A sprawling, introspective interview of two Western New Yorkers trying to make it in Hollywood

LCD Soundsystem documentary to be screened in Buffalo - one night only

Arts + Entertainment

Mat Kearney prepares for ‘Starry’ return to Western New York

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

As you break Western New York down into individual components, different layers of meaning come out for Mat Kearney, the singer/songwriter set to perform with Kris Allen at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens annual concert “Starry Night in the Garden.” General admission tickets have already sold out, but VIP tickets are still available for the 6 p.m. Wednesday show.

There’s Buffalo, a rather unfamiliar city to Kearney, but one of confidence and fond memories. Then there’s Rochester, an area intricately woven into his history—not necessarily for the best—even if Kearney himself never lived there.

For the Queen City, Kearney eagerly anticipates his return after enjoying his Town Ballroom debut in Nov. 2011 (see the concert photos from Chuck Alaimo). His memories swirl from anxiety to satisfaction to humor.

“It was nerve-racking playing in Buffalo for the first time,” Kearney said in a mid-June interview. “I wondered how the turnout was going to be, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think we sold out Town Ballroom.” 

During his stay, Kearney visited the Anchor Bar for chicken wings, just as any Buffalo newcomer should. Slightly startled by the scant amount of wings he could polish off, Kearney joked, “It’s not good to eat a lot of wings in any way, shape or form before a show anyhow.”

After mentioning the wings, Kearney recalled his other Buffalo visit, a radio spot earlier in his career. He remembers being mesmerized by Shea’s Performing Arts Center—“really beautiful,” he said—a venue he described as “the place where ‘Rat Pack’ was performed.”

Rochester, though, holds a different place in Kearney’s memory bank. In “Rochester” off Kearney’s Aug. 2011 album “Young Love,” the lyrics document Kearney’s father’s childhood in Rochester, where his father—Mat’s grandfather—ran an illegal gambling ring and beat Mat’s father, who fled to Europe as a result.

“I do feel connected with Western New York—I do still have family here,” the artist said. “I take after my father in a lot of different ways—he’s an East Coast-er at heart. I may be from Oregon, but Western New York stirs up a part of me.” The younger Kearney referred to his father as a New York Giants fan, however, causing me to wince slightly.

Kearney’s experiences—and the experiences of the people around him—shape him more than any genre or singer-songwriter stereotype thrust upon him. A Christian, Kearney isn’t too concerned about how evenly he markets his music between Christian and secular avenues, even if his faith is well-documented in interviews and evident through the positive, hopeful messages of his music.

“When I’ve started worrying about genres or markets, it hasn’t suited me well,” Kearney explained. “People who can relate to me usually like my music, and they tend to come from all walks of life.”

“Johnny Cash wrote about God, murder and love,” he continued. “Every song is about faith in some ways, I think, but I can’t speak for everyone.”

By infusing a heavier hip-hop influence into “Young Love,” Kearney willingly stretches the boundaries of his loose rock/folk designation. In fact, the artist’s willingness to experiment with different genres is an attempt to set himself apart.

“Most singer/songwriters bore me,” Kearney said. “They put me to sleep. I like to approach [writing songs] with a band in mind, whereas a lot of singer/songwriters just slap a band on at the end. I’m just as much about the grooves and the instruments as I am about the stories.”

A month after Kearney’s show with Allen at the Botanical Gardens, he embarks on a two-month tour with Train. Until then, Kearney’s working feverishly in his new home studio—by himself, actually—programming beats and writing lyrics.

“No producers, no musicians,” Kearney said. “I’m incredibly fueled right now—there’s a lot of creative energy flowing. I want to see how far I can go by myself, though it doesn’t mean it will be that way on the next record. I feel like I’m 16 and just got my license.”

TAGGED: buffalo and erie county botanical gardens, concerts, mat kearney, starry night in the garden, young love

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