Keegan Jacko has dreams of country stardom

Keegan Jacko

LITTLE CURRENT – A Little Current-born musician is making his name on the performance scene and has already set out big plans for the next few years of his musical career.

“In my first five months since I’ve been playing by myself, I’ve done 75 shows,” said Keegan Jacko, who said he began his solo-focused tour in March, playing three to four shows per week, each an hour long. “Eventually, playing that long became easy.”

The 26-year-old new-age country performer has roots in Wiikwemkoong and his grandmother currently lives there. However, he was raised in the US and calls Lansing, Michigan his home. He said he comes back to Canada at least once per month and recently visited The Manitoulin Expositor’s office to chat about his music.

“I’ve done shows in Nashville, Michigan, Montana, Manitoulin Island and I’m playing Sudbury tonight. I’m playing in Niagara Falls next year. We’ve also got the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto booked and we’re looking at festivals and stuff,” said Mr. Jacko.

His musical career began when he was working at a karaoke bar. From there, he began singing publicly at 22 and started thinking more seriously about a music career at age 23. When he was 24 he picked up the guitar for the first time, was signed to a record label at 25 and is now touring at 26.

“I started playing in a band that ultimately failed. That failure forced me, in my head, to learn to play guitar because I didn’t want to rely on anyone,” he told The Expositor.

Chris Young and Kane Brown are among Mr. Jacko’s inspirations. However, he likens his own career trajectory as similar to his biggest inspiration, American country music musician Luke Combs.

“I recently watched an interview with him talking about his goals. And I cried when I was watching it,” said Mr. Jacko. He described how Mr. Combs also rapidly progressed to growing his music, making it into a profession and now playing stadium shows. For Mr. Jacko, he hopes to be headlining similar shows five years from now and also have two albums under his belt by that time.

Mr. Jacko is heading toward that goal at a steady pace. He is lined up to join an artist-in-residence program in Calgary at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. That two-month program will connect him with producers and engineers while also providing access to a top-of-the-line recording facility. 

He said he hopes to release his full-length EP in 2020. In the new year, he will also be going on an AM-FM radio tour, according to his manager Sherrie Kaboni.

“I enjoy performing and writing only songs that I can feel. If someone wanted me to play a song that I had no connection to, I probably won’t perform it,” said Mr. Jacko. I do a lot of slow, emotional songs, but that’s because I have a connection. I’ve stayed true to that.”

Mr. Jacko visited Wiikwemkoong earlier this summer to perform at the Wiikwemkoong Arts and Music Festival (WAMF). A receptive crowd welcomed him to the stage and cheered along with his music.

“It was fun. I like being on big stages like that—I’ve played in front of 2,000 people before. To me, the bigger the crowd, the less nervous I get. But it depends on the situation,” he said.

Mr. Jacko said his Anishinaabe roots have not been a main driver of his artistic expression, simply because he did not know much of his heritage.

“I’m starting to learn a lot more just by being here. I’m getting in touch with my roots through my music,” he said. 

As part of his artistic journey, Mr. Jacko said he has been undertaking vocal coaching and that those who hear him are impressed with the results so far. He plans to grow his fanbase beyond Ontario and Michigan by filling tour dates, one area at a time.

“My biggest goal right now is to get my music out there further than the reach of my own arms,” he said.

This career path has also instilled in Mr. Jacko the value of patience, to tune out negativity and place importance on viewing oneself in a positive light despite the challenges that come along.

“Other doors opened. Losing my band forced me to learn how to play by myself. Losing my management company and album (in Nashville) forced me to go home, but by going home, it made my availability open to play a Canadian show, which is how this all happened,” he said.

Keegan Jacko was a performer at this year’s Wiikwemkoong Arts and Music Festival as well as the Anchor Inn in Little Current. The Lansing, Michigan-based musician has played across Ontario and several states and said he has big plans to grow his act.

As for the distant future, Mr. Jacko said he would love to play at the Grand Ole Opry at least once.

For all of his lofty goals, Mr. Jacko and Ms. Kaboni have a fair amount of work ahead of them. But as his music echoed across the checkerboard floors during his show at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern, he can be sure that he is moving steadily toward those pursuits.

To follow Mr. Jacko’s artistic endeavours, search for Keegan Jacko Music on Facebook and YouTube or visit Instagram.com/keeganjacko_music.