Virtual Nelsonville Music Festival Interviews: Hubby Jenkins

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Over the summer, Hubby Jenkins’ livestreams have included his reading of Choose Your Own Adventure books. If you are a child of the ’80s or ’90s, these gamebooks, which sold over 250 million copies for publisher Bantam Books between 1979 to 1998, are likely familiar and hopefully beloved. Written from a second-person point of view, the books put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes — allowing them to make all the plot’s pivotal decisions and ultimately determine the book’s outcome.

“Okay, so now we have a decision to make here,” says Jenkins, pausing his reading of “You Are An Alien! (Choose Your Own Adventure #156)” by Edward Packer during a livestream posted to Facebook about two weeks ago, dressed in a bathrobe and enjoying a mug of tea emblazoned with “Hubby” in chubby cursive.

“We could decide to keep our secret, which is that we somehow moved so fast that we saved our dog from falling off this cliff, or we could decide to tell our family what happened. So — keep it a secret, or tell the family what happened?” Jenkins poses to his audience. He waits a moment, and soon it is clear the audience wants to tell the family what happened. He turns to the appropriate page to continue that storyline and continues reading.

“When I was a kid I was a huge Choose Your Own Adventure fan,” said Jenkins in our interview a few days before his contribution to the Virtual Nelsonville Music Festival goes live August 21-22 on the Stuart’s Opera House YouTube page. “I think I was buying them for my little cousin when I started to think about them again. I have this moment, very clearly, when we were playing at a festival in Australia and I had a day off and I was on the beach and I got beach ready and I pulled out my book and it was Slavery By the Numbers, chapter one ‘Feet in Chains.’ I had just been reading a lot about our history, and my brain just really needed a big break from that, and somehow it just landed on Choose Your Own Adventure books.”

Hubby Jenkins

“The other thing is, when I started doing my solo shows, I talk a lot about race and the history of American music and how it relates to black history and reinserting the narrative of African Americans into old time music. On occasion, there would be some pushback from people,” Jenkins said. “(People saying) ‘the banjo is not a black instrument, my grandaddy played the banjo,’ and other stuff that you can’t say on the radio. I started getting into reading Choose Your Owns on stage. Also, one of my big things that I love is Andy Kaufman, so I think it was also partially inspired by that.”

Jenkins said that now, during shows, he will play a song, and start reading from the book. He’ll get to a decision, ask the audience to raise their hands, and then tell them that after this next song they’ll find out what happens in the book. Before the next song, he rolls seamlessly into speaking about black history and black music in the context of American history, and before anyone can try to challenge the facts, he and the audience are onto the song and the next part of the book.

During our interview, I express that I, too, was a rabid Choose Your Own Adventure (as well as Goosebumps and Animorphs) fan, although I joke that I don’t know if I can call those books children’s “literature.”

“I think you can call them literature,” said Jenkins, and slightly taken aback at that comment, I embarrassedly explain that my comment stems from my mother referring to Goosebumps, Animorphs, and Harry Potter books as “trash.” Jenkins acknowledges my backtracking, and the interview moves on to Jenkins’ April 2020 The Fourth Day EP — but the exchange sticks with me. I start to consider what informs my understanding of “high culture” versus “low culture,” and if there really is such a thing as either.

“If Goosebumps is ‘trash,’ but the Little House on the Prairie series isn’t — even though the Little House on the Prairie books definitely perpetuated racial stereotypes of Native Americans — which series is really ‘trash?'” I wondered. This wasn’t a new internal debate, necessarily, but it was one that I finally came to an understanding so clear about that I feel foolish admitting I ever even considered it. Defining the quality of media in the context of the mainstream canon is worrisome because the people who define that canon are in positions of power and are invested in maintaining the status quo. I’ve still got more thinking to do, as we all do, but Jenkins’ comment solidified my deep down belief that the books I loved as a kid were never trash, and we would all do better to work to cultivate our own personal media canons and consider what informs our value evaluation in terms of media. In times as dire as these, I sure appreciated the revelation.

Listen to my interview with Jenkins embedded above, and make sure to tune in for his Virtual Nelsonville Music Festival performance this weekend.

Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, the 2020 Nelsonville Music Festival announced its cancellation due to the infectious disease outbreak. In its place, Ohio University School of Media Arts & Studies Director Josh Antonuccio and Nelsonville Music Festival Executive Director Tim Peacock created the Virtual Nelsonville Music Festival, an online presentation of the popular festival, which is being produced by Stuart’s Opera House, WOUB Public Media, the Scripps College of Communication and the Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies, in partnership with OU Performing Arts, the Ohio University Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Haden DeRoberts Foundation. Under the direction of Antonuccio, Ohio University students and recent graduates are on location around the region with school faculty Andie Walla and Brian Plow filming performances for the virtual fundraiser supporting Stuart’s Opera House. WOUB producers Adam Rich and Evan Shaw are providing post-production on the project, which will go live on Stuart’s official YouTube page August 21-22.