Free spirited folk singer Josephine Johnson has been spending her quarantine time the same way as other professional musicians — streaming concerts from home and staying connected with her fans on social media. But now that states have been re-opening, Johnson seems to be making up for lost time by being everywhere at once.
"I work really hard," said Johnson. "I have a lot of fun, but I work really hard."
When I spoke to Johnson on the phone, she was in the middle of a whirlwind weekend, zipping across the region for various gigs and appearances.
"This weekend, on Friday, I played on Daufuskie Island, then I drove all the way up to Milledgeville and I spent all day there yesterday teaching a workshop, and then I performed," explained Johnson. "Then after I sang there last night, I drove back here to do the Sunday brunch at the Justine Inn this morning. Tomorrow morning I go to Helen, Georgia and I’ve got an all day set there, so it’s crazy."
Johnson often performs with bassist Brooks Eaterling and drummer David Harris, but for now is mostly doing solo shows with her guitar and ukulele. Despite the glut of work, Johnson is very selective of the gigs that she accepts.
"These gigs are outside," said Johnson. "I’ve only taken things that I feel are safe and that I’m comfortable with."
In 2018, Johnson released her third and most accomplished album, "The Spark." Arranged by famed producer John Vanderslice and recorded at his fabled Tiny Telephone studio, "The Spark" was a wonderful representation of Johnson’s warm, soulful songwriting, carried by a smoky, gritty, old soul voice that draws comparisons to Karen Dalton and Loretta Lynn.
Since the album’s release, Johnson left her career as an adjunct professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design to pursue music full-time and hasn’t slowed down since.
"I do everything myself—booking, driving, writing, all of it," said Johnson. "I’m not married, I don’t have family that supports me, I do all of it."
Thanks to the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Johnson has finished her latest EP, "Double HighFive" and is looking for an independent record label to help her distribute it. "Double High Five" was co-produced with Andrew Sovine and recorded at his studio. The rich production is enhanced by Sovine’s electric guitar, slide guitar, omnichord, and percussion to accompany Johnson’s emotive vocals, guitar, and ukulele. Mike Kapitan in California put the final polish on it with mixing and mastering.
"We worked diligently on it," said Johnson. "There was a lot of time that went into this six song EP. It might as well have been a full length album."
Beside gigging and promoting her music, Johnson has discovered a passion for teaching music to young people. Johnson spent one of her Saturday’s teaching a songwriting workshop to a group of 15 year-old girls and was inspired by the experience.
"What those girls wrote, I was like, ‘Girls, you’re in the deep end. You need to come out the deep end.’ I was really quite impressed with what they’re doing," said Johnson.
"You go in like, ‘I’m the teacher. I’m going to teach you these things,’ but then at the end of the day you walk out of that experience realizing that you’ve learned just as much as you thought you taught, or maybe you learned more. I learned a lot about those girls. I kind of forgot what it’s like to be a 15 year-old girl. You’re in your emotions, you’ve got boys, all this silly school stuff. And all those girls, because of COVID, they haven’t been in school for awhile, so whatever weird relationship dynamics they had with their friends just became texting and Zoom. It was really cool. I spent four hours with those girls on Saturday. I learned a lot.
"When you’re working on songs with girls in that age range, teenagers, it’s kind of like you’re a therapist and sounding board for them," Johnson continued. "I didn’t realize the power of being a mentor...I feel very humbled by that experience."
Johnson has several gigs coming up around the region, but you can catch her on Sunday at Perch above Local110.
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