quiet musically as I'd ever been. The only person I kept in contact with was Amelia, trusted friend and brilliant musician. Perhaps I needed a sorting out period of sorts - I'm not sure, to be honest with you - but during this period, Amelia occasionally called with a gig here and there, and I gladly joined her for these events. There were highlights, all of which were the great concerts Amelia stages once a year.

Somewhere along the line, Amelia met cellist Christine Hanson, and for a time, both played with David Wilkie in Cowboy Celtic. I had called Amelia up, asking her if she wanted to practice or jam sometime. I suspect I was feeling rather low musically, and knew she could boost me up. Sometime later she called and invited me over to play, and I met Christine for the first time. I recall sitting very close to her as we jammed, and I could feel the bass notes of the cello pulsing through me. I'd never played with a cello before, and the three of us sounded quite good together.

Some weeks later without having rehearsed to any degree or learned many tunes, we played a short set at the Pioneer Cabin in Edmonton; I can't remember what the occasion was. Amelia and Christine soon formed Bonnie Lass Productions, and began laying plans for their first recording. Last updated on October 09, 2002