Jessica Balisle

Administrative Specialist/Studio Live

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. She now commands the front desk, taking your calls and greeting you at the door. Jessica co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. In 2006, she earned her BA in Applied Anthropology from Missouri State University. When she’s not at KSMU, Jessica plays bass in local bands the Hook KnivesBrother Wiley and the Ozark Sheiks, and sings in Shattered and JM Buttermilk.  She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, CT and Ellie, and way too many house plants. 

Ways to Connect

Jerry Buckner

Since the young age of five, Randy Buckner has been a fan of Merle Travis. Known for his unique thumbpicking guitar style, Travis stood out to the young Buckner when he would spend time at his grandparents’ farm on North Grant Avenue in Springfield.

“So, being the usual rambunctious kid, to get me to keep quiet, Grandpa would play Merle Travis records, like Walking the Strings and The Merle Travis Guitar. And just the sound of that guitar just totally fascinated me,” said Buckner.

Whitney Houseman

Songwriter Ryan Wallace had a band name tucked away long before he actually had a band.

“I can thank my mom for the name. I don’t remember exactly what she said. She was talking about someone that she didn’t hold in real high esteem and about how they spent their time always out in bars just talking to random strangers,” said Ryan

By the time 2010 rolled around, Ryan had written enough songs to record an EP.

“So, I went into a small studio in Nevada, Missouri, now defunct. The Armadillo Sound Studio,” he said.

Bailey Vassalli / KSMU

In the days of segregation, African Americans had to refer to The Green Book to find places to safely stay overnight when they traveled.  And a three-story, Victorian house in central Springfield was on the list. 

I’m standing on North Benton, just south of Chestnut Expressway between the Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield Municipal Court building on what was the site of Alberta’s Hotel. It’s just a parking lot now, but the history of this place extends way beyond the pavement.

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

When you hear the name Ruell Chappell, what comes to mind? The Ozark Mountain Daredevils? Ozarks Writer’s Night at Friends Karaoke Pub? Maybe you’re like me and it’s Nick, Ruell and Ned the Band at McSalty’s in the 90s. Whatever it might be, now you can add Play It Forward to the list.

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

Nearly everyone in Springfield is familiar with the Sertoma Chili Cook-off. It’s the big celebration in February where local businesses and organizations compete for the best chili, all while helping support the Boys and Girls Clubs. Anyone who’s been to a chili cook-off knows that live music is a major part of the day’s events. This year’s event on February 23rd will again feature the KSMU Acoustic Stage, as well as the main stage in the big room of the downtown Expo Center.

I spoke with Sertoman Ken Childers about what makes live music such a vital part of this event.

Courtesy of Sunset to Burns

How much does a band have to change over time before it’s not the same band anymore? For Sunset to Burns, the answer is: a lot. When the band formed in 2011, things seemed stable – from their Polk County roots to their acoustic sound. Even their name was deeply tied to the county. Founding member and guitarist Lucas Roberts explains its origin.

“The name Sunset to Burns is two bridges:  it’s a float trip. It’s from Sunset Bridge on the Pomme de Terre River to Burns Bridge on the Pomme de Terre River,” said Lucas.

Courtesy of Joe Dillsrom

Childhood memories can be influential on our older selves. Looking through time passed, we find ourselves reminiscing for days gone by. For songwriter Joe Dillstrom, the ability to process and draw on these memories gives life to his songs.

Growing up in Springfield, Joe remembers his mother taking him to diners like Aunt Martha’s and Anton’s. The older crowd at these places stuck in his mind.

“A different part of our postwar Ozarks culture that was just fading away as I was getting older. The sort of remnants of the Route 66 mythology,” said Joe.

Carla DeSilva-Carver

Not every local band records with a producer, but Failing Minnesota has spent the last year and a half working with producer Kevin Gates at Reach Audio on their first full-length album. I sat down with the band to find out how working so closely with a producer has influenced them.

Vocalist and guitarist Michael Gandy remembers what it was like joining Failing Minnesota after they had already started recording.

Steven Spencer

When I listen to vocal groups with vibrant harmonies, I feel a rush of emotions from admiration to jealously. I’ve never been very good at it myself.

But Emily Higgins, Larry Lee and David Wilson are.  They’ve recently come together in a new trio that bursts with three-part harmonies. The group has dubbed themselves The HigLeeWils, taking a bit of each of their last names. But how does someone learn how to sing in harmony?

From Tarkio Road to Seven Bridges Road

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

The HigLeeWils - Emily Higgins, Larry Lee, and David Wilson - were on Studio Live with hosts Jessica Balisle and Mike Smith. For more about the HigLeeWils, check out their episode of SoundCheck

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

For Randy Buckner, the sounds of Merle Travis’ guitar picking would fill his grandparents’ home on North Grant Avenue, where he spent the week from time to time when he was a young child. These records were a pivotal point for Buckner’s music. At 9, he picked up his first guitar. By the time he was 15, he had the opportunity to join Travis onstage.

To many people in Springfield, Molly Healey is known as a fiddle player. Over the last few years, she has developed her style into folk-inspired orchestral looping. She uses a looping pedal to overlay different instruments and rhythms, creating a sound that feels like an entire ensemble rather than just one musician.

On Studio Live, Healey demonstrated how she creates each sound – layering them one at a time, to build up an impressive wave of music. She performs without shoes, in order to work the array of pedals with her feet, much like a pipe organist would do.

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

Traditional Ozarks music is steeped in old fiddle tunes from the British Isles, France, Germany, and French Canada, among other places. Over time, the style evolved, giving us bluegrass. According to Roger Matthews, if you boil down a bluegrass band to its core, you are left with Fiddle and Banjo – the name of KSMU’s Studio Live group for July.

Fiddle and Banjo is Michael Smartt on fiddle and Matthews on banjo. The duo shared several old-timey tunes with hosts Mike Smith and Jess Balisle, along with a history lesson about each song and the genre it came from.

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

Andy Havens was in the Studio to perform original songs with his backing band - Johnny Strickler on electric guitar, Larry Cataldo on bass, David Nace on drums, Alisha Thomas on violin and backing vocals, and Kat Rueda-Lynn on backing vocals. 

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