- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jason Ringenberg spent more than two decades helping pioneer the alt-country sound with his raucous group, Jason and the Scorchers, and carved out a nice solo career for himself. But around the turn of the millennium, the singer-guitarist embarked on a drastically different project aimed at some of his biggest fans: his daughters.

Donning denim overalls and a straw cowboy hat, the musician cultivated an alter ego as a zany, guitar-toting farmhand and cranked out a fun, country-tinged children’s album, 2003’s “A Day at the Farm With Farmer Jason.”

The artist grew up on farm in Illinois and now resides on one outside of Nashville, Tenn., with his wife and three daughters. A barnyard album made sense, he says: “I just loved farm life, I know it so well. And I know that kids love farmers — and I just loved the way that ‘Farmer Jason’ sounded. I wasn’t going to be ‘Jason Ringenberg Doing Kids Music.’ ”

He believed the record would be a panacea for the clan left at home missing him while he was on the road; to conjure him up, they’d just have to listen. Selling additional copies of the disc would be icing on the corn cake.

But soon the seeds of Mr. Ringenberg’s side project sprouted tall as hollyhocks. Heralded by groups as diverse as Disney’s “Family Fun” magazine and, bizarrely, Harley-Davidson riders in Spain, Farmer Jason found a worldwide audience was eager to devour his wholesome, farm-grown kid rock. Once, he even had a whole town in northern Norway singing “The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug.”

In September 2006, he released the follow-up, “Rockin’ in the Forest With Farmer Jason,” which offers a more diverse crop of songs (from amped-up punk to Middle Eastern-infused melodies) and such guests as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones bassist Victor Wooten.

Now, Farmer Jason tours almost as much as Jason Ringenberg, solo artist (the Scorchers have retired). It’s all left the musician somewhat slack jawed. He says that if someone foretold this future during his hardest-rocking days, he “would’ve said they were completely on drugs, no question whatsoever.”

He’s not too concerned about what his punk-rock buddies think about his farmer gig. “This is a guy who wore neon, blinking cowboy hats once. So, I’m not afraid of being silly. Surprisingly, almost everyone has been totally into it, even guys you wouldn’t think would be.”

On Sunday, Farmer Jason performs at Arlington’s Iota (www.iotaclubandcafe.com) at 3 p.m., and Mr. Ringenberg will assume his other, more “serious” musician role for another show at 8:30 p.m.

New Dawn

The ‘90s-era smoothed-out hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn takes its name from the adage that “in the darkest hour comes light.” In the last few years, founding member Prince Be (Attrell Cordes) has become even more of a believer.

Following the group’s 1991 full-length debut, “Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience,” and its chart-dominating single, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” the horizon was bright for Prince Be and partner DJ Minute Mix (his brother Jarrett).

Their sophomore effort, “The Bliss Album …?”, elaborated on the band’s sonic innovation and furthered their popularity. But critics, the recording industry and some segments of the public alike soon began bludgeoning them with accusations that they weren’t hip-hop enough. Marketable enough. Black enough. Successful enough.

Prince Be chose to listen — not to outsiders, but to the tunes themselves. “All I could do was write the song the way it came to me,” he says. “I just think music is music. Hip-hop is hip-hop. Other people say they like to write raps, but I like to write songs.”

Under the external pressure, P.M. Dawn began to fade out of sight, releasing their last major-label record in 1998.

In ensuing years, DJ Minute Mix left to go solo, Prince Be had a stroke without even realizing it, and P.M. Dawn’s fledgling imprint struggled.

Then came the light: a huge spotlight, in fact. Prince Be and his new partner (a cousin who goes by “Dr. Giggles”) lucked out on NBC’s 2005 reality show “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” a program that resurrected past hit makers and had voters select the winner.

Since then, P.M. Dawn has been rocking stages and plotting several new albums, including one of new material and covers, a live disc, and an all hip-hop undertaking called “Bliss Boys.”

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing and we’re very grateful for what the fans do for us,” Prince Be says. The forthcoming studio album will be named “P.M. Dawn Loves You” in thanks.

Listen to P.M. Dawn’s oldies-but-goodies and new tracks tonight at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java (www.jamminjava.com). The show (with Kill the Alarm) begins at 8 p.m.

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