Critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s Pre Pleasure tour captivated the eager crowd at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock on Aug. 4. Jumping between indie pop, indie folk, and alternative country, she’s released three studio albums since 2016: Don’t Let the Kids Win, Crushing, and Pre Pleasure—the latest album release, which Pitchfork called “empathetic, understated rock.”
The room fell silent when the first notes of Jacklin’s guitar filled the room. The 32-year-old Australian native quickly noted that “she feels insane but fine” as she arrived for one of the final shows of a year-long tour. The songs started as ballads, but steadily built into haunting rock songs. Jacklin performed a setlist of about 15 songs, each written with cleverness and sharpness but remaining playful and observant. “Am I gonna lose myself again? I quite like the person that I am,” she repeats to herself in “I Was Neon.” She grapples with religion in “Lydia Wears A Cross”, the lead single of Pre Pleasure: “I’d be a believer, If it was all just song and dance. I’d be a believer if I thought we had a chance.” In this song, she describes the confusion of a child discovering religion: “I felt pretty in the shoes and the dress, confused by the rest, could He hear me?” Electric guitars, drums, keyboards, tambourines, and chimes assisted Jacklin in entrancing the room.
Jacklin took what was an already intimate room and made it feel like a private concert—or, according to my sister, “a concert in your living room if your living room has crazy good acoustics.” This might also be a result of the magic of Levon Helm Studios: the barn setting offers unparalleled sound quality and always an eager, music loving crowd, due to the venue’s capacity of 200. Deep in the woods of Woodstock, this venue offers quite a different experience than a general admission or area concert, where the audience often records the entire performance on their phones instead of watching it. The quiet (and phoneless) audience hung onto every word: two teenage girls bounced in their seats while singing excitedly, pointing to each other as Jacklin played their favorite songs, while adults in the standing room danced behind her like rehearsed backup dancers. Helm – who would have been thrilled by the careful attention the audience gave to the performance – used local hemlock, pine, bluestone, and omitted metal to enhance the acoustics. The oriental carpet, string lights, and lamps without shades added an indie flare.
Indie singer-songwriters continue to maintain their popularity by speaking directly to their listeners: just look at Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lana Del Rey. Jacklin is the latest critically acclaimed indie artist to perform in the Hudson Valley, with Big Thief playing a sold out show at UPAC on Jul. 19, Lucius playing Arrowood Farms on Jul. 6, and Iron and Wine playing at UPAC on Jul. 28. An upcoming show with Ethel Cain at Basilica Hudson on Oct. 5 sold out in minutes. The music scene in the Hudson Valley has always been eclectic, from Tubby’s in Kingston hosting everything from country to punk, and Woodstock being the epicenter of music that Woodstock has always been. It almost feels like live music is intertwined in the bones of the town. But venues like The Avalon Lounge in Catskill, The Falcon in Marlboro, and Maverick Concerts in Woodstock have steadily been increasing the volume of their concerts. Opus 40’s sculpture-park-turned-music-venue has quickly become a stand out, with artists like Kingston’s own singer-songwriter Al Olender (performing Sep. 9) and Lara Hope and the Arktones (performing Sep. 22) booked for their fall lineup. Chosen Family, a must-read monthly zine/showpaper run by Mike Amari (ex-booker of BSP, current show presenter at Opus 40), is another exciting contribution to the growing music community in the area.
Jacklin spoke to the crowd throughout song breaks, quirkier and funnier than you would expect from her intense and emotional songwriting. She quickly announced that her and her band “are not a jam band,” even though she desperately wants to be, and tells an anecdote from the Newport Folk Festival where she sat in a jam circle and turned the sound down on her guitar so she could look like she was apart of the group without having to make any sound. She joked that the two things that stop her “from being a jammer” are ability and confidence, a statement that I think all 200 people who watched her at Levon Helm Studios would entirely disagree with.