Joni Laurence
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Joni Laurence

Band Folk Acoustic


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"Local Music Awards: Folk/Americana Nominees"

by Caryle Wisel

After 15 years of playing guitar and three CDs under her belt, Joni Laurence accredits her initial introduction to music to her mother's infrequent playing of little ditties and self-written songs on an acoustic guitar she kept hanging from a nail on her wall. After playing in the all-women singer/songwriter groups Girlfriends and Dear Connie during grad school, Laurence became a solo act. Although she claims singing her self-written songs to an audience is the craziest thing she's ever done, she seems to have perfected it to a science. When asked what her ideal venue to perform in is, she said, "My favorite place to play in CU has been the Unitarian Universalist Church. You can't beat the acoustics in that room."


Urbana or Champaign? I'm a Libra - I can't choose. I love both for different reasons.

Big Lebowski or Royal Tenenbaums? Huh? I think I'm showing my age, or perhaps, how un-hip I am.

Beatles or The Stones? Definitely the Beatles! Great chord progressions. Great harmonies.

What's your most embarrassing moment? Last year I was opening for Catie Curtis in Bloomington. I had 20 minutes on the stage, and at the beginning of the second song I broke a string. There were 250 people in the audience and the green room was blocks away, it seemed. So, I continued my set with five strings. I must have gone to my happy place because I don't remember much about it, other than babbling incessantly. The audience seemed to chuckle frequently, and after the show, I sold 18 CDs. Vulnerability is entertaining, I guess. Lesson learned - always keep spare strings on the stage ... even if you're a folkie.

Joni Laurence's last show in town before making a move to Portland is slated to be April 26 at the Canopy Club. Don't miss it.

- The Buzz

"A Songwriter with Soul"

From the first lines of the title track to the last notes of the introspective "I Have a Faith," Joni Laurence shows her range of talent - and it is vast!

This is the best of her CDs to date. Soulful songs such as "I Love You," "Breathing," and "Water and Land" are melodic and moving with Joni's rich vocals. On "Bowl of Raisin Bran," "Meet Your Mate," and "Supportive" she shows off her humor. It's the spectrum of emotions that she portrays that makes this a stellar CD.

Although Joni Laurence is a fine folk musician, a few guest artists complete the CD and give it additional depth.

If you are looking for a singer with an expressive voice, song lyrics with vivid imagery, and music that just plain leaves you wanting more, then look no further than Joni Laurence's Trashbag Birdie.
- Customer Review -

"Weekly Picks"

by Beatle Bob

Laurence's melodies are instantly memorable, and her lyrics show a faith in reconciliation and resurrection. Her voice displays a range and depth with complexity. - Sauce Magazine

"CD Reviews"

Trashbag Birdie, Joni Laurence (Browntown): Fans of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith will appreciate this Illinois lesbian singer-songwriter’s boundary-pushing acoustic folk on a superbly produced release. - Curve Magazine

"Now Playing"

by Tom Irwin

...Laurence’s slender form and shy persona belie the tough artist inside who’s willing to take on issues in song with a demanding delicacy.... - Illinois Times

"CD Reviews"

by Andre Hagestedt

...A strong yet crystalline voice soars from [Laurence], carrying along a tightly woven web of lyrics thick with layers, which cover everything from the small to the grandiose in life, and managing to make a poignant point out of all of it.... - Just Out - Portland, OR

"Heading West: Musician to say 'goodbye' to C-U with concert, live recording session"

By Kirby Pringle

Joni Laurence, a fixture on the local music scene, is going out with a bang. Not that she’s disappearing entirely. But, she and her partner are making a move in late April or early May to Portland, OR. And that means with Champaign-Urbana no longer serving as her home base, Laurence’s local performances will be fewer in number.

Laurence is saying “goodbye” in a big way, with a concert set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Unitarian Universalist church, 309 W. Green St., Urbana. Tickets are $10 in advance and will also be available at the door. In addition, the concert will be recorded live for a new CD, tentatively titled, “With No Apology.” The disc should be available by early summer – Laurence is shooting for June.

“I’ll definitely be back to Champaign-Urbana. I have lifelong friends here and a good fan base. But this will probably be my last live show in the area for a while,” Laurence says.

A singer-songwriter in the modern folk mode, Laurence has been a full-time musician for nearly two years, although she has been writing songs and performing for more than a decade.

“Almost two years ago, I quit my day job at the University of Illinois and have been supporting myself just through music,” she adds. “It’s been a journey. It really has – learning who I am as a person and as an artist. You learn a lot when you pursue your passion. You also have to work hard at it; you really do.”

