Jeneé Fleenor will spotlight her fiddle playing, singing, and songwriting as guest artist at The Rockbox Theater this weekend. Jeneé currently tours with Martina McBride, backing her up on vocals, mandolin, and fiddle. Photos by Phil Houseal
Jeneé: Stepping into the spotlight
by Phil Houseal
Music history is replete with stories of backup band members who stepped up to become headliners in their own right:
- Willie Nelson first played bass for Ray Price
- Waylon Jennings was one of Buddy Holly’s Crickets
- Faith Hill was discovered singing backup in a cafe
This weekend, you can watch and listen as another talented backup musician takes one of her first steps into the spotlight.
Jeneé Fleenor is the featured guest artist at The Rockbox Theater. In addition to being the first chance for local folks to hear her, it is her first trip to Fredericksburg. But this ain’t her first rodeo.
Before joining McBride, Jeneé (rhymes with Reneé) toured with country star Terri Clark for seven years, appeared on the Grand Ol’Opry several times, and played on TV shows such as Good Morning America, The View, and the CMA Awards. For the past year she has backed up Martina McBride on vocals, mandolin, and mostly fiddle. It was never her goal to be “the artist.”
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago to front a band as an artist, my answer would have been no,” the Arkansas native confessed. “I don’t know if being in Nashville had anything to do with it, but I got bitten by the bug.”
Although she has played violin since age 3, she picked up the guitar only a few years ago so it would be easier to accompany herself. As she dutifully learned her first three chords, she discovered it opened up a whole new world of songwriting.... with a bullet. Jeneé co-wrote the song I Am Strong which has been sung by Dolly Parton and is on The Grascals #1 Billboard Bluegrass album.
“I think the artist thing opened up for me when I started songwriting. I thought, man, I really want to sing these songs that I write.”
In fact, it is Jeneé’s quest to step to the front of the stage that brings her to The Rockbox this weekend.
“Any opportunity to do my own thing, I want to branch out and do that now,” she said. “I Am Strong was a blessing, and is helping me write more. I didn’t want to wait 10 years and wonder why I didn’t do the artist thing.”
At the popular Fredericksburg show venue, Jeneé plans to perform songs off her new EP release, including her version of I Am Strong. Of course no fiddler can get off the stage in Texas without playing Orange Blossom Special. Jeneé spits out her own interpretation of this fiddle staple, which sometimes includes snippets of theme songs from old TV shows.
Playing with arguably the top female country artist currently performing has been an adventure - one she still doesn’t quite believe.
“I got a call from Martina’s bandleader asking if I wanted this gig. I thought, are you kidding?”
Her first big show was in her home state of Arkansas, a venue she had never done with a headliner. She made her entrance rising up through the stage floor, and had a big solo.
“I was a little freaked out,” she laughed. “My family was there; it was amazing. I called the bandleader after the show to make sure I really had the gig!”
As much adrenaline as she produces playing music, her true love is writing music.
“I love songwriting - it is more challenging for me than just playing fiddle,” she said. “Playing fiddle comes easy - it flows from me. But songwriting is work.”
Her first hit was “one of those rare songs that fell out of sky - it was God-inspired.”
But she knows that most songs take a longer time to finish.
“When I first started I thought you sat down and whatever came out was the song,” she said. “I had a lot of crappy songs. When I started writing with Nashville songwriters, I picked up on the art of it. I love working towards it.”
Then she said something that applies to songs, careers, and life:
“You know when it’s right.”