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Jesse Terry

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In a period of American life considered the most divisive and tribalistic in modern memory, the notion of hopefulness may feel misplaced to some. For Terry, though, it’s a byproduct of his own life experience. “I think I will always be innately hopeful, because I’ve seen how much life can change,” he says.  “And I’ve seen how much people can change, if they open up and allow themselves to do so.” After a turbulent adolescence defined by runaway shelters and reform schools, Terry grew up encountering other people in increasingly desperate situations. He credits the health of his outlook today to the pain he shared with others all those years ago. “I’m only happy because I know how difficult life can be. And then I become even more grateful, because even though I’ve traveled down some dark roads, I’ve met many more that have had it so much worse,” he says.  “People whose lives were devoid of love or light, without any family or without families that cared.” When he awoke hooked up to machines in a hospital bed in the aftermath of a substance-fueled binge at 18 years old, Terry says he realized that happiness is a choice, and he vowed to begin making it daily.  At a certain point, he says, a vision of what happiness would look like took hold in his mind. “I feel like I’ve been on that path for a long time now,” he says. “There always was a tiny spark in the shadows, even at my lowest points. If you’re working on it, the light gets brighter every day. Now I’m in a place that I love, with a wife that I love, with family in my life that I love. But it took a long while.”

Around that time in his life, Terry’s mother lent him her old acoustic guitar — it was love at first pluck. Songwriting became a codified means for him to discover who he was, and he dropped out of art school to pursue it full-time. Though he had been on a path to become a painter, he says there was something vital in music that was missing in visual art. “Fine art at that time felt more like a chore than a gift,” he says. “I knew that I had some talent there with visual art, but it didn’t save my life like music did. I never needed it to survive.” Music had always been a part of Terry’s life, however. His earliest musical memories were the sounds emanating from his parents’ turntable: the Beatles, Roy Orbison, the Beach Boys, Electric Light Orchestra (sounds that, not coincidentally, largely inform the sonics of Stargazer). Both his parents had beautiful singing voices and were part of a successful local duo until they divorced when he was five. His father maintained a recording studio of one sort or another throughout Terry’s childhood, and he would often let his son record vocals on tracks. It wasn’t until he began writing his own songs that Terry truly began to realize music’s capacity to heal. Though he had turned to the Beatles and James Taylor for healing and guidance through some of the most difficult seasons of his own life, he realized that songwriting gave him that same capacity for connecting with another troubled soul. More powerful still was the realization that his songs might be able to help others heal. “At a certain point I realized that I might have the chance to ease someone else’s pain with my music, which is a much more powerful and humbling thing,” he says. “So I consider myself very lucky if the experiences that I went through gave me some empathy and helped me connect with other human beings at a foundational level – to understand some of that struggle and some of that resilience.”

Earlier Event: January 25
Songwriter Showdown!
Later Event: January 27
Fireside Collective