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Whey Jennings and the Unwanted at Dove Valley Vineyards

“A Life Worth Living is Well Hidden Between the Lines”

Nestled off the beaten path, in Rising Sun, Maryland lays a landscape of rolling hills, green grass, and vast blue skies. A log cabin, tents, and a pavilion line the landscape there. It could be a family BBQ, or a picnic in anywhere U.S.A.  For tonight its center stage for Whey Jennings and the Unwanted, and opener Andrew Robear. The setting is family owned, Dove Valley Vineyards. An escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, something a little slower, a little sweeter, but on that night Honky-Tonk blew the roof off that little pavilion. People danced like they were on the set of Country showcase, “Hot Country Nights”.  Honky-Tonk delivered masterfully, by none other than Whey Jennings, the grandson of Honky-Tonk legend Waylon Jennings, and his band of music masters, in their own right. On guitar Danny Thompson, Bass Ken Andree, and Drums Lane Butler. In all my years of following bands I doubt I have ever seen so much talent packed into one band, or packed into such a remote location. I could not have asked for a more intimate setting than to have Whey Jennings and the Unwanted perform in my own back yard.

                My photographer, Jason Cavanaugh, and I met in the parking lot, and entered the vineyard together. The owners were extremely welcoming, and hospitable like meeting family you have not seen in a while. You could not miss Billy in his tie-die shirt, and larger than life personality. He gave us our passes, and in we went to locate Whey.

                Whey and the boys were inside the pavilion setting up their own equipment. No roadies, no sound techs, they were doing their own thing. Like a band of gypsies their SUV and pull- behind trailer sat just outback. I approached Whey, and we spoke about the night’s events, and the possibility to catch some promo shots, before the band played.

                Once all set up, we gathered on the lands behind the pavilion and looked around for places to take great promo shots. The lighting and the landscape was especially yielding that day. Whey was larger than life; a great sense of humor, a practical joker, punking his fellow band mates. The boys made off around the yard like a bunch of school boys, just laughing, and joking, and doing their thing. Incredibly easy to photograph, it’s amazing to listen to Whey’s songs and hear the heartbreak in many of his tales; then to see him as carefree imitating the Beatles famous “Abby Road” in one shot.

Whey Jennings and the Unwanted played many throwback songs, and Waylon’s hits, as well as many songs of their own. They even brought Willie Nelson out on tour, in the form of Whey’s uncanny imitation on songs like “Whiskey River”.

Highlights from the show were renditions of Waylon Jennings, “I’ve Always Been Crazy”, “Luckenbaugh, Texas” and “Honky-Tonk Heroes.” As well as Willie Nelson’s “Dock of the Bay” and “Seven Spanish Angels” an emotional tribute which closed out the night. Also Whey debuted many of his own songs such as “Gypsy Soul”, “All Kinds of Angels,” “Open Book”, and “Voices from the Gallows” which is set to be the title track, for Whey Jennings and the Unwanted’s album, set for release November 7, 2018.

                Whey sang with a high lonesome sound, chilling at times, and upbeat at others, and every member of his band played along; an expert of his craft. Then the band did something I have never seen in my years of going to concerts, in the middle of the set Whey walked off the stage, and Danny Thompson led a song and played guitar. If that was not enough Thompson later switched with drummer Lane Butler, Thompson now on drums, Butler on guitar; and what does he pick, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of “Voodoo Child, “ Meanwhile Thompson also led on several Blues standards as well.  All were delivered flawlessly as if this was the musical instrument of choice all night. Then Ken Andree took center stage, and played the bass, and sang as if it was a guitar solo, making him to Honky-Tonk, what Les Claypool is to Rock n Roll. All this hidden on a vineyard, a crowd of maybe three hundred people, and I can’t help but thinking, “These guys should be playing in front of thousands right now,” for as talented as each one of them were.

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 However, that setting is typical of many of Whey’s shows; intimate, and off the beaten path. Having had an opportunity to speak to Whey earlier in the week, he explained this when he said that he will play anywhere anyone wants to see him play. For our group at the vineyard that night we were the lucky ones, for I suspect big things to happen for Whey Jennings and the Unwanted with the release of their new album. This is taking a step for Whey outside the many tributes he has done in his grandfather Waylon’s footsteps, and a step which will hopefully get him recognized in his own right. I kept thinking as the night drew on, that a quote I stole from Whey from “Open Book” summed up the night perfectly, “A life worth living is well hidden between the lines”. There nestled in the middle of nowhere was an unforgettable experience, hidden from the outside world; the kind of memory made you later share with your grandchildren, and I was fortunate for having been there that night.   

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