Kevn Kinney has been a fixture on the Atlanta music scene for three decades now. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kinney arrived in Atlanta in 1985 and quickly connected with local musicians to form Drivin N Cryin. The original incarnation of DNC was a power trio known for their incendiary live performances. They played incessantly and recorded their first album Scarred But Smarter on the independent Atlanta label 688. Their success on the Atlanta club scene jettisoned DNC into the southeast circuit spotlight. Drivin N Cryin landed a major label deal with Island Records and began to get national attention with the release of their fourth album, 1991’s Fly Me Courageous. MTV helped propel national interest in the band with regular rotation of hits “Build A Fire” and “Fly Me Courageous.” The album was a hard rock delivery promised by Kinney as a trade off for Island’s release of his debut solo outing the previous year.
1990 saw Kinney dig deep into his folk roots with Macdougal Blues. His penchant for storytelling and love for traditional instruments superceded any desire Kinney may have had for arena rock star life. With help from R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Kinney staked his claim in songwriting with Macdougal Blues. Buck not only produced the album but played mandolin and guitar on most of the album’s tracks. Songs for the working man, the dreamer, the every-man, Macdougal Blues entices and delights from the first chord to the last lyric. Now a quarter century later, it seemed to be an appropriate time to celebrate the release of such an album. On August 22nd, Kinney and Buck revisited the old tunes with some old friends in the old town, the classic city.
The 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA has helped launch the careers of several successful hometown bands including the B-52s, R.E.M., and Widespread Panic. The venue is a regular stopping point for national touring acts and is a favorite of many musicians both near and far. Kinney usually plays the 40 Watt a few times a year and chooses the Athens club for special events. The time had arrived for Kevn to pay homage to his folk beginnings in Macdougal Blues and it seemed only fitting for that to happen within the hallowed walls of the 40 Watt.
The show was billed as “Macdougal Blues featuring Kevn Kinney and Peter Buck.” There was also an indication on the Drivin N Cryin website that there may indeed be special guests. A Monday night in Athens at the 40 Watt with such two powerhouses on the marquee most assuredly guaranteed there would be surprise musicians joining them on the stage. The doors to the club opened at 8:oo with a showtime scheduled at 9:00. There was no listed support – just the headlining act. There was an air of excitement abuzz on Washington Street and conversation about the night’s gig could be heard on the sidewalks and inside the eateries and shops. Folks began to file into the club shortly after doors opened and by 9:00 the house was well packed and ready for the set to commence.
At 9:00 sharp the musicians took the stage. Kinney on acoustic guitar, Buck on mandolin, accompanied by the DNC rhythm section of Tim Nielsen on bass and Dave V. Johnson on drums. Without fanfare the foursome launched into “Trail of Seasons,” the first track from Kinney’s second solo album, The Flower and the Knife. A fitting opener, the chorus “It’s always nice to see an old friend again” rang true as familiar faces scanned the dimly lit room and smiles were shared by one and all. The second number of the evening introduced the first Macdougal Blues track of the setlist in “Last Song of Maddie Hope,” the fascinating tale of a fictional 88-year old folk singer from Florida. The set moved forward with more material from the celebrated album, and with each song, additional guest musicians.
John Keane, famed Athens producer and session guitarist was the first special guest of the evening. Keane laid down a mean slide guitar on the Macdougal cut “Gotta Get Outta Here.” Kinney traded his acoustic for electric for “The House Above Tina’s Grocery” which led full steam into a quick one-two punch of Elvis concert staples in “That’s Alright Mama” and “Mystery Train.” Bill Berry, original drummer for R.E.M., joined the band and sat in for a handful of numbers behind the kit. His presence added to the radiating Georgia love that was already burning fiercely from the stage in the 40 Watt.
A delightful fiddle player by the name of Amanda Wilson joined the players from time to time to enhance the softer folk numbers with her subtle nuances. An early highlight of the evening was the debut of a couple songs, including a three chord punk rocker called “Radiation,” written and sung by Peter Buck. Buck claimed he had written the song earlier in the day after eating lunch at the Varsity. The second new song was a Kinney number which seemed aptly named “Sonic Tornado,” with the lyrical beat poet spoken word furor that can be so easily attributed to its author.
As is expected at Kevn Kinney gigs at the 40 Watt, he summoned a regular staple of the scene to the stage, JB the sausage man. JB is a gentle old soul who operates a sausage cart outside the venue on Washington St. Kevn loves JB and almost always takes a moment during any given Athens gig to welcome his friend inside for a song or two. This night found JB taking to the stage and to the mike for a stand alone accapella rendition of “Change Is Gonna Come.” The house was moved and so was the band who proceeded to unleash into an electrified version of Drivin N Cryin’s “Honeysuckle Blue.” With the house on fire with energy, the entire ensemble of players and special guests took to the stage for one final number, a rousing rendition of the DNC hit “Straight To Hell.” The barn was burned and the stage left ablaze. A night of pure magic created by some rock n roll hall of famers and most certainly among the Georgia music elite.
Kevn had a few parting words for the audience, always the same but never scripted: “Tip your friends and tip your bartenders and tip your cows. Life is too cheap to drink short wine. I’m Kevn Kinney and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia!”