Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins
Sean Kenny is a formidable man to look upon, from his tall frame to his burly beard. But inside that frame are the roots of a passionate character that seemingly spills into all that Kenny takes on, from his full-time gig as Executive Director of the Farm & Natural Lands Trust of York County to his dedication to doing his part in helping further the arts scene in York City . Kenny’s involvement in that effort is most recognizable through the nationally touring musicians he has been bringing to town via the CapLive series at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. But don’t be surprised if you find him sitting in the seat next to you at an upcoming show; if Kenny had his way, you’d never find him on stage or remotely close to the limelight. He prefers to keep a low profile, buys tickets to the shows he books and, more often than not, winds up having the bands crash at his house after the show .
Where are you regularly booking bands currently?
I book the CapLive series at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, a 450 capacity 100+ year old theater in the heart of York. I do a few shows with my friends Pete and Lindsey at Sign of the Wagon, a small gallery space in their historic Dempwolf house. I always end up with some random stuff too.
In the past?
I’ve leant a hand with Tellus360 in Lancaster and booked the first season of Kable House Presents. I’ve helped people starting venues, festivals, etc. – sometimes in places I’ve never been to – mainly trusted friends or trusted friends of trusted friends.
How did you get start booking shows?
I saw The Last Waltz in the Capitol around 2003 with no more than 10 people there – staff, volunteers, crowd. I just loved the room and thought it would be perfect for music. A year or so later I was asked to serve on the Strand-Capitol Board of Directors and then, after a few years of nagging away, a few of us did fundraising and came up with the CapLive series, a sort of rental of the room which would be beneficial to the SCPAC, and eventually became part of their programming. XPN expanded to the area around 2008, which was when we started, so that was a perfect fit for the artists that would ‘work’ in the space. I did it mainly because no one was and I knew there were music lovers galore. I was seeing myself staying in York, loved the theater, fell in love with my wife Laura who loves music too. One more thing, I was tired of driving to Philly/DC/etc. to see shows – now I walk a few blocks.
Do you ever have to personally invest in your shows?
As a volunteer, the time for me to book is my expense. Occasionally for smaller shows at less traditional venues, I’ll back up with my own funds. I’ve lost money, but am okay with that – those are artists I’d support anyway, and then I don’t have to drive two hours to see them. I also pay to get into most of the shows I book; I like to do the booking and then just be a fan in the crowd. I don’t run sound, sell merch or any of that.
Hoots & Hellmouth playing the debut CapLive show on September 26, 2008; photo via CapLive Facebook page
CapLive has produced some of my favorite shows in the region. What have been some highlights from your experiences so far?
There are a few performers who have played totally unplugged – Kathleen Edwards and John Doe was just amazing, Josh Ritter, David Wax Museum, Hoots & Hellmouth. Those make it a special night for everyone. Artists can’t do that at most places, but it really shows off the Capitol. There was also a show at Sign of the Wagon with Andrew Combs, The Kernel and Mechanical River – a hot, sweaty night, but one that was awesome and really, for me, is exactly why I love to do it. Three artists on the road for the first time, in a place they’ve never been to, playing to people eager for music and then enjoying the town (and, ultimately, coming back).
Do you cater your booking to any particular genre(s)?
I’m a fan of all sorts of music, but the places I book don’t suit everything. I’d say folk and indie rock, but I’ve done bluegrass, blues and some really weird stuff I wouldn’t be sure how to define, which is good! I don’t necessarily book to my own taste.
What has been a horror story for you in your booking?
My horror story was being forced to pass on a show with Bon Iver and The Tallest Man On Earth for CapLive after being told we couldn’t do shows on a Monday night. It’s amazing how quick things can change. Love to see it, but it’s tough when you book artists for small shows and then they blow up and you can’t afford them any longer.
Steelism playing at Sign of the Wagon on November 22, 2014; photo via Sign of the Wagon Facebook page
Most ridiculous thing you’ve experienced on a rider?
Six cases of beer, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of scotch, four bottles of wine, two cases of water, six Red Bulls, a carton of cigarettes and a pack of whitey tighties and socks. This was for a solo performance. I hope it was a joke.
What’s your outlook on the current music scene in Central PA?
Art really flourishes when people support it, so I think the more people taking a risk to see artists when they come through, the better. For local artists, the more they get out and off their own turf, the better it will be for them in the long haul.
Where do you see it going in the next 5 years? 10 years? Why?
York City proper is on the upswing. We’ve had a wavy dozen or so years that I’ve been downtown in terms of excitement, but things are feeling good right now, momentum-wise. Everyone working together to promote all that our city has to offer will help expand people’s palates a bit and get them to keep coming back for more – food, art, locally made goods and services. We’ve got another influx of redevelopment which is going to bring a lot more residents in as well, that’s exciting to have that base of support.
How ’bout a shameless plug for an upcoming show?
We just announced Mother Falcon and Ben Sollee on October 18 in the Capitol Theatre. This weekend is a great show at Sign of the Wagon, too; Nashville-based instrumental duo Steelism are coming back to town on Saturday, August 1.