Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5—Jennifer Jo McLaughlin has touched them all.
As a self-described “tension tamer to the stars,” the Portland-based massage therapist has worked with a whole host of performers, from buzz bands to legit rock stars. She offers onsite massages and bodywork sessions for traveling musicians, who she says need therapeutic care just as much as anyone else.
But McLaughlin, 47, says the big names are just a bonus. For her, the job itself is reward enough.
Before discovering her dream career, McLaughlin worked in corporate America for years as an internal auditor for a freight company. She cites 9/11 as her “wake-up call.”
“I realized I couldn’t spend any more time being unhappy in my workplace,” she says, “so I quit and went to massage school.”
She graduated from Portland’s East West College of the Healing Arts in 2003 and opened her own practice. A year or so later, she moved into a studio at boutique hotel the Jupiter on East Burnside Street, where she developed a specialized massage program for its clients.
There, she found her niche.
With Doug Fir Lounge only a few feet away, McLaughlin was often onsite when musicians were playing. “I was able to work kind of odd hours,” she says, “and I started building a reputation as a massage therapist for rock stars.”
She ended up making contacts at Doug Fir and Crystal Ballroom, then worked her way up to even bigger venues. One night in 2007, she got a call for an unnamed performer at Moda Center. When she showed up, country singer Faith Hill was sitting backstage.
“After our session, Faith got up from the table,” McLaughlin recalls, “and she asked, ‘JJ, do you tour?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do,’ and so I spent the summer touring with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw for two and a half months.”
On tour, McLaughlin says she felt validated for her work. When she returned home, she started branding herself—in earnest this time—as a touch therapist for celebrities.
In 2010, she moved to Wisconsin, where she explored self-care, became a certified practitioner of Yamuna body rolling, and gave birth to twins. When she returned to Portland in 2016, her first call back from maternity leave was from Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
McLaughlin’s newest project is a small silver Airstream called the Peace Pod, which she describes as “a teeny, tiny mobile spa.” The setup inside includes a steam room, a massage table, cups, body cushions, hot rocks, essential oils and more.
“I’ve had gigs that had to cancel because they didn’t have space for me to set up, or who set me up in giant suites, or in locker rooms, or in hallways with pipe and drape. Those are often a lot of factors I can’t control,” she says. “Now, I can go anywhere.”