Jeff Plankenhorn, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist best known for playing various guitars — including steel and slide — is a ‘recently local’ performer in this year’s virtual Vancouver Island MusicFest.
Plankenhorn spent the past 20 years based in Austin, Texas. But after meeting his wife, Donyne, who is from Campbell River, he started travelling back and forth between each city. Then, just before the pandemic, the pair decided to make Campbell River their “home base” — which turned into a more static arrangement with borders closed and travel restricted.
Plankenhorn has played in Island MusicFest before, but never as an individual performer. A self-described “late bloomer” as a solo artist, Plankenhorn typically delves in “root music” spanning a range of genres.
“Somewhere between blues and folk and rock — that’s where I live,” he said.
His 30-minute set for the festival was recorded at a local golf course in front of a small audience.
Plankenhorn is known as an innovator, having designed “The Plank,” a cross between a lap steel guitar and an electric guitar.
“You can play it through amps and pedals, play it really loud and you can also stand it up,” he said of his creation.
With the pandemic sidelining travel and shuttering venues — cutting the typical revenue streams of many musicians — Plankenhorn turned to innovation once again.
He started live streaming two shows from a studio across multiple platforms — including Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and an Austin cable channel — to connect with fans and other artists and showcase his work.
On Mondays, Plankenhorn plays music, including new songs and requests from viewers. The next day, Plankenhorn has a talk show, ‘20 Question Tuesdays,’ in which he interviews a guest using questions sent by the audience.
“All these people show up from all these different scenes and ask great questions,” he said.
Developing his presence online has helped him gain new listeners and boost his music sales.
“I was in the mindset of having to go out on tour for three weeks at a time and hitting new spots to build an audience,” he said. “But with the advent of live streams, I have people watching me from all over the world — and others tuning in after I’m done.”
Plankenhorn also proved productive writing songs throughout the pandemic, including with colleagues over Zoom. He has been releasing singles about every eight weeks available via streaming services — and even forayed into composing electronic dance music (EDM).
“I’m able to put out new music every single month and not worry about labels,” he said. “I get to just try stuff out.”
He has also contributed to more albums and taught more lessons and workshops than ever before.
“I forgot how much I really enjoy teaching,” he said. “Why stop that if I enjoy it?”
Plankenhorn has scheduled a return to “safe, socially-distanced” shows both locally and on the road, including a return to Texas, but thinks he will come out of the pandemic with a more balanced approach to work.
“Businesses are understanding they don’t have to send somebody off for a two-hour meeting — the same thing is happening with artists,” he said. “I’m going to go do some gigs, but I will also do more in the studio.”