Farmer Jason …inspiring children to appreciate nature, through song
When internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Ringenberg created his family music character Farmer Jason, he had no idea he was launching what would prove to be the most commercially successful creation of his storied career. With Jason and the Scorchers in the 1980s, Jason pioneered the fusion of punk rock and country that helped birth the modern Americana and Alt-Country genres. There is a Scorchers exhibit in the Country Music Hall of Fame and they are recipients of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The Times (UK) called Jason “one of the most dynamic live performers of his generation.” Jason could rest easy, assured that his place in rock ‘n’ roll history was secure.
However, by the early 2000s it was time for a change. He was living on a farm west of Nashville with his young family and itching to try something different, something more organic and family-oriented. “As a child I had grown up on our Illinois farm that bordered the Rock Island Line Railroad. I taught myself to play guitar and harmonica listening to those trains go by,” remembers Jason. “Every spare minute I would hike and wander those fields and forests relishing the wonders of nature, a habit I have maintained to this day.” Based on those childhood experiences, he created the family music character Farmer Jason in 2002. A Day at the Farm with Farmer Jason was released in 2003. Stylistically leaning towards acoustic folk and bluegrass, the concept of the record was to educate and entertain pre-school children with songs about farm animals and farm life. “My ambitions were quite simple: to make a record that my own daughters and their little friends could enjoy,” Jason said. To his delight and surprise, the project took root, earning kudos like Disney’s Family Fun Magazine’s Best of the Year list. Soon kids were singing along to “The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug” at Farmer Jason family concerts all over North America and Europe in venues ranging from fairs on the Alaskan tundra to private schools in posh central London.
Rockin’ in the Forest followed in 2006, with Farmer Jason signed to the major label Kid Rhino/Lionsgate. This time the recording was much more electric and high energy, with songs about the forest and its inhabitants. “Punk Rock Skunk,” a hilarious ode to the virtues of being different, was a hit with kids and adults alike. Rockin’ in the Forest solidified Farmer Jason’s position in the family music world as a long term artist, earning awards like a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and Children’s Record of the Year listing by the Los Angeles Times.
Nashville Public Television noticed this phenomenon in their backyard and decided to produce a video interstitial program using the Farmer Jason songs and personality called “It’s a Farmer Jason.” The program won an Emmy Award in 2009, a nomination in 2010, and was released as a DVD. In 2011 Farmer Jason created tracks for the Green Bay Packers and Charlotte Panthers to use in their family promotions. The tractor was rolling in the National Football League!
Now the story continues with the latest release, Nature Jams, by Farmer Jason and Buddies on myKaZoo Music/Universal. This is the most ambitious and adventurous Farmer Jason project to date. Each track has guest star artists singing duets about nature subjects and outdoor activities like whale watching, ice skating, hiking, and spelunking. Included in the album package are 16 songs, 18 guest artists, a 20-page illustrated booklet, and a bonus DVD with 4 new videos. “The central goal of the record is to inspire and motivate children to get outdoors and experience nature firsthand,” says Jason. “I get more satisfaction when that happens than from any award or sold-out show.”
The guest star list on the release is both impressive and unexpected. Farmer Jason pulls in many old and new friends, including Steve Gorman of the Black Crowes, Mike Mills from R.E.M., Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, Iris DeMent, indie folk darling Brandi Carlile, Grammy®-award winning bassist Vic Wooten, Americana hipster Todd Snider, banjo virtuoso Alison Brown, zydeco star Terrance Simien, platinum-selling vocalist Suzy Bogguss, Irish rockers The Saw Doctors, humorist-musician Webb Wilder, Hank Williams III and the legendary Tommy Ramone of the Ramones. Other guest artists are Jo Nesbø, the international best selling mystery novelist; Kristi Rose, a Nashville chanteuse; and Ruthie Foster, the Blues Music Awards’ Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year. Even Jason and the Scorchers join in. Stylistically the songs range from Celtic rock to pure folk.
“Every track was done with a different set of musicians, guests, and studios. You can hear in the tracks that the artists truly enjoyed performing for kids. They had to get out of their boxes, and had a whale of a time doing it,” says Jason. All artists are donating their royalty shares to conservation causes. Nature Jams is the inaugural release for myKaZoo Music/Universal, a new label dedicated to producing family music and television. Five videos using songs from Nature Jams will be airing on www.mykazootv.com and public television stations around the country.
You can bet the Farmer Jason tractor will keep on chugging and will someday come to your town. Grab a pitchfork – or a guitar – and hop aboard.