Country music sensation, The Henningsens, performed for more than 700 young farmers and agricultural professionals at the 2016 Young Ag Professionals (YAP) Winter Conference in Columbus, Ohio on Friday January 29. The family trio is made of Brian Henningsen (bass, guitar, vocals), family patriarch and father of 10 including eldest son Aaron (guitar, vocals) and daughter Clara (lead vocals, guitar).
The Henningsens showcase a sound that is fresh, vibrant and uniquely their own. With Clara’s expressive and inviting vocals center stage, together with gorgeous family harmonies and vivid storytelling, offering lyrics that paint sometimes traditional themes in non-traditional ways. It’s their gift for songwriting that first began turning heads in Nashville, most notably on the Platinum-certified debut by The Band Perry, who scored big with “You Lie,” written by Aaron, Clara and Brian, and the two-week #1 smash, “All Your Life,” penned by Brian and Clara. “We try to be very lyrically descriptive,” Brian says, “We always say it when we write, we’re trying to make a little movie play in your mind.”
From the dynamic energy and lyrical imagery of “American Beautiful” to their single “Why I Farm” paying a tribute to the American farmer, their music allows them to have a larger platform to be ambassadors for American farming. There’s a heartland theme that runs throughout the music of The Henningsens, which seems only natural for a family from rural Atwood, Illinois, where their 1700-acre farm has offered home, livelihood and even birthplace across seven generations. They love living and working together as two generations of family and hope it might be a positive inspiration to others.
Q. What does it mean to you to be performing for young people in agriculture?
A. Clara: “It means a lot, these people make us feel at home. Sometimes you get a little nervous before a show and tonight I realize I grew up the same way they grew up and it’s comforting.” Aaron: “It also shows us the next generation coming up… to see there’s still young people excited in agriculture, carrying on the traditions of their family. It’s an important thing for our country and lives.”
Q. Brian said he literally had an on-the-tractor radio epiphany that allowed him to feel that he could explore a life beyond farming. “It was like you have that ‘Eureka!’ moment,” Brian recalls, “I’m not trapped in any circumstance I’m in. I have the ability to make my own destiny, which leads into the premise of ‘American Beautiful.’” Can you tell me more about you decided to take matters into your own hands and pursue a career in writing and performing music?
A. Brian: “I wanted to have an adventure and I didn’t realize it was going to be a big musical adventure at the time. I had a particularly hard time farming then. I love old houses and found this old house south of Nashville. I bought it and started fixing it up, it was a nice relief valve of what I did (farming) day and day. It turned into making music when we would go down there. When something happens to you, you just have to follow it.” Aaron: “We get questions a lot when we perform after we talk about being a seventh generation family farm, if we sold the farm. I say, no, that’s never even crossed our mind, even when we were struggling. It’s my brothers’ calling (to farm) and they are so good at it. Dad still manages it and does a lot of the work, but ever since they have stepped into that calling the farm has grown.” Clara: “Sometimes all it needs is that fresh perspective and fresh set of farm boy hands.”
Q. Your music is meant to empower or uplift, resonate with people on an emotional level. Why is this so important to you and what advice would you give to other young people pursuing their dreams?
A. Brian: “When God gives you a gifting, you feel you are made to do a certain thing. Farming is something I’ve always felt great satisfaction in, like I was made to do this, but music has also been that way. If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. Don’t settle for what you happen to be doing. Sometimes you have to work through that to get to another place, to get to do what you want to do in your life. Just go for it and do whatever it is. Some for young people who grow up on farms, it’s all they want to do. If that’s their gifting then go for it. Sometimes people give up too early before they achieve what they really set out to do.
You can learn so many things growing up on a farm; you learn to be patient when you don’t want to be. My advice is don’t give up. Sometimes you’re three feet away in the mine from striking gold and you quit. You’re so close and don’t ever know until you do it.” Clara: “We believe we are put here for a reason. Our reason is to write music and play it and hopefully it strikes a chord in you. Whether your dream is to farm, sing or whatever it may be, you will have that feeling inside of you. God gives you the drive and determination to fulfill your dreams.”