A Dreamer on a Hill

Jacksonville singer Jenni Reid began performing on milk crates; now, she’s chasing bigger stages


Born with a condition that would have made her heart swell and eventually explode, 22-year-old musician Jenni Reid is thankful for every new day. She had open-heart surgery at age 5, and she is perfectly healthy today.

“If it wasn’t for my heart surgery, I would probably have passed on by now. It makes me a more positive person,” Reid said.

Reid’s love for music started at a young age, performing concerts in her backyard on a stage made of milk crates. She wrote her first song at age 7, about dreams.

“One time, I was impersonating Elvis Presley, standing on a TV tray, and fell and broke my arm,” she said.

After graduating from high school, Reid worked to learn how to play the guitar. With the help of YouTube and learning her favorite songs, she eventually got the hang of it. Her only training on the guitar was in a music theory class in high school. Reid also saw a voice coach to help with her vocal quality.

Reid’s best friend, Tiffany McMahon, remembers Reid dreaming of being on the TV show “One Tree Hill.”

“I remember her coming up to me in school one day saying, ‘One day you’re going to see me on ‘One Tree Hill,’ ” McMahon recalled.

“It is a very deep show,” Reid said, “ ’One Tree Hill’ showed me to believe the impossible and to never give up on yourself.”

Reid was determined to get on the show — launching a website, printing flyers, writing letters and visiting the set in Wilmington, N.C., seven times. When she first visited the drama's location site, she was disappointed to find out that the show was filming in Texas at the time. She was determined to return. During her last visit to the set before the series finale, her dream came true. Reid appeared on the last episode, delivering Tyler Hilton his guitar on stage.

Reid said Sophia Bush, one of the show’s stars, approached her after the scene and said, “Dreams come true every day.”

Reid played her first show in February 2012 at Freebird Live, in support of Think Happy Thoughts and Donovan Wolfington. When the time came to go on stage, she said she wasn’t nervous. Reid was shocked at how many people came to see her. In the year since, she has opened for Hilton from “One Tree Hill” and pop singer Ryan Cabrera. On March 14, she opens for Aaron Carter at Jack Rabbits.

“She has attracted large audiences, but sometimes the crowd is smaller. It depends on how many free shows she has played recently. Either way, it doesn’t seem to affect her stage presence,” said Tim Hall, who has booked Reid at Jack Rabbits, which he owns, and Freebird Live.

Reid’s parents go to all of her shows, help out financially and offer encouragement. Her parents were there at February's First Wednesday Art Walk; her mother shot a live webcast of her performance at Hemming Plaza while her father handed out cards with links to Reid’s website and Facebook page. Any time Reid feels like giving up, she said she calls or texts McMahon for support and an honest opinion.

“Jenni does most of the work herself,” said her father, Chris Reid. “She talks to business owners and networks with venues. She is a very ambitious young woman.”

Working part-time at Rita’s Italian Ice, she is fortunate enough to have a manager who also supports her music, going to her shows and giving her time off to perform.

She compared her situation to a memorable line from “One Tree Hill”: “ ’You are always preparing for someday, and someday is today.’ ‘One Tree Hill’ helped me prepare for my someday.”

Following the advice of one of her favorite musicians, John Mayer, she has set small goals. Her first goal was to play a show. Now, she’s working on playing out of town and expanding her fan base. She played two sets at a music festival in Daytona Beach and a show at Sacred Grounds Coffee House in Tampa. On March 22, Reid is playing at Dandelion Communitea Café in Orlando.

While participating in One Spark in April, Reid hopes to raise money to travel to shows farther from Jacksonville. She has venues picked out to play in Texas and Georgia when she can afford the trips.

Reid described her idea of success as having people she doesn’t know calling her their favorite artist. Money isn’t important. She'd like to travel and play shows around the country, but not necessarily at big venues or for huge audiences.

“I want people to know my name and say, ‘Wow, that Jenni Reid is something,’ ” she said.

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