Sounds Local: Holly May and Una Jensen perform at The Shea Theater Saturday
Being that Saturday, June 21, is the first day of summer, rising young singers Holly May and Una Jensen decided to celebrate the occasion in a big way by playing a summer kick-off concert at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls at 6 p.m. Also performing will be two-time Valley Idol Jr. winner Kyle Woodcock.
An outdoor stage will also be set up in front of The Shea Theater at 3 p.m. It will feature a host of local performers including Aaron Cappucci, Mikey Grey, John Blunt, Aaron Lewis, Marisol Duplisea and Justin Furlon. The outdoor stage show is weather permitting.
“I’m really getting excited about this show,” said Jensen in a recent conversation at her Shelburne Falls home. Jensen and May will each perform their own set.
The show will be Jensen’s first area concert in over two years. It is also May’s biggest area show to date and her first fronting her own band. “I’m a bit nervous, but I think it’s going to be really good,” May said.
On the surface, Jensen and May have a lot in common: they are both 17 and live in the hilltowns, Jensen in Shelburne Falls and May in Charlemont. They are also both amazing singers who began singing in public when they were pre-teens and got their break performing in the local Valley Idol Jr. competition. But when it comes to music, the similarities stop there. Jensen favors a modern pop sound while May goes for contemporary country.
There is nothing unusual about two singers working in different genres, except that Jensen wrote all the original songs that appear on May’s self-titled debut, which was recorded in Nashville and released last November.
The two girls know each other from when they were students at Mohawk Regional High School (they are both home-schooled now) and from the Valley Idol Jr. competitions, but their collaboration didn’t begin until Enoch Jensen of Enjen Productions started managing May’s career. Enoch, who is Una Jensen’s father, suggested that his daughter might try writing some country tunes for May.
Jensen, who said she was blown away when she first heard May sing, was up for the challenge.
“I don’t listen to country at all and I used to be a real rock chick, but I was like ‘OK, I’ll try this,’” said Jensen. Not being a typical Nashville songwriter proved advantageous, as Jensen’s pop background lends a catchy appeal to her songs.
“When she presented her songs to me there were a couple that were really up my alley,” said May. “But ‘Go Big or Go Home’ was the first one I picked.”
That song, which Jensen wrote in minutes, is giving May’s career a nice boost. On “Go Big or Go Home,” she sings the twangy tune with a voice filled with sass as she lets her man know he best live up to her expectations or go home. May’s feisty spirit especially comes through in the video, which has garnered over a million views on YouTube. “Go Big or Go Home” will go to national radio this summer, which means there is the potential for it to reach even more listeners.
Since the release of her EP, May has returned to Nashville for business meetings and more recently to attend the Country Music Association festival. She also recorded her second video for the song “I’ve Been on the Run” in Nashville.
“She’s ready to take on the world,” said Enoch Jensen. “The trips to Nashville have been productive and there is some interest in Holly, so we’ll see what happens.”
May is also starting to write her own songs, something that both Jensens fully support.
“I’m just starting to play guitar and write, but I really want to be able to express myself and know that this is something I have done,” she said.
Jensen, who started around the age of 10, caught the attention of producers Chris Kirkpatrick and Mike Bosch when she had just entered her teen years. Kirkpatrick, a former member of the band ‘N Sync, co-produced her 2012 EP “Shout it Loud and Clear” and Jensen continues to co-write with him.
“When we first met her, her writing was young — it was a 14-year-old girl,” Kirpatrick said of Jensen in a recent interview. “Now, it is through the roof and it has changed so much and become this amazing thing that you can see that she’s grown with it. She is the one we want to succeed.”
Based on the strength of her latest project, a singled called “The Way it Goes,” Jensen is poised to succeed. Gone is the rock-edge heard on her first EP, this time out a more mature Jensen goes for a polished pop sound. There is also a newfound boldness and confidence in both her look and her music that reflects a young woman in control.
“That song is just like my heart and soul right now,” said Jensen, her voice full of enthusiasm. “I was in a kind of dark place when I wrote it, but every time I sing it, I feel great. The song is like an anthem to me.”
Concertgoers will get a chance to hear the song at the Shea show. “The Way it Goes” will be released to all digital outlets (iTunes, Spotify, etc.) on June 24 and the video (I was given a sneak peek and it’s excellent!) will debut on YouTube on the same day.
“Through Chris, I got a chance to meet Justin Timberlake and he was really excited about this song,” Jensen said. “So, even if nothing comes of it, at least Justin likes the song!” she added with a laugh.
Hearing the two girls talk about their various projects, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a sense of competition between then. There was a bit of hesitation before they both rather meekly answered “Yeah.”
“I think there was a little jealousy between us back in the Valley Idol days,” said May.
“Yeah we are a bit competitive, but I think it’s healthy as it pushes us to work harder,” added Jensen.
Both May and Jensen are no strangers to hard work. They seem prepared to do what it takes to try to make it in the music business. So stay tuned, you are going to be hearing a lot more from these talented ladies in the future. But for now, be sure and check out the show at the Shea.
The Shea Theater is located at 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls. Advance tickets are $14 and available at www.theshea.org. Tickets are general admission, but VIP tickets are available by visiting the 30-percent-off store at the websites of radio stations WHAI 98.3, www.whai.com and Bear Country 95.3, www.bear953.com. For $19.60 you will get two tickets, a meet-and-greet with Jensen and May, pictures taken on the red carpet with each artist and signed posters from each. The 3 p.m. show outside the Shea is free to the public.
Arts Block June 28
May will also appear with Randy Smith and his Merry Men at The Arts Block in Greenfield on Saturday, June 28, at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $17 and can be purchased at www.theartsblock.com. $20 day of show.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at email@example.com