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Joe Newberry returns to Missouri for local concert

Musician Joe Newberry performed on Monday, March 18, at the Cape Girardeau County History Center in Jackson. Photo by Jay Forness

Award-winning musician and acclaimed clawhammer banjo player Joe Newberry performed at the Cape Girardeau County History Center in Jackson on March 18, sharing stories and songs from his career and life.

“Being a traveling musician, my job is to see old friends and make new friends,” Newberry said. “To be in such a historic downtown where people get that connection between the past, informing our present and helping us think about the future – that’s what I do. I’m a lucky guy.”

Newberry was a longtime and frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor and sang on the Transatlantic Sessions 2016 tour in the United Kingdom with Jerry Douglas.

Newberry said he was happy to play in an intimate setting like the history center, where he could meet new people. He said the Jackson concert was a beta project to see if he would do similar concerts in the future.

“I like playing on high stages, I like playing on front porches,” Newberry said. “My grandfather was a Baptist preacher, and he would say ‘you preach a sermon toone or 100, the sermon is the same.’”

Newberry was born in Cape Girardeau, and lived in Cape until he was five. He then moved to the bootheel and lived in Malden until he was 14. His family then moved to Columbia and he moved to North Carolina as a young man.

He said he wasn’t prepared for his emotions when he came back to southeast Missouri. “I tell you, driving into Jackson and Cape Girardeau, there’s a feeling when you see it – it’s home,” Newberry said. “I didn’t realize how much it felt like home until I was here.”

Newberry said he can see the influences of Missouri in his music to this day, due to the rich history of the state and region.

“Missouri is such a crossroads of culture and arts and history and music,” he said. “The State of Missouri is a great sampler that you can draw from – you can have things that have French influence, German influence, First Nations influence and Scotch-Irish influences. My family is mostly Scotch-Irish, but all of the things that Bill Monroe used when he was building bluegrass music lives right in Missouri.”

Newberry said his family was full of singers and dancers, and he learned how to play the guitar and write music at a young age.

“Newberrys love the way words roll around in our mouth, so I’ve been writing songs my whole life and I’ve been singing those old family songs my whole life,” he said.

Newberry said he has seen how his music has made a difference to people, making it the best job in the world. The performance was sponsored by Charlie and Sydney Herbst.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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