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Kennedy’s Kitchen returns to Notre Dame for an Irish concert at L

Jessie Markovetz | Friday, January 16, 2004

With a leprechaun as the mascot, Irish as the team name, bagpipes on football mornings and a fair share of students with red hair, freckles and last names prefaced by “O” and “Mc,” Notre Dame can pretty much claim itself the hub of Irish Americans in the United States. So, with the new live music bar Legends on campus, it is only natural that in a place where Irish culture is celebrated, so is Irish music.This weekend, Legends is host to Kennedy’s Kitchen, a South Bend-based band founded, naturally, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1998. The seven members of the band, all a variety of ages and backgrounds, play traditional Celtic music in their numerous gigs around town and have made quite a name for themselves in the local music scene. Getting their start in the Monday night jam sessions at Lula’s Café, the band has had incredible success and in the past has performed in the Shaheen Music Series at Saint Mary’s College and with champion step dancers Paul Cusick and Caitlin Allen at Notre Dame. This past July brought the release of their self-titled debut album, and the band currently plays regular gigs at both Fiddler’s Hearth and Lula’s.One of the essential characteristics of the band is their ability to interact with a crowd in such a way that it erases any distinction between musicians and audience. Participation, dancing, clapping and singing are encouraged by the band and occur naturally with the nature of the music played. Everyone is part of the show when Kennedy’s Kitchen is playing. In fact, all the members of the band originally started out in the band as guest participants in the open Monday night jams at Lula’s Café learning the ropes of Irish and Celtic music together. Band members include John Kennedy, who is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist contributing vocals, guitar, tin whistle, bouzouki, bohdran and banjo to the band. Before forming Kennedy’s Kitchen, he was the founder of another traditional Irish band, Seamaisin, and he continues to work as a producer and promoter for various other projects. Bob Harke, the oldest member of the band and a science professor for local high school and college students, visited Ireland in 1995 and was immediately taken by the musical atmosphere, rhythms and culture found in local pubs. It didn’t take him long to begin composing his own Irish tunes, and upon returning to South Bend he began participating in the Lula’s jam sessions with his guitar, bohdran and vocals. Rob Weber, bass player and supplier of low vocals, is a South Bend native who lived in Texas for many years performing with many blues, jazz and R&B artists during his time there. Weber is a writer with hundreds of short stories, novellas and a novel in his repertoire, and the story-telling qualities of Irish music is what drew him into playing with Kennedy’s Kitchen. Joel Cooper is currently the Director of Information Technology at Carleton College in Minnesota, but he returns regularly to the Michiana area to perform with Kennedy’s Kitchen, contributing bass, guitar and vocals. His singing background includes groups such as the Notre Dame Chorale and the Vesper Chorale, and gigs with the South Bend Symphony. Cooper is also a composer; his song “Land By The Sea” is on the Kitchen’s debut album. Chris O’Brien, who lives in Kilkee, Ireland during the summers with her husband and children, works to restore artwork and antique furniture and also offers her talents on fiddle and vocals to Kennedy’s Kitchen, and another band, Tallas. Jim Bradberry, the owner of Mr. Bradberry’s Violin Shop, played guitar with Jericho and TD Davis in the 70’s, and now plays a variety of music including country, bluegrass, Bulgarian, and of course, Irish music. In addition to Kennedy’s Kitchen, he plays with a bluegrass band along with his wife. The band also includes two younger members, adding youth, vitality and much talent to the band. Nolan Ladewski, who is 14 and the nephew of founding member Kennedy, plays the tin whistle and the low D whistle with the band. In 1999, he placed first in his age for tin whistle in the Midwest Fleadh and went to Ireland to compete later that year. Ladewski appears on the CD Notre Dame Experience, and is also a member of the band Mira, which also performs regularly at Fiddler’s Hearth.Sally Joyce, age 16, although relatively new to Irish music, plays fiddle and various whistles with the Kitchen. She is an accomplished pianist and has studied tin whistle and fiddle with local teachers. Along with Ladewski, Joyce is also a member of Mira.Much is in store for the band in the coming year. March brings the promise of several concerts at local venues in Michigan City, St. Joseph, Mich. and Valparaiso. In September the band will be part of Indiana’s biggest festival, the Blueberry Festival, held in Plymouth, and in October the band will take part in a weekend festival for Notre Dame’s Alumni Bands on campus. Sometime in the fall, the band also plans to participate in the LVD Concert Series and will perform at the University of Illinois.So, even if it isn’t possible to fly to Ireland and sit with authentic Irish fiddlers and a creamy Guinness in hand, the closest thing this side of the Atlantic is at Legends this weekend, cooking it up with Kennedy’s Kitchen. Come support the band and get your Irish dance groovin’! The show starts at 10 p.m.