The Wild Rose Moon’s new performance series Moonlight is back for its new June installment, kicking off with the charismatic South Bend songwriter, joHn Kennedy. The Moonlight model is still under construction and in the spirit of engineering creativity; Kennedy’s episode was the first of the series to be live streamed for both parts one and two.
Normally, joHn Kennedy can be found playing with his band Kennedy’s Kitchen, a traditional Irish folk group combining traditional Celtic tunes with original ballads of bardic persuasion. Recently, under the light of Covid-19 where performance spaces are closed, joHn can be found sharing his songs on the streets of downtown South Bend. (In a recent busking stint, he jokingly bragged––“I even made $2!”) While joHn is a talented ensemble member and band leader when he’s with the Kitchen, getting to hear him raw and solo on Moonlight was quite the treat.
joHn arrived at Wild Rose Moon with a smile on his face and three harmonicas in hand. His bright laugh could be heard, echoing throughout the space as he sang and warmed up his instrument, a Fender 1100, a rich sounding guitar. He soon let everyone on the closed set know that tonight’s production was a bit of an experiment for him. In preparation, he had begun digging through his extensive songbook and decided to perform songs that hadn’t seen the light in years.
Before long, joHn was belting out two numbers entitled, “Old Jacob ” and “Harriet Tubman”. Both of these songs reflected on the current issues going on in our country today, with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbury, and Breonna Taylor. When I read joHn’s lyric sheets prior to the show, his character Old Jacob felt so familiar. “Old Jacob was a fine gentle man. He was eighty five years old when he finally bought his land.”
joHn’s story reminded me of my own grandfather and great-grandfather–both small-town farmers who worked hard and were humbled by the land. Yet, when I read the rest of the song, I gasped. In the story we learn that Old Jacob was a Black Indiana farmer that gets harassed by members of the Klu Klux Klan. As joHn said it on the day, Jacob was one of the lucky ones, “They didn’t lynch Jacob. No, they didn’t get him.” He then implied that––as we know––many were not so lucky, as he tuned his Fender for his spoken song, “Harriet Tubman.” Old Jacob’s story, fictional as it may be, is a reminder to us Hoosiers that the KKK and other white supremacist groups are a sad part of Indiana’s history.
As joHn delivered the story of “Harriet Tubman”, delivering the incredible story of all her courageous deeds in freeing slaves from the south, he concluded, “They called her Moses.” It was then our little underground theater resonated with feeling as the line echoed through the bricks, sending shivers into all the production crew. The reminder of Tubman’s excellence and bravery as well as the character of Old Jacob coincided with both the history of our country and the brave Black American citizens leading the Black Lives Matter movement today.
Despite some minor technical difficulties beginning part two of Moonlight, the interview resumed in a genuine and relaxed manner and joHn began a conversation pertinent to the flame in the hearts of performers everywhere. He called it, “a metaphysical transition between performing and (getting to) the point where it just doesn’t matter what you sing next,” a point “where the audience is with you and there is magic being created.”
joHn ended the night with a triumphant finale he hadn’t originally planned for titled, “Do You Believe.” joHn prefaced the song by saying he hadn’t played it, “going on twenty years now.” The song could be interpreted in different ways. However, at the heart of the song is an in-your-face, almost sassy chorus that rings, “Do you believe that it matters? Does the universe revolve around you? Your pain, your hopes, your dreams, your oh-so-messed up childhood?” Despite the sass of the chorus, the song tells the story of a musician joHn met years ago who was begging on the streets to wash windshields. joHn gave him a dollar or two and the men got to talking. The musician knew that even though he was an artist, the world wasn’t going to hand him his big break. It was going to take a lot of hard work. The chorus elicits his inner monologue, telling him to get out of his head and move away from the self-centered tendencies so often pronounced in human beings. Listening to joHn throughout the interview prior and following, it’s clear that this lesson is one that has stayed with him. As he played the final, goosebump-inducing note, the energy settled, the production crew exhaled, and all were grateful to have been part of such a meaningful night.
joHn Kennedy and his band Kennedy’s Kitchen are long-time supporters of the Wild Rose Moon and perform there as often as they can. In fact, you can catch the entirety of the band, Kennedy’s Kitchen, streaming a live concert from the Wild Rose Moon, this Friday night, June 19th at 7 p.m., on Facebook.
For a great introduction to the illustrious and infinitely kind band leader, be sure to catch the third episode of Moonlight! Both parts will be archived for viewing on the Wild Rose Moon on FaceBook and the Wild Rose Moon YouTube Channel which can be accessed directly from wildrosemoon.com, where a list of upcoming shows can be found. Wild Rose Moon’s Moonlight is made possible by a generous grant from Gibson Insurance and the Gibson Foundation and from Marshall County Community Foundation.