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Melissa Weishaar-Jennings

Melissa Weishaar-Jennings cares about you. She really does.

At her day job, she uses her medical background in the pharmaceutical industry to advance products that help heal the body.

But on weekends, she and her husband, Jeff, form the alt-music duo Wise Jennings. Together, they perform the music that heals your soul.

The Jump River native and 1994 Gilman High School graduate met her musical husband nearly 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until four years ago the two decided to take their show on the road. Before teaching herself to play drums and harmonica, Weishaar-Jennings’ only music training came as part of her high school band. (“I played a mean flute,” she said.)

“We naively thought, ‘How hard could it be to start a band? Let’s do it!’” she said of the inception of Wise Jennings. “Despite all of its challenges, it has led us to a whole new world of music, friends and experiences we otherwise never would have had the privilege of having.”

Weishaar-Jennings’ family includes sons, Aaron, 14, and Ryan, 11, and cats, Ginger and Piper, all of whom live at the couple’s at-home studio facility, Wise Farm Productions outside Lake Geneva. Annually, the couple host their Wise Fest and Feed Your Head music festivals.

To learn more about the band, visit WiseJennings.com; Facebook pages for Wise Jennings and Wise Farm Productions; Instagram (@wisejennings) or watch their performances on YouTube. Their music also can be found on Spotify, Apple Music and most other popular streaming platforms.

1. When did you first realize music would be central to your life? As a kid, I loved to sing and was proud of the fact I could memorize lyrics to any song playing on the school bus radio. When asked at that young age what I would love to do when I grew up, it was always, “Be a rock star!” It just took a long time to get there, and I’m not even a rock star, but I’ll take it nonetheless.

2. Do you come from a musical family or would you consider yourself an outlier? My brother and I always had the music bug and were both in bands in our 20s and beyond, but nobody else in our family can hold a tune or play any instruments.

3. If you weren’t involved in the music business, what would you most likely be doing? Well, I do have a career. I need a regular job to support my music and event promotion addiction. If I could choose any career to have though, it would be to own and run a campground so I can be surrounded by nature all the time. My campground would have music all the time, and everyone that comes there would be very happy. LOL.

4. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? DON’T EAT! A full belly plus singing does not mix well for all the reasons you might suspect.

5. Describe the music of Wise Jennings for the uninitiated. We take pride in performing our own original music. Our music spans a lot of genres, from Americana to rock to punk to bluegrass. We meld these together to form a sound unique to us and a live performance that is memorable, to say the least.

6. Many people listen to music as a hobby. Since it is your profession, what do you do to take your mind away from work? Music is more than a profession for us. It’s a passion. We can’t stop thinking about music, songwriting, performing, event planning and everything that goes into it. Music has been our release from the mundane day-to-day that comes along with the dreaded “day job.” With that said, the one thing that can get our mind off of it is our kids. They are the best things in our lives. And being parents to our two boys is a gift that we are eternally grateful for.

7. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Taco dip ... because it’s taco dip. Oh, and milk. We have two boys. They drink a lot of milk.

8. Name a music act you simply won’t miss if it is performing near you. Shovels & Rope. They are, simply put, the most amazing band and greatest musical influence on us. They are the band that showed us you can be valued and successful as a duo and that it is entirely possible for a duo to make as much or more noise than an entire band.

9. How many instruments do you play, and which ones would you like to learn how to play? I play drums and harmonica. I want to learn to play them all. Jeff, the other half of Wise Jennings, has this amazing talent where he can pick up pretty much any instrument and play it. I want to be like Jeff!

10. One word that describes your approach to music is: Persistence.

11. One of the strangest things you’ve ever had happen on stage is: We once had a guy show up to a gig in a chicken costume. It wasn’t Halloween. He danced joyfully to a song we called “The Chicken Song.” It was pure magic.

12. What are your three favorite Wise Jennings songs to perform, and why did you choose those? This changes all the time depending on where we’re at with new music, but here goes.

“Water Over the Dam.” This one was on our last album, “The Madness Inside,” and it features some pretty fun harmonica solos. It’s a really dark song and has some haunting melodies and tempo changes which make it extremely fun to perform.

“You By My Side.” This one will be on our next album, “Grinder,” in early 2022. It shows a much more tender side of us and is straight up Americana. It’s just a beautiful song that the audience has a great connection to.

“Hot Stuff.” It’s funny because I have said all along that this is the dumbest song we ever wrote, but for some reason, our fans love it. It’s a ton of fun to perform and see people singing along with us.

13. If you could collaborate with any music act, which one would it be, and why? Jack White. I would pretend like I’m Meg White for a day, and we’d play old White Stripes songs and it would be glorious! Plus, he’s the coolest guy in rock and roll.

14. What absolutely excites you right now? Wise Farm Productions. This is my brainchild, and I get so excited about planning events that feature up-and-coming bands from our region. My brain is always churning out new ideas. And when something comes together, I get really excited.

15. What was the impetus for Wise Fest, your annual music festival? Wise Fest started as a way to showcase some great original music for a bunch of people that don’t typically get to see original music. We had no idea what to expect or how it would be received, but it was clear there is definitely an appetite for this sort of thing, so we have kept on doing it.

16. Who is your favorite Muppet? Animal, because that’s what I look like when I play drums.

17. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? Dream trip: Throw the kids in the camper and drive around the country visiting as many national parks as we possibly can. Our country has so much beauty, and I want to see it all.

18. What did you learn during the pandemic? Social media can be a terribly ugly thing. It was painful to see how divided our country was and still is. It hurts me.

19. The single coolest thing that has ever happened to you is: This is a tough one. So many cool experiences have happened to us since we started playing music that it’s hard to classify any one of those as the “coolest.” I did get my picture taken with Shovels & Rope once. That was pretty awesome.

20. On your website, you refer to Wise Jennings’ music as “a punk, psycho-billy, alt-americana, outlaw country burrito if there was such a thing and you could listen to it.” Where did you come up with that analogy? Jeff came up with that one, and it’s brilliant. I imagine he had an epiphany over coffee one morning and promptly wrote it down. It really does summarize who we are in a clever little one-liner.

Compiled by former Kicks Editor Greg Little, 20Q is a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community.

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