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The Sound

Useful Jenkins on ‘the family’ of jam

11/20/2013

Useful Jenkins plays DG’s Taphouse in Ames on Friday, Nov 22.

Useful Jenkins plays DG’s Taphouse in Ames on Friday, Nov 22.

Even if you’re not a fan of jam bands, it’s difficult to not be drawn in by the mentality. The idea of a group of people getting together (maybe getting high), having a good time and just generally being groovy and happy just to bask in the presence of one another is something we can all get behind at some point in our lives, especially as the stresses of the rest of our lives pile up.

“For a lot of people, it’s rare to be able to go out and just have a good time; to not have to worry about anything,” said frontman Pat Forsyth. “I think that’s what we bring to every venue we play at. We try to bring a party.”

“We see a lot of hugging in our crowds,” added mandolin player Chuck Boeke. “And I think that’s because we’ve all had rough patches in our lives, but we find solace in everyone around us. Our scene is really close knit, and we let anyone in. And once you’re in, you’re family.”

It’s that familial aura that really defines Useful Jenkins as a band and that typifies its sound better than any genre designation could. It’s also a feeling that Useful Jenkins’ members feel underscores just what it means to be a band from the Midwest, which is a label that the band takes great pride in.

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“There’s a huge sense of family between the bands that are from (the Midwest),” Forsyth explained. “To be able to go to some of these Midwest fests and reunite with these people that you’ve played with who might live 300 miles away from you, and to see them every other weekend somewhere, it’s a really great feeling, and that’s something that’s unique to the Midwest, from my experience.”

It’s a touchy-feely approach to life to be sure, but it’s an outlook that the guys in Useful Jenkins come to naturally. Talking with them, or watching them on stage, it never feels like an affectation, this hippie notion that “we’re all in this together.” The fluid, almost holistic, approach is the real McCoy with these fellows. In fact, it strikes right to the band’s own genesis.

“Everyone (in the band) started out on an individual basis,” explained Boeke. “Then this person met this person who started hanging out with this person. It was just a crazy kind of triangle of events.”

“We all kind of got started doing open mics in Mankato (Minn.), and that kind of translated into the band,” Forsyth said. “We just started jamming around, and people eventually started asking us what the band name was, so we decided then that we should probably get a band name and start making it official. That was around 2006.”

And what about that name?

“Basically it was just a late night of rambling word vomit, and that’s what was left over,” laughed Forsyth. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

Ah.

It’s hard not to be drawn in by these guys. Even to the most cynical among us, Useful Jenkins exudes an aura of happiness about what it does that’s infectious. It’s members are proud to be from the Midwest, happy to play for their fans and confident that the crowd will walk away from the experience equally pleased.

“There’s no way to be in a bad mood after listening to (us),” Boeke said. “Unless you just absolutely can’t stand us.” CV

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