Laurence has issued three solo albums and has always wanted to do a live album. “I’ve always felt more comfortable in front of an audience as opposed to being in a recording studio. It’s two separate kinds of art – recording in a studio and live performances. I prefer live performances in terms of expressing my art,” she says.

When a performer like Laurence gets together with a receptive, energetic audience, the result can be magic. That’s what happened a few years ago when Laurence performed solo – also in the Unitarian Universalist Church. “The acoustics were great, and the audience was great. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever done in Champaign-Urbana,” she says.

What will make the Feb. 18 performance all the more special is the festive atmosphere. Laurence has rounded up several sponsors for everything from complimentary drinks and snacks to raffle prizes. She also has 15 fan-volunteers who will do everything from sell tickets to serve as ushers and even emcee.

“What I’m hoping for is that the audience really feels like they are participating, and our combined energy will make this a really special recording event. I’m fortunate to have a strong fan base. I’ve already sold advance tickets to fans in places like South Bend and Peoria,” Laurence says.

If the concert happens to sell out and the recording session comes off without a hitch, you can bet that Laurence will be riding on cloud nine. Performing with her will be Matt Stewart on guitar, Josh Walden on bass, Jeff Magby on drums and percussion and Ryan Groff on backing vocals. The recording engineers will be Mark Rubel and Carl Lund, with Jeff Janczewski serving as live sound engineer.

Laurence’s plans are to perform about an hour’s worth of her new songs, then take a break and talk to her follow musicians and the recording engineers about how things went. Afterward, she’ll head back to the stage, re-record any songs that didn’t go quite as planned in the first hour and then do some solo performances.

The new songs reflect Laurence’s journey from a musician with a day job to a full-time artist who must depend on her talent and moxie in order to survive. “I would say the new songs definitely reflect my personal processes and reflections from the last two years,” she says. “I really like this batch of songs. They are quite different from my earlier work. I try to write songs that speak to a person on more than one level. There are definitely some humorous songs, but there are some serious songs, as well.”

Advanced copies of the CD – the money helps to fund the project – are available at, where visitors can also buy advance tickets to the concert.
- News Gazette

"Discovering New Music through XM radio - Joni Laurence “Trashbag Birdie”"

After losing my old car stereo to thieves, I decided to treat myself to an upgrade, including XM Satellite Radio. I actually managed to install it myself, a process that ended up taking me about four hours. In the old days I probably would have paid someone to install it, but I'm getting less timid about tackling projects. Between the savings I got from mail ordering my new stereo from Crutchfield and installing it myself, I figure I saved about $150. Were the savings worth four hours of my time? There have been times when I would have said no, but in this case I had the time and I have to say that I got some satisfaction out of installing it myself.
Between work and personal trips, I've been doing a lot more long drives lately. Music definitely helps when you're in the car for three or four hours, and my last stereo's ability to play MP3s was very handy. The only problem with the MP3 player was that I had been getting into a bit of a rut musically, listening mostly to music I already have in my collection. While my collection is pretty extensive and eclectic, I found myself listening to the same favorites most of the time, and I thought that satellite radio would be a good way to expose myself to some new music.
Listening to their XCountry station introduced me to Joni Laurence's Meet Your Mate, a funny little song about the challenges of dating as an adult in the 21st century. The album that this track comes from, Trashbag Birdie, impressed me enough that I bought a copy through iTunes (my first online music purchase). If you want to check out some snippets, you can hear samples of each song on CDBaby's website.
- Customer review on

"On a 5-year mission - Pop songster Joni Laurence to reclaim her folk music roots"

by Tim Shellberg

Earlier this year, singer-songwriter Joni Laurence took quite possibly the biggest leap of faith in her burgeoning music career.

After juggling more than a decade in the 9-to-5 world with songwriting, recording and performing, the Champaign-based singer and songwriter left her job as a manager of labor and employee relations at the University of Illinois to concentrate fully on her passion.

Yet the business-minded budding artist didn't take the leap blindly.

"It's a five-year plan, at least, to really fulfill my interests and desires and dreams to do music," she said. "It takes a long time to get established, so I think it'll take a while for that to happen."

Scheduled to perform Saturday with fellow songstress Sam Shaber at Valparaiso's Front Porch Music, Laurence was raised in Quincy, Ill., a town along the Mississippi River. She followed in her mother's guitar-playing footsteps for the first time when she was 12 years old. But with only one sole piece of sheet music in her home, she tired of the instrument.

