“If we're not proud of singing it, it doesn't end up on stage,” says member Joe Jencks in a recent phone interview.
Jencks, along with Greg Greenway and Pat Wictor, created Brother Sun a little more than three years ago. The group will perform Saturday at a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert in York. The three longtime solo singer-songwriters have found a deeper calling in their shared experience.
“Before we even came together, we came from a side of social justice kind of music,” Greenway says, describing the changes in the social justice movement since the polarized attitudes of the 1960s. “We live in a different time. Our message is a much more human, individualistic movement. We're cheerleaders for grace and humanity.”
Meaning: The group's name comes from a canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi that evokes the imagery of the natural world. The “brother” in Brother Sun is no accident; it's a deliberate choice to emphasize the bonds between men in a culture that at times feels overly adversarial and competitive.
“We wanted something that was positive and male,” Greenway says. “‘Brother' being a partnership of three guys who are paying attention to the world in a different way” from the narrow options provided in a teen-centric, money-focused society.
“When you're in it as brothers, day after day after day, then it really creates this opportunity to get in touch with your humanity,” Jencks says. “That's part of what ripples out into our audience. ... This isn't just about the music for us; we're actually on some level modeling at least one way of being involved in cooperative activities.”
That's not to say the “sun” in the name isn't equally important.
“The sun imagery is very optimistic,” Wictor says. “It's heat, it's light, it's the break of day. People feel really uplifted by our music.”
Harmony: No amount of talking about the harmony the three men share can convey the depth of the emotion in the music, however.
“We can tell people until we're blue in the face about harmony,” Wictor says. “But when we stand up there and sing a chord, it really hits people in their heart.”
Listeners have the opportunity to become part of that harmony themselves during a free workshop before the concert.
“The sound of us singing together makes people want to sing; it's an invitation,” Wictor says. “We have so much fun doing it. ... We want to get everybody up and singing with us.”
“It's about the most joyous thing you can do in life,” Greenway says in describing the communal singing experience. “You have that moment where you no longer hear your own voice, but you hear the chord.”
The sense of communion with their audience is more than a single moment for the members of Brother Sun. It's a relationship with humanity and a expression of their innermost selves.
“It's also a sacred trust that people invest in the artist they care about,” Jencks says. “When we show up, we give everything we have to give.”
Music: “Everything” covers a lot of territory, both emotionally and musically. The band's musical roots pull from folk, blues and gospel, but it's not unusual for listeners to hear the smooth seduction of jazz or the throbbing pulse of rock woven into the group's original songs as well.
“I've never been a part of such an adventurous musical ensemble ... that attacks so many musical styles with such authenticity,” Jencks says. “It's fun.”
The fun, the excitement, and the give-and-take with the audience make each concert an experience unlike any other, and one for which the men are grateful.
“Every night we play it's exciting,” Greenway says. “I feel it's a gift because of how people respond to us.”
If the only gift you bring to the show is an honest and open heart, it'll be sure to strike a chord with Brother Sun.
Folk concertBrother Sun will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Marketview Arts, 37 W. Philadelphia St., York.
The folk trio features Greg Greenway, Pat Wictor and Joe Jencks. Their self-titled debut was one of the top folk albums of 2011. A second album, recently crowdfunded by fans online through Indiegogo, will be out in the spring.
“We've been stunned by how eager and responsive some people are,” Wictor says, describing the way fans flocked to finance the album. “Hundreds and hundreds of folks said yes.”
Concert attendees should keep an ear out for some of the performers' favorites.
“Joe has a song called ‘Lady of the Harbor,' which is just about as beautiful a song as you could ever write,” Wictor says. “Greg has one called ‘In the Name of Love,' and I look forward every night to singing that one.”
Jencks points to Wictor's a cappella song “Love is the Water.”
“There's just this great, old Southern musical style that is the pulsing undercurrent of that piece,” Jencks says. “That's a moment of real joy for me.”
Greenway looks forward to a jazz cover, the Mose Allison number “Everybody's Cryin' Mercy.”
“I just love that,” he says.
Tickets for the show are $20 for adults and $10 for students ages 3 to 22. Discounted tickets are available for Susquehanna Folk Music Society members.
A free workshop on community singing traditions, with the chance to sing along with the trio, will be offered from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
To get tickets, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.sfmsfolk.org or www.brownpapertickets.com.
For more information on the trio, visit www.brothersunmusic.com.
— Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.