Sweeney Returns Home For Festival Performance
by Rob Merritt
J. Shawn Sweeney just returned from a tour in Ireland, where he played 15 concerts in seven days.
He's not even thinking about slowing down.
"Im doing what I love, and that's pestering people in public," Sweeney said in a recent telephone interview. "And it's what I do for a living now."
Sweeney is a Marshalltown native, and a graduate of Marshalltown High School. He attended his 25th high school reunion just last week, and he visits his family whenever he gets a free moment to spare.
This, however, will be his first appearance as a performer at the Central Iowa Music Festival.
"I came to the festival last year as a spectator, because it's so much fun," he said. "It's such an exciting event. That's why I was really flattered when J.P. called and expressed interest in my playing there."
Sweeney grew up with music; his mother, Anne Sweeney, directs the State Center Choir and plays for various community events.
"My mother says that music is the family birth defect, so we just have to live with it," Sweeney said.
As an adult, Sweeney allowed his music to become a part-time gig, devoting most of his energy to running a music retail business and working as a promoter. While these endeavors were successful, the prevented him from being able to play music as often as he would like to.
One day, he says, he decided to change all that.
"I knew that what I really wanted to bet back to was performing," he said. "And it was the best decision I ever made.
Since then, Sweeney has found a regular lineup of gigs and loyal audiences. He will play over 500 concerts this year alone, averaging 10 to 15 of them per week.
Sweeney's newest CD, "Circle Game," features a song called "Minstrel" that has been nominated for Song of the Year in the John Lennon Song-writers Competition. A Resident of Minnesota, he was named the 2002 Entertainer of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Professional Entertainers.
Sweeney's music is meant to be both heartfelt and funny; his styles will range from secular, to jazz, to rock 'n' roll, to country. Sweeney is trained in a variety of instruments, and styles -- "Right now I think I pay 17 instruments, and I play them all equally badly," he says -- and will constantly make changes to keep the audience engaged. "I stick to guitar and piano, and I sing and the I throw in some humor," he said. "The stories are a big part of what I do.
"I spend most of my time out in the audience, singing to people," Sweeney continued. "Sometimes I drive the sound guys crazy because I don't stay on the stage. But I like to be close to the audience."
Sweeney stays involved in a number of endeavors. He has a book, "Stories That Tickle", coming out this winter. He is also doing a series of fundraisers for research on Alzheimer's Disease, as well as cancer research and benefit concerts for the American Heart Association.
It's a career that has worked out well for the Marshalltown native., Now that he's made the move to pursue music full-time, Sweeney has no intentions of ever looking back.
"I get to make a living doing something I love," he said. "So I feel real lucky."