On Stage: Philly legend Kweder finds way to keep performing, despite pandemic

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Kenn Kweder

Many entertainers are “legends in their own minds” – an idiom that means “believing that they are of greater importance than is actually the case” or simply put…being delusional about their popularity.

Kenn Kweder is not a “legend in his own mind” – but he is a “legend in his own city.”

The veteran rocker has been a mainstay of the Philadelphia rock and folk scene since the early 1970s and is still going strong – or at least as strong as you can go during an almost comprehensive shutdown of live music caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I used to do four or five gigs a week minimum prior to the pandemic,” said Kweder, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from his Philadelphia home.

“Since the pandemic hit, I’ve lost about 60 per cent of my shows – from 300 to 125.

At the beginning it showed but I really have not slowed down a whole lot. I do live shows from my living room on Facebook and I do puppet shows from home. In the warmer weather, I did private shows – backyard barbecues — and rooftop shows.

“I played tent shows at venues like 118 North. I just couldn’t stop performing. It is what I do. I play maybe two live gigs a week outside my house now. It’s all a matter of adapting.”

Fortunately for area music fans, one of Kweder’s shows performed outside his living room is scheduled for this weekend. On January 22, Kweder will rock the house at the Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net).

“I did a few outdoor gigs at the Bridgeport Ribhouse last year,” said Kweder. “The show this Friday at the Ribhouse will be indoor.”

Located in central Montgomery County, the Bridgeport Ribhouse is not only a great music club, but also a top-flight barbecue restaurant and the home of Ribstock, one of the area’s top music-based annual charity events.

“The Bridgeport Ribhouse is an entity unto itself,” said Kweder. “I’m glad to be working for Melissa (Navitsky) who runs it.

“It’s a nexus for live shows – one of the few places that has shows six nights a week. It’s like what (Philadelphia’s legendary clubs) J.C. Dobbs and Khyber were in the past.”

Kweder has played just about every Philly area music club at some point in his five-decade career – from historic and long-gone venues such the Second Fret, The Hot Club and Ripley’s to current favorites such as the Locks, the Living Room and Ardmore Music Hall.

The answer to the question why Kweder never became a national act can be found in his need for independence.

“I had conversations with major labels and executives like Clive Davis (president of Columbia Records and the founder of Arista Records) but I didn’t want to go along with the program,” said Kweder.

“I was a government worker early in the ’70s and quit because I didn’t like taking orders. I had played basketball in high school at West Catholic and wanted to play pro basketball — but I was too small. After I quit the government job, I decided to try music.

“Major labels wanted to sign me, but they wanted to tell me what to do – like get rid of my band. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do it my way.”

When he embarked on his music career, Kweder played solo gigs – singing and playing acoustic guitar. The next step was putting together a band — Kenn Kweder & the Secret Kidds. Over the years, he formed and fronted a variety of bands including the Radio Church of God, the Men From K.W.E.D.E.R., the Men From P.O.V.I.C.H., the Employees, the Codependents, and the Enablers.

Kweder built a reputation for putting on wild and unpredictable shows featuring great music and a lot more. His fans learned to expect a good time and to expect the unexpected.

“It’s hard to explain what I do,” said Kweder. “Every night is different.”

Sarah McCann, a friend of Kweder who now lives in West Chester, experienced Kweder’s onstage unpredictability up close and personal.

“I was doing a show at The Tin Angel,” said Kweder. “For my encore, I played Robert Palmer’s song ‘Addicted to Love’ and did it like his video. I had Sarah with me along with four fashion models dressed like the sexy models in Palmer’s video. It was a lot of fun.”

Early in his career, Kweder was a hit with the Philly college crowd and played more than a few frat gigs and toga parties – especially at the University of Pennsylvania. His relationship with Penn and its campus continues to this day.

“I’ve been playing on the Penn campus for 30 years,” said Kweder, who was born in Upper Darby (hometown of Todd Rundgren and Tina Fey). “Every Tuesday for 29 years, I’ve done shows at Smokey Joe’s.

“After the pandemic hit, I’ve been broadcasting live from the stage at Smokey Joe’s with no audience – just me, my guitar player, the owner and the cook. We turned Smokey Joe’s into a small TV studio with a lot of cameras capturing different angles.”

When Kweder performs in his house and posts online, the setup is much more basic.

“I use my iPhone a lot,” said Kweder. “It’s all about adapting. I use it to teach guitar. I use it for my puppet shows. And I do one concert a week. To me, it’s all about performance.”

Kweder is a performer – not a recording artist.

“I put out a lot of records on my own over the years,” said Kweder. “Now, it’s not worth it. The younger audience doesn’t even have a way to play CDs. Kenn Kweder is all about performing live. At this point, I just keep gigging.”

Video link for Kenn Kweder — https://youtu.be/k0mw9jJCHFA.

Bridgeport Ribhouse maintains a loaded schedule including performances by Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on January 27, February 3, 10, 17 and 24 and March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

Beissel has spent the past decade performing with such musical stalwarts as Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), Barry Goudreau (Formerly of Boston), James Burton (Elvis, Ricky Nelson) and Fosterchild (with Quinn).

Quinn co-founded the Philadelphia-based rock band Octane and was named “Best Guitarist” in the Philadelphia region by the Philadelphia Music Awards in 2001 and 2004. A decade later, Quinn joined Candlebox when the band needed to replace its guitarist.

Other announced upcoming shows at the Ribhouse are Rhodes Less Traveled on January 23, River Dawgs on January 29, Montoj on January 30 and February 27, Whiskey Logic on February 6, Vik Raolji on February 6, Eddie Kurek on February 12, Old School on February 13, and Catullus on February 20.

Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will close out the month with five shows by three artists — “High Noon – A Tribute To Lynyrd Skynyrd And Southern Rock” on January 23 at 3 and 8 p.m., The Tribe on January 26 at 8 p.m. and Kasim Sulton on January 30 at 3 and 8 p.m.

Live music will be presented this month at several local venues.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will host Mr. Mody on January 22, and Rick Lawrence on January 23.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will present IV Stone Band on January 22, Buzzer Band on January 23, Shot of Southern on January 29 and Triple Rail Turn on January 30.

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