Monday, April 8, 2019

The Kenn Morr Band

As I've written about before, the mid-nineties was the point where I fell into a black hole as far as the national music scene was concerned. After Kurt Cobain died, and alternative rock didn't become the big seller that the record companies hoped it would, they pivoted to prefabricated crappy pop. And I ran for the hills. I started with college radio and indie bands. Then, because I had started managing Denise's band The Slant, I came back to my own backyard, where I discovered that all over Long Island, there was great music being played from the heart by musicians and bands who were playing and writing simply for the love of it.

The Slant used to rehearse in Tom (the keyboard player's) apartment in Bellerose. And as it happened, two of his neighbors were a female couple who rented the apartment next door, Pina and Rose. One day, they mentioned the music, and Tom apologized for disturbing them. They explained that they liked it, however, and went on to tell him that they were in the process of opening a small New Orleans-style coffee house/restaurant in Floral Park, The Crescent City Cafe. They then asked if his band would like to play there. A few weeks later, the place opened, and The Slant became one of the regular weekend acts. Soon, our friend (and a former Slant member) Chris Peters began playing there regularly as well, and we noticed that there was a regular rotation that developed on the weekends, which mostly consisted of Chris, The Slant, a female duo called Crystal Rose, and a Huntington-based musician (who played as a 3-piece) named Kenn Morr. It was a nice little scene. The place wasn't making any money, but Pina and Rose would always make sure to at least feed the band, and the food was first-rate.

Before long, we had made friends with Kenn and his band as well as with Crystal Rose. (An early version of Dave Isaacs' band Jackalope Junction and Frank Walker played there also, but they were mostly Sunday brunches and weekday nights, so we didn't get to know them until a couple of years later.) Eventually, we started attending Kenn and Crystal Rose's gigs outside of Crescent City (often at bookstores, which were a popular place for acoustic acts to play at that time.)

Crescent City didn't last all that long. Could have been a year and a half, could have even been less. And by the end of the decade, Kenn and his wife moved away from Long Island to somewhere in Connecticut. But occasionally, he'd come back and play somewhere, and I'd see him when I could.

Of course, once Denise and I adopted our kids, I stopped going out to local music shows and spent most of the last decade concentrating on being a Dad. However, I've always kept track of Kenn over the years, and whenever he's put out a new album, I've picked it up. I hadn't seen him live in 10 to 15 years though.

Now that I've been getting out now and again for music, though, I've noticed that Kenn usually comes back and plays Long Island once or twice a year. The last couple of times were Friday night gigs at some art gallery in Huntington. I've had every intention of going, but Huntington is kind of a pain in the ass for me to get to, and over the last few years, however sincerely I've planned to go to a Friday night show, when Friday comes along, I'm usually too tired and listless to go out.

This past week, though, I received an e-mail saying that The Kenn Morr Band was playing a Sunday afternoon show at the Northport Library. Honestly, from Patchogue, Northport is almost as big a pain as Huntington (although it's significantly less crowded.) But Sunday afternoons work a little better for me than Friday nights, so I made a plan to go.

I wasn't 100% sure I was going to make it. I had an early-morning staff meeting for my job in Little Neck on Saturday, and those meetings tend to knock me out for the rest of the day. I think it's the diabetes. (I recently got this new-fangled sensor thing up and working. I've been taking regular readings over the last few days, and frankly, my blood sugar count is a horror show.) I had no stamina all day long. But by Sunday, I had recovered, it was a beautiful day, and I was up for some music.

I found the library with little problem, and made my way down to a nice (if somewhat dimly lit room) in the basement. It had a full stage (which was fully lit, thankfully). I grabbed a seat as a few other patrons trickled in. Before long, Kenn and his band appeared. (Their instruments were already set up). We said a quick hello. He didn't recognize me right away (which wasn't surprising, given how long it's been), but as soon as I said "Rich", it clicked. We joked about how we hadn't aged a bit. (And truthfully, except for just a little bit of salt and pepper coloring in his hair, he really hasn't.)

After about ten minutes, at 2PM, Kenn and his band started a 14-song set that ran about an hour and twenty minutes. And although most of the crowd wasn't previously familiar with him (as he'd never played this library before), I think he went over really well.

For those not familiar, Kenn Morr plays a laid back brand of folksy-Americana. If I had to compare him to someone, James Taylor would be a good place to start (although during the show, he mentioned that Gordon Lightfoot was his hero, and I can see the influence there as well.) His deep voice has just a little gravel to it. His music is mostly positive -- it's not that he doesn't sing about the difficulties of life, but there's a gentle feel to the songs, and a feeling that even in the lowest of times, it's possible to make it through somehow.

The band played this show as a three-piece, with some nice three-part vocal harmonies throughout. Kenn sang the lead and played guitar, Tom Hagymasi played a variety of instruments (including mandolin, violin, accordion and Irish Bazouki), and Pat Ryan played bass.

Throughout the afternoon, Kenn told interesting stories, about his memories of Long Island, his new home (in the middle of nowhere), his former and current dogs, and the bear who comes out of the woods every year to rip the door off of his shed. He even told a story about how a slow Southern pancake waitress might have saved his life. (I think that's all I'm going to tell you about that one.)

Over the years, he has released eight albums, and for this show, he played selections from most of them. A couple of my favorites were "My Friend", a tribute to his now-deceased dog Lightfoot, which really captures the flavor of the relationship between man and man's best friend; and "Anna Lee", a song he wrote after a German critic complained that his music should have more "blood, sweat, toil and booze" in it.

It was a treat to catch Kenn and his band again after so many years. These days, he has a number of videos up on YouTube, and of course he also has a website at http://www.kennmorr.com. I don't know when he'll be back on Long Island again, but he plays New England regularly, and he has a museum date scheduled in The Bronx on May 3. I'd highly recommend you check him out.


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