By Jan Mercker
During the darkest days of the pandemic, Jessica Paulin sang in her driveway.
The Lovettsville mom of four had spent the previous year working hard to get back to her first love—music—and wasn’t about to let it go.
“I couldn’t give it up, so I put a sign in my yard that said, ‘Live Music Today,’” Paulin recalled.
Neighbors strolled by and set up chairs and listened while Paulin pulled favorites from her eclectic repertoire. In the year and a half since then, Paulin, who performs under the name Jes Jams, has stormed onto the local winery and brewery scene and built a regional following.
For Paulin, her efforts to get back into her singing after setting it aside for more than a decade was accompanied by a hard-core weight loss journey. And both have required hard work and determination.
“My journey started Aug. 18 of 2018. I wanted to lose weight and get back into music,” she said. “I had goals and they came together.”
Since that pivotal summer, Paulin has lost nearly 200 pounds, which she said has improved her posture and vocal range, and plays local venues and private gigs virtually every weekend.
Paulin said the gradual lifting of COVID-19 gathering restrictions last spring provided opportunities for newer artists like her. She was willing to take on gigs that weren’t as appealing to some of the region’s more seasoned performers, including split gigs with a cleaning break in the middle as many wineries reopened with strict reservation policies. It helped her build a relationship with one her favorite venues—50 West Vineyards near Middleburg—where she plays regularly.
“The pandemic was good for me, even though I did lose my income for a few months, I actually took a bunch of cancellation jobs and got into places that I couldn’t get into before because they were booked,” she said. “I was able to build relationships with managers.”
Paulin grew up in Chamberlain, SD, and like so many big musical names, got her start in church choirs at a young age.
“Apparently, I was always the loudest singer, even back then,” she said with a laugh.
She started getting requests to sing at weddings and funerals and then began booking gigs at parties as a teen. And while her family was supportive, she said, they also didn’t encourage music as a career. Paulin dreamed of becoming a singer/songwriter but was encouraged to take a more practical approach. She went to college to study special education and worked with children and adults with intellectual disabilities for more than a decade. But the music was still a part of her life.
“I had my clients singing all the time,” she said.
She met her husband Brian in the mid-2000s and moved to Loudoun. She pushed singing aside while raising four children and running a home daycare business. But when her family moved from Lovettsville to Leesburg in 2015, she spotted a post from another local musician on a community Facebook page that opened her eyes to the booming Loudoun music scene.
“I had no idea about the winery and brewery live music world at all,” Paulin said.
Paulin started forging connections with fellow western Loudoun musicians and going to gigs, watching and learning how performers managed gigs, equipment and logistics.
Vowing in August 2018 to make music her life’s work, she gave up her childcare business and slowly started booking gigs, initially making cold calls.
“I take an hour and a half radius around my house and I just start reaching out,” she said.
And audiences have responded to her sultry voice and musical selections. When Paulin started building her setlist, she started with online searches for popular tunes at wineries and brewery venues.
“The funny thing was, it was the same stuff I grew up listening to and the same stuff I sing in the shower,” she said. “It was all my normal stuff, so I didn’t have to learn much. It was already in my head.”
Her repertoire ranges from country favorites to more soulful tunes—from Janis Joplin to Prince to Carole King. She loves requests and old favorites, but also likes introducing audience members to her own favorites like Brandi Carlile.
“I like to say I have something for everyone in my set,” she said. “My absolute favorite things to do right now are the surprising covers of covers. The Pretty Reckless covered Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova,’ and that is my favorite one to do right now … In the last two and a half years, the customers have really built my setlist—kind of by trial and error. I play to the crowd and see if they respond.”
With her performance career growing, Paulin is doing some songwriting, working to build her repertoire of originals and gently adding them into winery setlists. She’s also planning to dip her toes into recording demos and videos.
As a parent, a former teacher and someone who wasn’t encouraged to pursue her musical dreams as a kid, Paulin also wants to focus on helping Loudoun’s young musicians find their footing. She recently invited teen musician Lillian Hackett to share a gig at 50 West and wants to help organize future events for young musicians. On the flip side, she says she also tries to encourage older audience members to pursue their musical passions—just as she’s succeeding in getting her musical groove back in her early forties.
And Paulin said she owes a big part of her success to Brian and their kids, who range from kindergarten to high school.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. My youngest one wants to be a singer when she grows up—just like her mommy.”
Jessica Paulin’s upcoming Loudoun gigs include Friday, Nov. 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Parallel Wine and Whiskey Bar in Broadlands and Saturday, Nov. 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Firefly Cellars. For more information and upcoming shows, go to facebook.com/jesjamslove or jesjamsmusic.com. To check out a few of Paulin’s favorite performances, search for Jessica Paulin on YouTube.