The band brings traditional Irish tunes to warm up the North for St. Pat’s
By Ross Boissoneau | February 19, 2022
While many people turn to March — especially St. Patrick’s Day — for their dose of Emerald Isle music, the Kennedy’s Kitchen chef celebrates his calling on a daily basis. “Every day when I wake up I can make music,” says John Kennedy.
And before you ask, yes, that’s how he spells his name. Rather than face endless questions about his name and any connection to the famous Kennedy clan, he decided to define his own identity with the unusual spelling. “It’s my way of saying, ‘This is me,'” he says. As for the name of the group, it is derived from a description of the music: “Kitchen Music from the home, the hearth, and the heart”.
Kennedy and his five-piece band perform two shows, March 5 at City Park Grill in Petoskey and March 6 at the Bay Theater in Suttons Bay. He and the band are looking forward to the shows as the last two years have been put on hiatus due to the pandemic. These shows in northern Michigan are among the band’s first shows since November. As a result, he and the band, along with their fans, suffered.
“It left a really big hole,” he says, though the time spent seemed to do wonders for both parties once the band was back on stage. When the band started playing again, Kennedy said the audience response was beyond what the band had expected.
“The shows were off the charts,” Kennedy says. As any musician will tell you, the interaction between the performer and the audience is crucial. “We need each other. If you are a fish, you have to swim. Then suddenly [when the pandemic closed down performance spaces] there was no water. And when did things reopen? It was as if the floodgates were opening.
So what can Northern Michigan audiences expect when Kennedy’s Kitchen arrives next week? “The public can expect joy. For me, that’s the whole point. On a beautiful night, maybe there is healing, tears. Some are simply magical.
The band have been making Irish music together since 1998, and their long-standing connection and experience shows. Kennedy says the evening will be a rich mix of stories and songs, all rooted in traditional Irish music: jigs, reels, hornpipes, arias and recitations, including original compositions. In true Irish tradition, a bit of meandering conversation will also be on the table. “I’m a master of diversion,” says Kennedy. “It’s a gift that I discovered on stage. I am a storyteller.
The guitarist and singer – and, yes, the storyteller – will also offer the audience an unusual guitar tuning, in which the strings are tuned to D, A, D, G, A and D. Called “DADGAD tuning”, the method is the one preferred by Pierre Bensusan, a gifted Franco-Algerian guitarist whose music often evokes the Celtic flavors of the British Isles.
Kennedy calls Bensusan “the godfather of DADGAD” and says the tuning suits Irish music. “There’s an ambiguity in the setting,” says Kennedy. “You get the drones you would play on pipes. It is easier to play open chords.
The rest of the band plays traditional Irish instruments: whistles, flutes, fiddle, tenor banjo, mandolin, bodhran (Irish drum) and bass, with various members joining Kennedy on vocals.
The Petoskey show is a revival of the Robert Emmet Society’s annual Irish Hoolie, a term for an Irish party with music, dancing, great food “and even better blarney”. After a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, the organization welcomes this hoolie with a special mission in mind: to raise funds to send a student from North Central Michigan College to study at the Galway-Mayo Institute in Galway, Ireland, for a semester.
The Robert Emmet Society was founded in Emmet County to raise awareness of its namesake, Robert Emmet, an Irish patriot executed by the British in 1803 for leading a revolt against Ireland’s longtime foreign rulers. Tickets for the show, at City Park Grill, are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Renewing and current society members and students cost $15. The seats are limited. For tickets or more information, call the Robert Emmet Society at 231-838-6239 or City Park Grill at 231-347-0101.
Tickets for the 4 p.m. show at Suttons Bar are $25, $20 for Premium and Sustainer Bay Theater members. They are available at the Bay Theater box office and on the website, www.thebaytheatre.com; click on Schedule and Tickets.