Longtime Steel City patrons will remember the Kennedys as one of the touring acts who once made regular visits to the coffeehouse. After three years of supporting Nanci Griffith, the dynamic duo is back to headlining shows. They return to Steel City on the heels of their latest release 'Closer Than You Know' (2012).
Pete and Maura Kennedy first met when they were members of Nanci Griffith's band back in the early '90s. They hadn't performed with Griffith since 1993, but they were booked as her opening act at a show in upstate New York.
She only had a guitarist with her and Maura says: 'After her sound check, I boldly went up to her and said, 'Hey Nanci, I remember all those songs we used to play together and I know Pete does too, so if you feel like calling us up onstage during the show, we're down with that.''
Maura continues: 'She played a couple of songs and then she called us up and we thought we were gonna do one or two songs with her, and we clicked like we did 17 years earlier. Nanci looked really happy and we were really happy and we stayed up and played the entire show with her without any rehearsal … and at the end of the show she said, 'We've gotta play together. We've gotta go on the road together.''
That spontaneous reunion led to three years of touring. Not only did the Kennedys support Nanci as members of her band, but they were also her opening act.
'That was a great stroke of luck,' says Maura, 'because not only were we supporting her musically, but she was supporting us by letting us play our songs as her opening act in front of her audience, which in many places is a much bigger audience than we can draw on our own.'
The Kennedys also expanded their fan base geographically.
'We've spent a lot of time over in England and Ireland over the past three years. That's actually been really great for us because with all the trips and touring over in the U.K. with [Nanci], we've really built up our own audience, so we've gone back there. We did a whole tour on our own in June and we did really well. It was the first tour back there after being her opening act.'
In addition to touring with Griffith, Pete and Maura also added another production credit to their resume.
'Nanci was talking loosely about doing an album, but she didn't want to go into a studio. And that's when Pete suggested that he drive our whole recording studio from New York City down to Nashville and set it up in her house. So … over the course of the summer (in 2012) we recorded an entire album of Nanci's, produced it, co-wrote some of the songs and then did a whole tour around it.'
Griffith is now taking some time off and the Kennedys are now completely refocused on their own career, which always entails a significant amount of touring.
'All of our shows [are] all request shows,' explains Maura, 'which has been really fun for us because every show is different. And the audience really feels like they're participating.'
She adds: 'We started doing it about a year ago because there are some people who come to all of our shows … and we wanted to keep it fresh for them and also for ourselves. If it's fresh for us, we're going to play with a different kind of energy. So this is a way to ensure that every single show is different.'
Before each show, Pete, who calls himself the 'song waiter,' will go around the room and take requests. Fans also submit song requests via Facebook and email.
'And we don't mind if people shout out requests during the show,' adds Maura. 'We like to keep it fun and spontaneous.'
That philosophy is a reflection of their philosophy on life.
'We don't try and force life because that can lead to lots of frustration. We love going with the flow and seeing where the music and life takes us.'
As for her thoughts on returning to Steel City, Maura says, 'I always thought of that room as a real listening room … it's a good, comfortable, inviting place.'