We had the good fortune of connecting with Notable Exceptions Judy & Jennifer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Notable Exceptions, why did you pursue a creative career?
Every career choice we’ve made, separately or collectively, has been creative and/or musical. It’s all we’ve ever known. We both grew up in musical families, and creativity was encouraged. Jennifer lives her life as a musical. She was a typical band geek in school, a bit shy, but always ready to take on anything that involved music. Her mom played violin for many years, and still sings in the church choir. Her dad is a barbershopper with a warm, rich bass voice; Jennifer internalized vocal harmony as a little girl with her head resting on his chest as he sang. Once she was out on her own, she formed a women’s a cappella quartet, then hired on with a cowgirl band to sing, yodel, and play harmonica.
Judy learned harmony in the back seat of the station wagon on vacation, creating descants as the family belted out “You Are My Sunshine” in 5 parts. She taught music in the public schools, then turned her head to western music and yodeling, led an award-winning cowboy band, and enjoyed a successful career as a solo musician.
Our jobs haven’t always been musical, but they’ve always been creative. Each of us has taken a turn as executive director for a chamber music festival. Judy founded a community children’s choir. Jennifer was a graphic designer with a large software company, then a cowboy-for-hire for a local cow-calf operation. Note: Cowboy is a verb, and it’s definitely creative.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
We’re an acoustic western/folk duo, known primarily for our vocal harmonies. Judy plays guitar, and Jennifer plays everything else. We met at a music festival in Albuquerque, NM when both of us were singing in cowgirl bands. Every year, we’d meet up at that festival and stay up half the night singing and harmonizing, until finally we realized once a year just wasn’t enough. Jennifer lived in north central Washington, and Judy was in Kansas. Our first gigs as a duo were packaged into a tour, and we’ve been touring ever since. We both relocated to central Washington, and we spend about half the year on the road, snowbirding through the winter months in New Mexico and Arizona. We travel in a 33-foot motor home our fans dubbed “NoRMa, the Notable Road Machine”, with our matching black-and-white four legged friends, Wyatt the Wonder Dog and our fluffy ragdoll cat, Rooty Toot Galoot. We love telling stories, not only through our music but in other creative ways.
What keeps you busy professionally?
CD sales no longer serve as a reliable income source for independent musicians; everybody’s streaming their favorite music, and streaming pays the artist fractions of pennies. Our jewelrymaking serves as an additional income stream to supplement our CD sales. Judy inherited her grandfather’s lapidary shop, and her wire wrapping skills allow her to share family stories through her handiwork. Jennifer creates chainmail bracelets, and is exploring new techniques that will showcase our combined talents.
Judy is writing a lot. In addition to the folk opera she’s composing, Judy is also writing a book of stories about her father.
What sets you apart?
We are entertainers. A Notable Exceptions concert is a carefully crafted roller coaster ride, a playful romp. Background music is for wallflowers, and we’re definitely not wallflowers. The lyrics in the songs, and the harmonies we create for them, make our work unsuitable for coffeehouses and cocktail hours. Music connects us to audiences large and small. Our songs are stories, sometimes lessons, sometimes jokes with a punchline, always with a plot. We create complex vocals, crossing over and trading places, weaving around the instruments we play to create a sonic texture, a fabric. Every concert is new, even for a regular audience of old friends, because every day is a new day.
How did you get to where you are? What challenges have you overcome?
We have been performing as a duo for eight years, but we’ve each spent over 20 years honing our skills and building relationships with our fans. Loyal followers travel with us virtually, and our collective community grows with every new friendship.
COVID-19 was our greatest challenge. Being cut off from live audiences really took a toll on us. It was more than a loss of income. We missed that shared experience that only live music creates, so we found safe ways to fight back. Our Porch Concert Series was launched that first spring in quarantine; with our sound system in our yard, we sang from our front porch to our neighbors on their porches, and posted the video for our online audience. By that winter, Jennifer was ready to hit the road again, so we loaded up our Zombie Apocalypse Vehicle (NoRMa) with backpacking food, a gallon of hand sanitizer and a bunch of masks, and logged 11,572 miles on a Coast-to-Coast Quarantine Tour. We didn’t have any advertised gigs, but we sang for folks we met along the way who might need a musical smile, and checked in with our patrons through exclusive online concerts and subscriber perks. After a second season of the Porch Concert Series last fall, we weathered the winter with a 3-month tour combining business and family visits. Now invitations for live concerts are coming our way again. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share that musical energy.
How do you know whether to keep going or give up?
This work we do is important, and we take it seriously. Music reaches every human being in a deep, personal, sometimes powerful way. Its effects are unmistakable. We have enough stories to write a book, but one shared memory keeps us focused.
Our very first tour as a duo took us to a series of retirement centers and long term care facilities in rural southeast Kansas. We crisscrossed the county for a week, performing three or four shows a day at various locations. Some facilities were vibrant retirement communities, others were nursing homes where the only visitors were occasional paid performers like us. Most of our audiences were a cheerful mix of staff and residents, but Thursday started at an Alzheimers facility where the doors were locked on both sides and the overhead lighting was extremely low, where residents were wheeled without the usual smalltalk into the performance area and staff members disappeared for a smoke break. We sang to a resident audience of 6 or 7. The front row of our audience was one man, belted and slumped in a wheelchair, knarled hands resting on the arms of his transport. Our jokes and clever story-songs fell on deaf ears and vacant, downturned faces, until we came to the waltz. The front row man, who hadn’t moved a muscle since he was deposited by the attendant, slowly lifted a finger. Soon he was tapping that finger to the beat of the waltz, just that one finger, up and down, reaching back through time, waltzing with someone very special in a corner of his mind that dementia could not reach. We exchanged glances, repeated a chorus, and watched that finger take one more turn around the dance floor. Whenever the worries of the business weigh us down, we remember that day.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As museum geeks, the Musical Instrument Museum is a fantastic place to visit, but plan on at least a day there; on our first visit, we started with the hands-on exhibit, and the day was nearly gone when we realized we had a lot more to see! Folks who enjoy a walk in the springtime will enjoy a day hike through Lost Dutchman State Park just east of town. We love singalongs at Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, where our friend and one-man-band Brett Valliant improvises and takes requests from the audience all night long.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Our friend Mike Rutherford is perhaps more responsible than anyone else for building our relationship with the state of Arizona. His greatest success is measured in the company he keeps, and the way he gives to others with no strings attached. He books talent for the Arizona Folklore Preserve near Sierra Vista. Their website is https://arizonafolklore.com/.