Kennedy’s Kitchen  to present free concert at library

By Andrew Tallackson, Michigan City The News-Dispatch





John Kennedy's grandmother is 102. She came to the United States from Ireland in 1927. She's lived through world war I, the Irish revolutionary war, the Irish Civil War, and emigrated to America where she raised nine children through the Great Depression.


Now, she's leaving us, fading away. John speaks to her regularly. Music - Irish music to be exact - is the link between them.


“She said to me, ‘John, my memory is going. All I can remember now are the songs',” Kennedy said.

“So, I call her, I get out the fiddle and I play the songs she grew up dancing to. If I didn't have this music, I wouldn't have a way to talk to my grandmother, to jog her memory, to bring life to her.”


Kennedy will bring that passion for Celtic music to Michigan City


when his group, Kennedy's Kitchen, performs at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at Michigan City Public Library, 100 E. Fourth St.


The free concert will include not just traditional dance tunes and pub songs, but stories and jokes. Band members also use an array of instruments, including fiddles, flute, whistles, mandolin, bouzuoki, guitars, bohdran and bass. At one point, Irish step dancers join them.


The band, based in South Bend, formed in 1998 and plays throughout the Midwest, including at the DeBartollo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary College, the Kranert Center for the Arts at the University of Illinois and Valparaiso's Front Porch Music.


The group's latest CD, “A Pocketful of Lint,” was released in November 2006 and has enjoyed airplay on around the country and the world.

Kennedy, the band's leader, provides vocals and plays guitar, tin whistle, bouzuoki, bohdran and banjo. He's joined by Nolan Ladewski on tin whistle, low D and other whistles, Bob Harke, who provides vocals and performs on guitar and bohdran, Chris O'Brien, who provides vocals and plays fiddle, tenor banjo and mandolin, and Rob Weber, who plays and provides vocals.


Band members have developed quite a following over the years, and fans always seem appreciative of the effort required to present a show.


“The biggest thing people say is, ‘thank you',” Kennedy said. “It's astonishing. They say things like, ‘It's clear you guys are having a good time.'

“People recognize it takes a lot of effort to take music on the road. We were up in Muskegon (Mich.) on St. Patrick's Day, and we heard from a half-dozen people how grateful they were that we left South Bend and made the effort to go to a smaller town.”


Kennedy, in fact, performs full time now. He has a doctorate in economics from the University of Notre Dame and served on its faculty from 1991 until 2001. He never thought he'd be able to make a living in South Bend as a musician, but the community, and the region, have been immensely supportive, making him feel “respected and cherished.”


And with interest growing in Irish music, Kennedy says audiences appreciate something he's always known, that the Celtic sound has undeniable power and history.


“I grew up with Irish music in the house.  No party was complete without a family sing.  The music predates the conscious mind for me,” Kennedy said. “Being Irish, the music is who I am. It can't be separated from who I am.”


“If you don't have an awareness of your people’s music, then to me, you've lost something. When you lose your ethnic music, you lose one of your deepest roots.”