Spot Light on Pagan Musicians
Kenny Klein is a fun and exciting pagan performer, with songs that range from beautiful original melodies to original humorous songs about goth girls to get the audience rolling. We recently met with him to ask him about his music, inspirations, and new marriage.
Hi Kenny, thank you for talking to me today! I wanted to ask you about your music. How long have you been playing?
I started on orchestral bass (the big bass fiddle) when I was around 8 years old or so. I really wanted to play the violin, but I was a big kid with fat fingers, so the teacher put me on bass. Turns out they really needed basses in the all-city orchestra. I carried that thing on the school bus every day. It built character.
So when I got to junior high, I told the teacher I played bass, but I wanted to play violin — he put me on cello. That built more character.
So when did you move on to the rest of the instruments you play?
Around that time, filled with the music of the Beatles and Donovan, I convinced my mother to invest her hard earned green stamps in a guitar. It was not the best guitar ever, but I got pretty good on it.
Finally in high school, they let me play the violin. I was listening a lot to a Scottish hippy band called The Incredible String Band then, who had a great fiddler named Robin Williamson, and I got really interested in fiddling. Later I heard Appalachian music, and the playing of Fairport Convention. Those influences have stuck with me.
I started bass because I got into Punk in the late 70s/early 80s, and all the punk bands I knew needed a bass player. As for mandolin, it’s easy because it’s tuned the same as fiddle. It’s just a different sound... I learned banjo because one of my six jobs is creating educational enrichment programming. Simply put, I get paid to write and perform plays about historical periods in front of school aged audiences. I was asked to do a play about the California Gold Rush, so I picked up the banjo (my boss bought me one!). Now I’m doing a pirate. Argggh!
So you do educational performances! Where else do you play?
Pagan festivals, RennFaires, and cons are the gigs I truly enjoy, as well as small listening rooms. What used to be called coffeehouses before Starbucks invaded the public consciousness and commercialized that term. Any paid gig where I can play original songs to a quiet, respectful audience makes me happy. House concerts fall into that category too. Then I have a whole other career, where I get hired to play with country bands in bars. I did cruise ships for a while, too. It pays the bills...
It must be wonderful to be able to pay the bills doing something you love, especially since you married recently!
Anne and I got married January 4th!
Where did you get your start performing?
At a little venue in Brooklyn, when I was 15, called the Firehouse. It was an old (you guessed it) firehouse that had been converted to a concert venue for local bands. I played guitar and did original songs ... some sucked less than others.
By college I was doing originals in coffeehouses, and also playing fiddle in a hippie country band in college bars. We were actually pretty good. Then punk came along, and I picked up bass.
Do you have a favorite venue?
Not really. Any venue can be great one time and not so good another. But I do really like Pagan festivals. I had a great gig at Pantheacon. I’m just not as well known on the West Coast as I am on the East, where I’ve been doing Pagan fests and Renn Faires for decades. So I was thinking I’d be on this huge stage at P-Con playing to like, six people. I was thrilled when a hundred people showed up!
It was a great show. I didn’t actually know you were Pagan until I saw that you were performing at Pantheacon. What tradition do you belong to?
I am one of the co-founders of the Blue Star tradition of Wicca, which is arguably the oldest American born Wiccan tradition. (Look us up at www.bluestarwicca.com.) I am an elder, which means I’ve been teaching the tradition for more than twenty-one years.
How has your religion influenced your music?
How hasn’t it? My religion is the most important thing in my life. That said, I think my love of music has always been tied to my spiritual self. When I was a teen, I was drawn to British folk music, especially traditional songs about fairies, magic, and myth. I think that in turn led me to Wicca and Paganism. Which then led me to play music for Pagans. My first recording ever, in 1983, was a cassette tape done with my (previous) wife Tzipora called “Moon Hooves in the Sand.” It was a Pagan ritual done in music (you won’t find it now so don’t look...).
So where can we find you now?
Meet Me In The Shade of the Maple Tree, my Bluegrass Pagan CD (and the first of its kind in the world!) is selling now. All of my CDs are available at www.kennyklein.net. I had a track placed recently on a CD called “LaFitte’s Return,” a collection of pirate songs by various bands. Proceeds go to the PPNOM who are restoring arts education in New Orleans schools affected by Katrina. You can learn more about it at www.ppnom.org.
DIONNE OBESO is a pagan wife and mother as well as a full time writer. She is living in California until she can run away to join the circus.
This article first appeared in the magazine newWitch #18
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