Nine years later, Laurence began playing again. Inspired by the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith and the Indigo Girls, to name just a few, Laurence began composing her own songs.

In 1988, after studying at the former Northeast Missouri State University, Laurence moved to Champaign and later received her master's degree in organizational communication at the U of I and eventually was employed by her alma mater. Yet she continued to pursue songwriting and recording in her off hours.

She built a fan base in clubs and coffeehouses around the Prairie State and released a pair of albums, 1998's "Short Time" and "Daphne Speaks" two years later.

Along with winning favor among folk fans, she also received kudos after entering her creations in songwriting contests. She was a finalist in both the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the Songwriters Association of Washington Song Contest within the last four years.

"I haven't gotten as far along in contests as I would like in terms of the recognition you get when you win or get selected in the top 10," she said. "But I got enough recognition from that to know that I've got a good thing going."

In May, Laurence decided to leave the daily grind behind to focus primarily on her music. A month later, Laurence released her third full-length set, "Trashbag Birdie." While remaining rooted in folk, Laurence made an effort to push her musical horizons on "Trashbag," incorporating elements of funk, country, bluegrass and even sprinkles of pop into the mix.

But despite the boundaries pushed on "Trashbag," Laurence maintains her ground as a folk songwriter and performer.

"As I have grown as a musician and listened to lots of different kinds of music, my music has been influenced by those styles and has shown up in my writing," she said. "But it's all still under an umbrella of folk, although when I've sent the CD off to places to get a review, it's often not considered folk -- I'm kind of on a mission to reclaim the words ‘folk music.'"

Laurence's Front Porch stage mate, Shaber, released her latest collection, "Eighty Numbered Streets," last year. The set was produced by late '90s hit maker and current member of The Thorns, Shawn "Lullaby" Mullins.
- Northwest Indiana Times

"Black Plastic and Barbed Wire"

by Brayn A. Hollerbach

To anyone who's lived on a farm or driven through farmland and actually seen it instead of looking through it, the image should have resonance: a scrap of debris, a wind-blown bit of polypropylene, fluttering on a strand of barbed wire as though alive.

That image functions as the focus of the title track to Trashbag Birdie, the latest CD from Champaign singer/songwriter Joni Laurence, who will take the stage at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room this Thursday, February 17. By no means uncommon in its common detail, "Trashbag Birdie" opens a 14-track Browntown Records disc that revels in the everyday, celebrates the quotidian, with gentle wit in at least two senses of that word and with considerable appeal.

"Wrapped around a fence line, flapping in the breeze," Laurence sings at the start of that opening track. "Shredded old black plastic actin' like a birdie." From that image and those two lines, she personifies the scrap from Glad or Hefty, attributing to it the wish to fly, relating the unuttered wisdom of the crow and the hawk ("They know that real wings are made from courage and desire"), and concluding with advice from a shard of glass at the foot of the fence. With "Trashbag Birdie," in short, Laurence has transformed a commonplace bucolic image into a latter-day parable.

Almost assuredly, certain potential listeners will scorn that track and the others on Trashbag Birdie, Laurence's third disc, released last June. The narcotizing and homogenizing influence of the "mass media," which permit only microchips to be personified nowadays, excludes anything so populist as a parable. Far too few people—their imaginations in cybernation, slumbering before the TV, the monitor, the video screen—seem inclined to assay the parabolic over the merely hyperbolic.

Although they themselves admittedly border on hyperbole, such considerations may well trouble the average modern folksinger—and may well trouble even an above-average modern folksinger like Laurence. How and why did so much of the populace desert a genre predicated on populism? Four decades ago, when Bob Dylan electrified the Newport Folk Festival, did the wizard from Hibbing inadvertently short-circuit the communal IQ? To echo Pete Seeger, where have all the flowers gone? Whence the folk?

With luck, questions of that grandiosity don't vex Laurence overmuch, and the music on Trashbag Birdie suggests that to be true. Unapologetically homely and delightful tropes abound; on "I Love You," for instance, a small dog "wags her butt 'cause she's got no tail." It would do Laurence an injustice to mistake her for a marshmallow, though. By way of example, dry humor colors "Bowl of Raisin Bran"—"Oh yeah, life is just a bowl of Raisin Bran. Chewing through the fiber best you can, with no plan. Knowing that it's good for you, but hoping each bite brings a new something sweet and tender"—and "Paradise Lane" sketches a subtle portrait of rejuvenation at once bleak and hopeful. Instrumentally, too, Trashbag Birdie features unexpected felicities; a cello, violin, and viola (from Amy Flores, Andrew McCann, and Rose Wollman) enliven "Breathing," for example, and Carlton Johnson's cool clarinet graces "Meet Your Mate."

