The Washington, D.C./Baltimore, MD region is a great place for music. Having previously lived there for about ten years, and living only a couple of hours away, we have enjoyed the talents of many local musicians and well known acts over the years. That included hanging out at the Sunset Grill in Annandale on Thursday evenings with Bill Kirchen (guitarist from Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen of the 70’s) or sitting in front of the the band members of Yes, who came to the Smithsonian Museum to play on some blue-guitars (apparently a difficult finish to put on the body of a guitar). Reading a memoir from a local D.C. guitarist gave me a chance to reminisce on those change connections.
First, I had to come upon the memoir and the guitarist, Pete Kennedy. This came from an annual tribute to Hank Williams that several musician (Bill Kirchen, Kathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and the Robin & Linda Williams group) that started about 20 years ago. We first attended this at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria. After moving to West Virginia, we discovered that they brought the show the the Court House Square Theater in Harrisonburg, VA, as Robin and Linda Williams lives a few towns up the Shenandoah Valley.
The event is held the weekend around New Years, close to the day of Hank William’s death. All Hank Williams songs all night. Last year (2018) Pete and Maura Kennedy joined the group. Pete had released a memoir of this music life, which he had for sale during intermission. Our prior concert with Pete and Maura was at least 17 years earlier when they were promoting their Life is Large CD with a concert at the Barns of Wolftrap. Well, we dated ourselves with that reference… “It’s been a long time since we played at Wolftrap…” Our paths have nearly crossed in the Root Music genre, but most were near misses on our part.
This is part of what I enjoyed about Pete’s memoir, revisiting the many musicians and venues that have been part of his life. He talked about growing up in Arlington, VA just across the Potomac River form D.C. in the 1950’s-60’s. He tells about the influences of Catholic School (or the antics of a Catholic Schoolboy evading the corrective influences of religion around the time of Vatican II), saving money to buy a guitar at Sears, and experiencing the British Invasion at Constitution Hall, etc.
I was little worried that his tales would mostly be name dropping of the famous of music. While there was some of that (running into Michael Jackson in a hallway at the Kennedy Center, or U2 going into their rehearsal space in Ireland), those were about as relevant as my name-dropping the group Yes, like I had any influence over their musical careers. But, I was relieved that he spent more time talking about the experience of playing with local D.C. musicians (e.g. Danny Gatton) and venues (i.e. the Kennedy Center, Celler Door, and 930 Club), as well as when he was on national and international tours with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nancy Griffith.
Maura, the only love he acknowledges other than his guitars, shows up half way into his story. The rest is written in their songs and many C.D.’s together. Half A Million Miles tells it all. Their life has been on the road, in home studios, surrounded by the tunes, singers, and fellow musicians whose joy is being songs to us, the audience.
What I enjoyed most of about Pete’s memoir was his story telling style. While I glazed over a few times as lists of concerts and who was on the stage, for the most part, I felt like Pete and I were sitting around a coffee shop with a tall latte, chatting, reminiscing, and laughing at the circumstances of life.
That joy and enthusiasm for music is what permeates his memory. The joy of discovering Jimmy Hendrix power cords on his Sears guitar. The joy of sitting in with, influencing, and learning from past and future generations of guitarists. The joy of saying “Yes” to any invitation to play, whether for a touring Rn’B band, at a local pub, or a symphony orchestra. That is what Pete’s (and later Maura’s) musical careers have been about, saying “Yes” to life.
P.S. You will enjoy the story more if you buy a few C.D.s too.
Pete and Maura
Mary Chapin Carpenter