The Kennedys have brought their driving Americana sound to Winston-Salem for several Fiddle and Bow Society concerts over the years, so the huband-and-wife duo was a natural choice when the nonprofit organization decided to start staging shows once a month in Greensboro.
(For more information on the Kennedys and tickets to the concert, click here.)
“We’ve played maybe every three or four years for them, but this is the first time in Greensboro,” said Maura Kennedy, who sings lead, writes songs and plays guitar and ukulele for the couple, who live in New York City.
Pete Kennedy sings harmony and plays guitar, bass, ukulele and electric sitar, and he recently added lap steel to his repertoire. The group’s Greensboro show will be Feb. 15 in the UpStage Cabaret at Triad Stage.
Pete grew up in Washington, D.C., where he attended an early Beatles concert. Though it was hard to hear the music above the screaming fans, he knew it was a significant experience.
“It was a cultural watershed,” Pete said. “I think it was the Baby Boomers self-identifying as a generation that was different from the Elvis generation.”
The Beatles, Byrds and other groups of that era gave him a lifelong love of music with ringing Rickenbacker guitars and intelligent lyrics.
“Music was so important back then as a carrier of values and beliefs,” Pete said. “I think music shares that role with a lot of other things now.”
Maura grew up in a large family in Syracuse, N.Y., discovering folk-rock and power pop in local music clubs and a record store where she worked. She started playing music in Syracuse clubs before relocating to Austin, Texas.
Pete and Maura met in the early 1990s when Pete was playing in Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra. Maura soon joined Griffith’s band, as well, and the couple started opening for Griffith as a duo. They toured with Griffith again for three years beginning in 2010, Pete said.
The Kennedys have released more than a dozen duo albums, and both Maura and Pete have released multiple solo albums. They hosted a show on satellite radio, “Dharma Cafe,” for almost five years in the 2000s.
Eric Sorensen reviewed the Kennedys’ most recent album, 2018’s “Safe Until Tomorrow,” for the website Pop Geek Heaven.
“Like many of their folk-rock icons from the ’60s, Pete and Maura embellish their lyrical narrative with jangly instrumentation (whether it’s a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar or a sitar),” Sorensen wrote. “Maura once described their genre of music as ‘coffeehouse pop’ and several of the tracks on ‘Safe Until Tomorrow’ fall into this category — particularly the title track and ‘Umbrella.’”
The title track was inspired by Maura’s work as a caregiver for her aging father, who has dementia. “We can only keep you safe until tomorrow comes,” she sings.
“You have to sort of live in the moment and deal with the situation as best you can,” Maura said. “But in our case, it’s a blessing to help my dad, like both of us helped our moms and Pete’s dad. As long as he’s still here, we’re here, too, and we’re lucky that we have such a big, supportive family.”
Pete published a book in late 2018: “Tone, Twang and Taste: A Guitar Memoir.”
“The theme of the book is not so much about guitar, per se, it’s about having a dream or passion as a kid and doing whatever you have to do to stick with it throughout your life,” he said. “At a certain point you can look back and go, ‘Yeah, I did get away with it.’”
Three Fiddle and Bow Society shows have been scheduled for UpStage Cabaret so far, each on the third Friday of the month. Besides the Kennedys, there’s the George Jackson Band on March 15 and Jon Shain and FJ Ventre on April 19. Shain, a frequent Fiddle and Bow guest who lives in Durham, won a top prize in January at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., taking first place in the solo/duo category.
“He’s a good example of Fiddle and Bow being on top of things, because we had already booked him,” said Peg Parham, who became president of the organization in January.
Fiddle and Bow was founded in 1981 to promote folk music and dance and related arts. The society staged a few shows in Greensboro in the ’80s and ’90s, according to Sonny Thomas, a co-founder of the organization.
Parham books the ’Boro Sessions, a concert series produced by her Pegasus Entertainment Group.
“Because I’ve been doing Americana concerts in Greensboro for several years now, and have had relatively good turnout and interest in them, I know the interest is there in Greensboro,” Parham said.
The UpStage Cabaret shows will offer bar service, and concertgoers are free to bring food, with takeout available at a number of restaurants near Triad Stage, she said.
“We really want to make it into a warm, engaging experience where we build a good community of concert listeners,” Parham said.