Keeper of the Plans

‘You feel like she’s your best friend.’ Why Wichitans have rallied behind Jenny Wood

Jenny Wood jams against bullying

(FILE VIDEO -- 2017) Local musician Jenny Wood sings her new song against bullying, "Don't Let Them Get In Your Head," with elementary students from the Wichita area.
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(FILE VIDEO -- 2017) Local musician Jenny Wood sings her new song against bullying, "Don't Let Them Get In Your Head," with elementary students from the Wichita area.

The news of Sunday’s deadly car crash in downtown shocked many Wichitans, and it’s become an all-consuming topic for people who knew those involved and even for those who didn’t.

One of Wichita’s favorite musicians, Jenny Wood, was critically injured and remains hospitalized. She lost her mother and niece in the crash.

Since then, thousands of people have expressed their condolences and support for the family.

In my role as an arts and entertainment reporter for The Eagle, I’ve interviewed Jenny Wood on multiple occasions and seen her perform in various places.

She’s always come off as a budding rock star who could hack it in a bigger city, but who chooses to pour her efforts instead into the Wichita music scene.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that so many people are now stepping up to help her.

More than $46,000 had been raised as of mid-afternoon Tuesday to cover funeral expenses for Maria Wood and Rosie McElroy and help pay Jenny Wood’s medical and personal expenses.

Popular local restaurant The Anchor didn’t open for business on Monday, encouraging its would-be customers to support the Wood and McElroy families instead.

Numerous Wichita businesses have posted messages of support on their social media feeds — everyone from Botanica to Larkspur to the Crown Uptown Theatre.

The marquee at Barleycorn’s currently reads, “Stay Strong Jenny,” underneath its upcoming show lineup.

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The marquee at Barleycorn’s displays a message for Jenny Wood on Tuesday. The popular performer was critically injured in a downtown crash Sunday that killed her mother and niece. Matt Riedl The Wichita Eagle

How is it that this one singer has garnered such city-wide support?

Jenny Wood is one of just a few full-time musicians in the Wichita area, and she plays a lot.

Just last Thursday she performed at Brickyard, and she had multiple shows on the books for the coming weeks and months.

When you see someone so much — either on stage, on TV or elsewhere — and hear their voice, you start to feel like you know them, even though you may never have spoken.

“She brings people in really close after only meeting them a couple times,” said Michael Peltzer, a close friend of hers.

Peltzer, who along with a few other friends has been providing regular Facebook updates on her condition, has had to tell people repeatedly not to come to the hospital because she’s in intensive-care.

“That’s why so many people were wanting to visit her at the hospital,” he said. “If you meet her, you feel like she’s your best friend.”

But the thing about Jenny Wood that endears people to her, perhaps more so than the quantity of her performances, is her genuine personality.

“She’s just the sweetest, nicest, most talented person, I think, out of the entire scene. It would be more difficult to not care as much,” said Sophie Emerson, guitarist and vocalist for local band The Cavves. She’s helping put together a fundraiser for Jenny Wood later this month called “Jenny Woodstock” at Midwest Drum and Percussion.

And it’s more than just adults who are Jenny Wood fans.

Plenty of kids love her, too — she takes time to interact with children at her shows, and she’s met scores of them through her anti-bullying campaign visits to local schools.

“The boys go crazy for her; the girls want to be her,” Valley Center Intermediate School teacher Kelsey Bloss told me two years ago. “Automatically it’s just like they’re drawn to her... She just gets on their level.”

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Jenny Wood performs during the “Don’t Let Them Get In Your Head” concert at the RedGuard Stage during Riverfest in 2017. File photo The Wichita Eagle

Being a full-time musician here isn’t the most lucrative career path. For a while, Jenny Wood’s car had a garbage bag where a window should have been.

“Maybe a lot of people identify with her being a struggling artist and trying to make it in Wichita,” said James Fleming, organizer of the Sunflower Sessions concert series in Riverside Park. He booked her for the series last year, and is currently accepting donations for her personal expenses. He’s also organizing a fundraiser concert that will happen later this summer.

He said what he’s seeing now reminds him of the “outpouring of love” that came after Tanya Tandoc’s death in 2015.

“There’s just those special people in the community who just touch so many people,” Fleming said. “Jenny just has that magic. She has that spark.”

Maybe it’s also partially because we all want to associate ourselves with people we subconsciously want to be like — and Jenny Wood is a pretty cool chick, by any measure of the term.

She didn’t have to stay here.

She’d found success in Los Angeles and Nashville, and she’s had no problem booking gigs alongside well-known artists like Def Leppard and Gene Simmons.

But she chose to come back to Wichita nearly 10 years ago, when our arts and music scene looked a lot different than it does now. Back before everyone was waving a Wichita flag and declaring their #LoveICT pride.

“People would say, ‘What are you doing here? Why don’t you try out for “The Voice”?’” she told me in an Eagle interview two years ago. “It was just ‘You need to go,’ but go where? To these places where talent doesn’t matter? It’s a matter of if you have enough money, if you’re self-soliciting.

“That’s what I love about Wichita – the community has been so great and receptive here.”

It’s been heartening to see this community reciprocate all that Jenny Wood has poured into it, responding to a truly tragic situation with love.

To borrow a phrase from a Facebook friend of mine, “This is the kind of city Wichita can be.”

For updates, like the Jenny Wood & Family Recovery/Info Page on Facebook.

Fundraisers

Meddy’s restaurants in downtown Wichita and at 21st and Greenwich will donate 20 percent of sales from this weekend (May 10-12) to the Wood and McElroy families.

The Jimmy’s Egg location at Douglas and Hydraulic plans to donate 50 percent of all sales on Sunday, May 19 to Jenny Wood and her family.

All sales and door money from Mort’s Sunday, May 19 will go to Wood and her family to help with medical expenses. Additional donations will be accepted that day. JukeRoots will perform.

Donations will be accepted for the Jenny Wood Care Support & Love Fund during this previously scheduled concert by Nicole Gordon adjacent to Central Riverside Park. Organizer James Fleming says he is also organizing a larger fundraiser concert that will be hosted in the park at a future date.

  • “Jenny Woodstock,” 5 p.m. May 25, Midwest Drum and Percussion (The Backbeat), 2228 E. Douglas. $5 suggested donation.

All-ages show featuring musical performances by The Cavves, Old News, Cartwheel, The Travel Guide, Milkwave and After Judo. There will also be food trucks outside. All proceeds from the show will go to the Wood and McElroy families. Venue subject to change to accommodate expected attendees.

This event will feature all-day-long bands, a silent auction and food specials — all sales from tickets, food, drinks and silent auction items will go to the Wood family. Wave is partnering with the Performance Artists Trust Fund (better known as the PAT Fund), a Wichita-based 501(c)3 organization that helps musicians dealing with illnesses, so donations will be tax-deductible.

Make a donation online

McElroy Family Funeral Funds (GoFundMe)

Jenny Wood Medical Expense Fund (GoFundMe)

Jenny Wood Care Support & Love Fund (Facebook)

Provide a meal

A “meal train” has been established for the McElroy family, and people can sign up to bring a meal (or have one delivered via GrubHub) to the McElroy family online at www.mealtrain.com/4888v2.

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.


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