Singing With Soul in Portland

Award-winning singer and songwriter Jenny Van West sands off her rough edges to bring her best to every performance.

Singer and songwriter Jenny Van West of Portland, Maine, has been singing her whole life. “I had the good fortune to go to schools with strong music programs,” she says. “We would sing everything from hymns to songs from South Pacific. We were expected to learn music theory starting in the 4th grade.”

Van West began playing guitar and writing songs during her teen years, but took a break from writing as she thought she lacked talent in that area. “Fast forward to six years ago when I realized that if I could become teachable, I could learn to write songs as well.”

Jenny Van West, photo by Jeff Van West

Jenny Van West, photo by Jeff Van West

The realization liberated Van West, although she admits she wrote lot of bad songs in between the good ones. In 2015, she put out her first full-length CD, Something Real, went on the road for the first time, and won the Maine Songwriters Association songwriting contest. “I suppose that shows we aren’t always right about ourselves and can do a lot more than we think we can,” she says.

Growing up near the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland, Van West lived all over New England before settling in Maine in 2005. “We chose Portland. Portland is equal parts salt water, granite, old brick buildings, good food, art, and grit,” Van West says. “Portland has a lot of integrity as a city. There is also tremendous cultural diversity here. If you are lucky like me, you get to hang out with people from all over the world. If you asked for 100 Maine musicians who have positively impacted me,” she adds, “I could write you a book.”

Currently Van West is working on her second album, Happiness to Burn, which will feature ten original songs. It is set to release in October. “This album represents a major leap for me artistically, and I’m extremely proud of what it’s becoming.”

Jenny Van West, photo by Titi de Baccarat

Jenny Van West, photo by Titi de Baccarat

She recently played a sold-out show at the Stoltz Listening Room at the Avalon Theater in Easton, Maryland, and sang for 9,000 people at the Women’s March in Augusta, Maine, last January. “Everyone should be singing and making music all the time,” she says. “It should be completely normalized.”

Right now Van West is loving Emmy Lou Harris’ Wrecking Ball album, Rose Cousin’s song “Chosen”, and Shane Alexander’s “Nobody’s Home.” Van West is also a huge fan of local artist Jaw Gems. You can hear these tunes and more on our Take a Listen Spotify channel that features staff listening picks and top tunes chosen by musicians we interview. Take a Listen.

Jenny Van West–Musician
Portland, Maine
Top image by Elizabeth Harvey
Janet ReynoldsSinging With Soul in Portland

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