Dylan and Hendrix no longer frequent the streets and cafés of Woodstock, but their legacy persists in a town that continues to nurture young musicians. “I live in a place where I’ve been lucky to meet and make music with some of my musical heroes,” said 20-year-old Connor Kennedy, who’s been seeking to carve a name for himself on the local music scene.
The guitarist, singer, and songwriter, along with his band, Minstrel, will be featured every Tuesday in November at Backstage Productions in Kingston. Minstrel will be the house band for Ladies of the Valley, a fundraiser for Family of Woodstock at the Bearsville Theater on Sunday, November 9, backing up Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Simi Stone, and others. On the eve of Thanksgiving, they’ll play at Keegan Ales in Kingston, and on Black Friday, they’ll join Mike and Ruthy, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dan Littleton, and others at Levon Helm’s studio, The Barn, in a version of Levon’s famous Rambles. Kennedy even has a radio show on WDST every Monday, “The Indigo Hour.”
Heady stuff for a kid who was born in north Jersey, grew up in Saugerties, and started taking guitar lessons at the age of ten. “I practiced guitar three to five hours a day from the ages of 11 to 15,” he recalled. “And I taught myself keyboard, piano, organ, drums, bass.” At 14, he began to hang out in Woodstock so he could play music in public. “I had gone to an open mic in Saugerties every week, but that was the only kind of live music regularly in Saugerties at that time. Coming to Woodstock, I felt like I found a place I could call home even though I didn’t live here.” He was spending so much time in town that he transferred to the Woodstock Day School at 16. He sat in with Dave Kearny and Ellie Wininger at the Wok n’ Roll, or sometimes with Salted Bones, a band featuring Michael Esposito of Blues Magoos fame, Ted Orr, Joe Bones, and Sal Miccio.
At 14 and 15, the youngster also volunteered at Levon’s, when the Woodstock icon was still alive and running his near weekly Midnight Rambles. “To play at The Barn — that’s a big dream come true,” said Kennedy. Helm’s daughter, Amy, has been supportive and invites him to perform frequently at The Barn. When she played at a free concert at the Methodist church in Shady this August, Kennedy and two other musicians backed her up on a series of spirituals. “I was so happy Amy asked us to do it,” he remembered. “So often almost every performance is — well, it’s always for the love of doing it, but for that day, we were just there for the people and ourselves. It was really refreshing, just singing the songs we learned from Amy that morning.”
Kennedy’s growth as a performer has been steady and gradual. “I just kept doing what I was doing,” he said. This Halloween’s Pink Floyd concert at the Bearsville Theater came out of a similar show he did with friends in 2011. (Or was it 2010? So long ago, he can’t remember.) The 15- and 16-year-olds were doing Pink Floyd songs on the Bearsville stage, when they looked up to see 400 people in the audience. “It didn’t have anything to do with us — it was about Pink Floyd,” he said, “but we felt like we’d arrived in some way. We met a lot of people and made new connections that we still have. We played Mountain Jam the next year, Bearsville more regularly, and I started writing my own music, which I’m still doing. It’s all happening slowly and naturally. It’s really cool there’s a community here that allows for the growth I’m trying to achieve.”
His band Minstrel now includes drummer Lee Falco, bassist Brandon Morrison, and keyboard player Will Bryant, nephew of Byron Isaacs, Levon’s and now Amy’s bass player. Their musical style, said Kennedy, is hard to classify. “I always say I’m waiting for someone else to tell me what kind of music it is. We all have different tastes. At my core, the songwriting influences are Bob Dylan, George Harrison, classic rock ‘n’ roll stuff as well as folk, blues — everything’s connected.”
“The Indigo Hour” explores those influences. Kennedy is now up to his sixth show, running from 10 p.m. to midnight Mondays at WDST 100.1, as he plays records by both local people and musicians passing through, plus an assortment of blues, soul, jazz. He likes to choose unfamiliar songs by well-known artists. Kennedy spins a lot of vinyl, buying new albums every week. “I like to support those businesses and meet those people,” he commented. “Vinyl is flourishing now. It’s the only aspect of physical music selling that’s increased. I go to Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz. The owner, John, has been turning me on to new stuff at the store, which I try to translate into the radio show.” He also encourages people to call in to the show and talk to him. For those not up late on a Monday, “The Indigo Hour” can be heard at anytime on the Internet at WDST.com.
When asked about his dreams, Kennedy is modest, bringing the conversation back to Woodstock. “This year alone, I’ve made a big transition into being a singer-songwriter, which is what I’d like to be.” His first record, a collection of songs written over the past few years, is Nothing Lasts: Nothing’s Over, released in 2013. The ultimate goal, he said, is to create music that “represents everything we love about music, that can take people where they want to go. We’re big believers in where we live. We want to see this area flourish and return to what it was in late 60s and 70s, into the 90s as well, when Bearsville Records was kicking and Todd Rundgren was here working — so many great records were made in this town. We’re getting close — people keep moving here. I think the future of Woodstock looks good.”++
To keep up with Connor Kennedy, see his website at https://www.connorkennedy.org.