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Kelley Hunt to perform Saturday at McPherson Opera House

Courtesy photo

The veteran singer/songwriter says she has plenty of new material that will please longtime fans.

Musician Kelley Hunt returns to McPherson Opera House on Saturday, June 4, for a performance with her acoustic quartet.

Hunt has refrained from a large-scale series of concerts so far this year, aware that many tours and individual dates are still being canceled or postponed because of COVID-19.

But, she adds, the last two years proved a fruitful time for her on the creative front as she wrote a healthy amount of new material. She'll debut some of those songs in McPherson this weekend.

She recently spoke with KMUW about that upcoming performance, life during lockdown and her friendship with Kansas music legend Mike Finnigan.

Interview Highlights

Have you played the McPherson Opera House before? I remember going to see [guitarist] Bill Frisell there and just being blown away by the room.

I've played there before over the years. Probably a handful of times. And it is pretty amazing. Just to have a community of that size, have a facility like that kind of blows a person's mind.

It's a hidden gem.

The state of Kansas has several places tucked away like that. I grew up in Emporia, and they've got the Granada Theater. The McPherson Opera House is so cool: All the … bright red seats. You walk in and go, "Man, here's a great vibe."

Let's talk about the acoustic quartet.

I did 58 full one-hour Facebook Live concerts over two years. The first several of them, I had to do solo because we really couldn't be around other people. Then I ended up bringing in acoustic bass, one of my singers. We put up a drum shell between us [and wore] masks. It was really fun. I did it almost every week. It helped me hear my own songs in a little bit different way because I write pretty much everything I did.

I did a bunch of writing during the height of the pandemic and fleshed the songs out in that format. So it's been fun to go out and do some live gigs. I'm just doing a handful here and there. I'm doing a whole lot of piano playing and a little bit of guitar playing.

[For the gig in McPherson] I'll have Jeff Harshbarger on acoustic bass with me; he's a killer player out of Kansas City who also teaches at KU, and Brandon Graves is going to be playing percussion and a small [drum] kit. Then, one of my longtime singers, Allena Ross [will be joining us, too]. People are going to love this woman. She has such a killer voice [and] comes from an authentic gospel background; her mother was a gospel singer, the real deal. So, when she opens her mouth to sing, it's really cool. It's really special. This is a fun group to bring out; they're soulful, and they're great players.

You mentioned writing and I'm glad to hear you say that you've been writing songs. At the height of the pandemic, I talk to people who seemed to fall in one of two camps: Either they didn't feel creative at all or they'd say, "Hey, I've got all this time on my hands and my guitar, what else am I going to do?"

I think I had a little dose of both because for the first two months, I couldn't write. I was trying to take care of our family and stay safe. There was so much that we didn't know back then. I was waking up in the middle of the night, which I'd never done before, and thinking, "What is this?" My psyche just wasn't ready to [go to a place where I could write]. That was very odd, very unusual for me. Then, one day, probably in May of 2020, I started easing back in, and I started writing again.

We lost a lot of people in the last two years in the music community and one of them was Mike Finnigan, who you did a lot of work with. It's amazing to me how many people he touched in the music world. There are people you wouldn't necessarily connect him to and then they say, "Yeah, Mike was the first person who showed me how to tune a guitar," or, "Mike helped me figure this out."

He produced and played on my very first album. We flew out to LA in '93 and the record came out in '94. He and his wife, Candy, [were great to us]. Kelly Finnigan [his son of the band Monophonics] was really young at the time, and he'd go out in the yard and sing James Brown songs. But Mike, my husband and I went on tour to support that first record several times and Mike came and played on a live album I did around 2000. We'd see each other on the road.

I knew he wasn't doing well [before he died] and it broke my heart wide open. I didn't realize how quickly things had progressed. He had a big effect on a lot of people, both in music and in the recovery world. He was a larger-than-life personality. He really was.

You've done some writing over the last few years. Do you have some recording projects in the works, too?

I have two or three projects in the works. In fact, [there's] a big chunk of new stuff we're going to play at the Opera House in addition to things that people have heard me do in the past. I'm getting ready to an album of all new stuff. I'm actually going to be putting out a holiday album later this year. I'm excited about all of it. It's going to be fun to road test some of these new songs.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.