Some of that instrumentation, incidentally, further reflects Laurence's pluck and her populist bona fides. To finance hiring certain session musicians to play on Trashbag Birdie, she blue-skied the idea of fans' underwriting such efforts for nothing more than a credit, a special pre-release copy of the CD, and good karma—and almost three dozen supporters responded. As a result, newcomers to Trashbag Birdie learn that (say) Ron Peterson sponsored Chris Courtney's bass on "Water and Land" and Jan and Denny Kane sponsored Robin Kearton's fiddle on "Supportive." Extraordinary.

As an additional measure of her pluck, Laurence (who will open for New England folk-rocker Catie Curtis at Blueberry Hill) graciously agreed at the eleventh hour to a brief e-mail interview with the Sports Desk. Without further ado, then, cue the Q&A—followed by the curtain on the Duck Room performance, tickets for which cost $14 in advance and $18 at the door:

Hollerbach: Certain of the lyrics on Trashbag Birdie, in their attention to detail and use of metaphor, hew closer to poetry than to workaday songwriting, which too often embraces mere poesy. To what extent would you accept or reject that notion?

Laurence: I agree that my writing style does not meet the formulaic standards of pop/country music; however, I've never really thought of myself as a poet. I am a songwriter, and I try to use techniques of good songwriting to express myself with less typical topics and situations. It's important to me that each song say something meaningful. Even if the "point" or the "message" is not completely obvious, it's clearly there—I hope.

Hollerbach: Who would you name as nonmusician poetic influences—and in what specific ways have they influenced your wo -


With No Apology (2006)
Trashbag Birdie (2004)
daphne speaks (2000)
Short Time (1998)



In her fourth full-length recording, With No Apology, Portland-based singer-songwriter Joni Laurence presents a collection of songs from the rockier side of folk, song written during the two years after she left her day job to face the challenges and rewards of pursuing her passion for making music.

With No Apology, recorded live in Urbana, IL with the generous financial support of her loyal fan base in central Illinois and beyond, maintains the eclectic flavor of its predecessor, Trashbag Birdie (2004). Innocent Words Magazine wrote of Trashbag Birdie, “Joni mixes the eclectic styles of blues, country, folk and jazz on her album, with songs that could be described as easy listening outside of the elevator.”

But on her latest effort, Laurence introduces a somewhat edgier and more vulnerable self, revealing the darker and more difficult side of relationships. As with most all of Laurence’s songs, however, she finds light in the darkness, hope in the despair, and humor in the inane.

Drawn from her own experiences and the stories of those around her, Laurence’s intricate lyrics are the focal point of her songs. Her music is acoustic, grassroots and organic. Laurence considers herself a “singer-songwriter of the modern folk kind” telling stories of real people and life experiences. St. Louis music connoisseur, Beatle Bob writes, in Sauce Magazine, “Laurence's melodies are instantly memorable, and her lyrics show a faith in reconciliation and resurrection. Her voice displays a range and depth with complexity.”

Touring nationally since 2004, Laurence has shared the stage with Patty Larkin, Carrie Newcomer, Cosy Sheridan and John Gorka. Recent highlights include touring in support of well-known singer-songwriter Catie Curtis and performing live on the television program Arts Across Illinois: Center Stage, at WTTW in Chicago, IL, the nation’s third-largest PBS television station.

Joni was born and raised in Quincy, IL. Unlike many of her singer-songwriter contemporaries, singing and learning musical instruments was not nurtured during her childhood. Growing up in a single-parent home, Joni was steered by her mother toward practical endeavors – endeavors that were more likely than music to secure Joni a career and financial stability. A self-taught musician, Joni first picked up the guitar as a college senior and checked out library songbooks that contained her favorite tunes. After graduation, she moved to Champaign, IL where she found her musical voice.

In all, Laurence spent 18 years “growing up” as a singer-songwriter in the Champaign/Urbana community, performing in all-female bands, first “Girlfriends” and later “Dear Connie,” before going solo. Since 1998, Joni has been touring in support of her independently self-released records, which include Short Time (1998), Daphne Speaks (2000), Trashbag Birdie (2004) and the latest edition to her growing catalogue, With No Apology (2006).

It was the support and encouragement of Joni’s fans that prompted her move across the country to Portland, OR, a city known for its progressive acoustic music community. As a recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest, Joni is becoming recognized as the new kid to watch in the local and regional music scenes.