Behind the Band: Jackson Burns
Jackson Burns is a father, healthcare provider and a musician whose purpose in life is music.
Editor's note: The following story is part of an occasional series, Behind the Band, which spotlights musical acts that perform in Douglas County or have a connection to the area.
ALEXANDRIA — Jackson Burns' whole life is music. He doesn't even want to imagine a world without it. For him, it's not just his hobby and his career, it's his purpose.
Burns' journey into music began during his childhood. His grandpa was a choir director and his dad is a musician. Not one that played for any cheering crowds or recorded any hits, but one who simply played guitar for the pure enjoyment of playing.
Growing up, Burns remembers his dad often noodling on his guitar and writing songs that he only played for himself and his family.
Burns' curiosity for music began to blossom when was 13. It was the first time he felt he could relate to the lyrics in songs. It was also the time he began hearing the "magic" of melodies and wondering, "How did they do that?" and then wanting to do it himself. He began practicing songs on his dad's guitar.
By his senior year of high school, Burns became a teacher's assistant under the choir director who let him practice guitar in the isolation booths after completing his duties.
"He let me do that during school, which is awesome," Burns said.
By the end of high school, he had earned a scholarship for his singing to study at St. Thomas University. Burns says before the guitar, his voice was his first instrument. However, Burns put off college to go play golf in Naples, Florida. He says he wasn't ready for college.
Eventually, Burns moved back to Minnesota to study at St. Cloud State University. He was studying everything music, from theory and opera vocal performances to piano proficiency. It was during this time he joined his first band — Sidecar.
"It started in the coffee houses, just solo. Then peer pressure from my friends and family to keep doing it, which led to doing a two-man acoustic thing with another guy from Glenwood. His name is Brody Johnson. We did that for about a year, which then led to other musicians gravitating towards you saying, 'Let's start a band,'" Burns said on how he got involved with Sidecar.
'There are numerous memories but that one was pretty special'
Today, Burns has no shortage of options when it comes to musicians to play with. He has Jackson and the Burn, which is made up of Mike "Banjo Mike" Miller, Shay Hahn, Mark Thoreen, Abe Hyhn and Rebecca Hyhn.
Within Jackson and the Burn are factions of sub-groups that perform together on occasion. Burns performs in duos with both Miller and Hahn and as a trio with Abe and Rebecca. He also does solo performances.
Burns says in the last year he has performed 85 times from Otsego to Alexandria from public venues to private shows. Locally, he has played numerous times at 22 Northmen Brewing , the Lure Lake Bar and Rolling Forks Vineyards .
Gigging around the state can take its toll, though. Most shows go late into the night and primarily happen on weekends, which means time away from friends and, more importantly, family.
"I've tried twice to retire from playing music. To say, 'It isn't worth it,'" Burns said. "But it is worth it."
He said although it isn't always an easy life, music is something he can't give up. For Burns, music is something more. It's his purpose.
"My family has been great about it. Even my wife. Yes, Kim, you've been great," Burns said with a smile. "She rides me a little bit about it but that's only because she loves me. And she knows what it means to me."
One of his favorite performances wasn't at a bar or some festival with hundreds of fans, it was to an intimate crowd of cross-country family members in Colorado. It was a family reunion of sorts and Burns just happened to have brought his mandolin while his dad just happened to have brought his guitar. Together, the two performed for their family.
"We didn't plan on doing it. That wasn't the idea. People were just sitting around and all of a sudden broke out into this two-man concert. That was pretty awesome," Burns said. "There are numerous memories but that one was pretty special."
'It's not meant to be pop music'
In between his first band to his current bands, Burns has done his fair share of songwriting. He describes his writing as "earthy."
"What I mean by that is, I am trying to write them as being timeless. I suppose they fit more into artsy music than anything," said Burns. "It's not meant to be pop music."
He added that he enjoys writing music in a jam band style. Starting with a heavy backbeat and layering instruments over it.
"Sometimes you write the music first. Sometimes you have the lyrics first. Sometimes it all comes in 10 seconds," Burns said, adding that while performing with Sidecar during his college days, he wrote a song called Limb in five minutes.
The song he is most proud of isn't one he wrote directly but he did help record. It's called All for One.
"Music theory-wise, it's just beautiful," said Burns." I'm playing organ and singing backup vocals on it."
It was written by the bass player and guitar player of Sidecar and recorded at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls. The same studio where notable bands like Nirvana, Trampled By Turtles and Mudvayne have recorded. Burns said he has recorded there on multiple occasions.
'There's a huge reward for your soul for doing what I'm doing'
Beyond performing and writing music, Burns also uses it to heal. Around nine months ago he took a job as a music therapist at Knute Nelson. Burns has health experience from years of working as a nurse in a long-term care facility in St. Cloud. That along with his musical experience made the job a perfect fit.
"I was supposed to start doing this," he said. "Music heals on a physical level, as far as the vibrations hitting your body, you know, like the actual vibrations. It heals on a spiritual level, just because of the way the music moves, the way music behaves. It can just be so beautiful that it just moves you to tingles. You can add lyrically in there for people to relate to certain things. It's the most powerful tool there is. It's so awesome."
Burns says he sees 40 to 50 patients a week from Graceville to Brainerd.
He says the therapy is learning as much about his patients as possible and then "picking their brains with music." Sometimes he is playing their favorite songs to hopefully trigger happy memories. And other times he is playing soft instrumentals to help them relax.
"With my job, I'm pretty fortunate. There's a huge reward for your soul for doing what I'm doing," Burns said.
As an example of the power of music, Burns mentioned a time when he was working with a patient who was unresponsive for nearly a week. She had no intake and her family had been surrounding her with prayers. When he strummed the first chord of his guitar, her eyes opened.
Another time was when Burns stopped in to see a man whose health was rapidly declining. Burns did not know him or the family but word had gotten around to them about Burns being a music therapist and they asked if he would play a song for the man.
Burns arrived and asked for ideas of what to play but they couldn't think of one, so he scrolled through his catalog and picked the first one he landed on.
"I picked this song, 'Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.' Normally, I don't play that song," he said.
But Burns did play it this time and when he was done, the man was alert and his wife and daughter were crying.
"The wife looked at me and said, 'That was the song that we danced to at our wedding," he added. "I can't imagine life without music."
His catalog of songs is ever-expanding. With over a thousand at the ready, he can play everything from Johnny Cash to Pink Floyd. All he has to do is hear the song first and then he can play it.
Burns says music is his purpose. Without it, life would be dark.
His music can be heard by going to jacksonandtheburn.com. There, you can also find upcoming shows and contact details to book him and the other musicians he is affiliated with.