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Kenney Holmes - Life of a Wedding Singer

Kenney Holmes - Life of a Wedding Singer

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Published by Lindsey C. Holmes

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Published by: Lindsey C. Holmes on Feb 06, 2010
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12/07/2010

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Notes from a wedding: In the age of digital music and therelative bargain of a single DJ, wedding singerKenney Holmes is determined to keep it real
By Lauren WilcoxSunday, February 7, 2010
On a muggy Saturday afternoon, longtime wedding performer and bandleader Kenney Holmesstood in the middle of a private dining room in a restaurant in Northern Virginia. "They want uscatty-corner,"mutteredHolmes,mopping hisforehead withahandkerchief and squintingat the spacehe wasarranging as astage. Acluster of lights andspeakersbunchedawkwardly,likewallflowers ata dance, at thefar end.Suddenly he strode across the room and, seizing a large silver tureen frombehind a speaker, moved it to the other end of the room. "I have a phobia about playing next togarbage cans," he said. "I think I'm afraid that I will be identified with garbage."For some 15 years, Holmes and his band, Showbiz, have made an excellent living playing eventson and around Capitol Hill, from weddings to Rep. Bennie Thompson's fish fry, bringing in asmuch as $500,000 a year. But these are leaner days. Where Holmes was once booked solid everyweekend of the wedding season, he has played only a handful of gigs this year.Like most career musicians, Holmes cut his teeth playing anywhere that would have him, and heprides himself on his ability to create a party under even the humblest of conditions. (He said hewas once the top act, measured in liquor sales, on a regular gig playing the club car of an Amtrakbound for Montreal.) By comparison, an engagement such as this, a wedding reception in the Koi
The Washington Post 
 
Room of the restaurant 2941, overlooking the Potomac River, might seem a particularly refinedand relaxing way to spend an evening.But for Holmes, who is 56 but whose unlined face and round spectacles give him the look of aschoolboy, playing a wedding can be a kind of Faustian bargain. On the one hand, weddings --besides being extremely lucrative -- are an oasis of good cheer and freshly cut flowers in theoften dingy and unromantic world of paying gigs. On the other hand, they rely on an elaboratesleight-of-hand: the creation of a fantasy, a bride's favorite songs brought to life with a carload of speakers and coaxial cable and a handful of part-time musicians.This was a particularly high-dollar gig, and, for Holmes, the evening was fraught with potentialdisasters that, though minor, threatened the illusion. Dancing and dinner were in separate rooms,which compromised Holmes's ability to control the energy of the party, or, as he calls it, "puttingthem on the roller coaster." "Once we get them on the floor," he says, "we keep them on thefloor." And there were others: the seasonal allergies that weakened his singing voice, the shortlife of the batteries in his cordless microphone, musicians who might ignore instructions to entervia the loading dock and instead steer their towering carts of equipment around guests sippingcocktails in the lobby."Be early," he had reminded his band in an e-mail, in bold blue font, a few days before."Overcome obstacles before you get to the gig."
The Washington Post 
 
By 6:30 p.m., an hour before showtime, two of his three musicians had arrived via the loadingdock: keyboardist Bruce Robinson, a slight, dapper man with a mustache; and drummer SamBrawner, tall and broad-shouldered and wearing a gold ring in the shape of a lion's head on eachhand. Still missing was saxophonist Atiba Taylor. "You look like a new shilling," Holmes saidinto the microphone to Robinson, who had already changed into his tuxedo.As with most of the weddingshe played, Holmes wouldemcee the evening's events inaddition to singing and playingguitar. At 6:45 the weddingplanner, Joan Sacarob, wearinga cream-and-peach tweed suitand peach heels, clicked acrossthe parquet dance floor for arun-through of the agenda. Itwas Holmes's first timeworking with Sacarob, a petitewoman with a neat bob whosaid she had been named a "toppick for Jewish weddingplanners" by Washingtonianmagazine. She flipped the schedule open to the dinner, which included a blessing over a loaf of challah. Perhaps 80 percent of the weddings Holmes plays are for Jewish clients; he considersthem a specialty of his, and he learned the Hebrew words to accompany the hora years ago tohelp ensure his marketability."
Chah
-lah," Sacarob was saying to Holmes, leaning into the syllables."Chah-lah," repeated Holmes. Sacarob narrowed her eyes."Okay, the blessing over the bread, don't even use the word 'challah,' " she said. "Do you mind?Just say, 'Blessing by Margaret Fisher and Carol Greco.' ""I can say 'challah!' " Holmes said to the room after Sacarob left, waving his finger in the air inmock indignation. "I can say that word!"By 7 p.m., Holmes had fired up his laptop, on which he keeps his library of songs, and he,Robinson and Brawner were noodling around an instrumental version of "Papa Was a RollingStone." Holmes, who had donned a cream-colored dinner jacket, fiddled with some levels on hismixer. Sacarob returned to check on the placement of some urns. Behind them, visible throughthe floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows, the wedding party posed for the photographer on the farside of the koi pond."I do a lot of work here," said Sacarob, gazing at the pond."Well, I'd like to do a lot of work with you," Holmes said pleasantly.
The Washington Post 

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