By Dave Hoffenberg
This weekend you have two opportunities to hear some great music at Slopeside Bar & Grille at Mountain Green, East Mountain Road in Killington. Kevin Howard makes his Killington debut, playing at Slopeside Friday and Saturday night at 9 p.m. Not only has he never played here, but he’s never been here, so show him some K-town love. He’s a big Packers fan and gets nervous watching his team, so lucky for him that game is not airing until Sunday, thus his cool tunes won’t be interrupted.
Kevin Howard hails from Connecticut and has been playing guitar since he was a young boy. His father was a folk musician and always had guitars lying around the house, so curiosity got him his start.
“You see your dad doing something and you want to emulate it,” says Howard.
In the seventh grade he had guitar class. He had one up on his fellow students, who didn’t have the opportunities he had by having guitars at home.
“I would go home and actually practice because I thought it was fun. I would share a little time with my Pops and jam out.”
In the ninth grade he started taking professional lessons because he wanted to continue, and was playing three to four hours a day.
“There wasn’t a lot to do in the 90s and for me I played guitar to stay off the streets and stay out of trouble. It was either play sports, play guitar or [get into] trouble.” Howard chose guitar. “I’d steal my dad’s guitar until I could afford my own, and then I wanted as many as I could get my hands on, like six or eight or ten of them.”
Howard’s dad played out locally as a hobby on the side and Howard has followed in his footsteps. His sister played piano and she and their dad would play out together. They still play together once or twice a year. Most of what Howard learned from his dad growing up was very basic folk stuff.
Howard has had a few musical influences besides his dad. “My father-in-law got me a vinyl player recently, and my wife was trying to find my three favorite records and she got two out of three, which is very impressive to begin with. Ultimately there are four influences in my life that changed the way I thought about music. The first is “The Joshua Tree” by U2. It turned me on to what a great sounding guitar should sound like. It’s a beautifully crafted album with an amazing band. Then it was Pearl Jam’s “Ten.” They got grunge right. I wasn’t a fan of Nirvana because I just didn’t get it back then. For years I hated them, I like them a little now, though. They say that the Allman Brothers created southern rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd perfected it. It’s kind of the way you see Nirvana and Pearl Jam with grunge. Pearl Jam perfected the approach to grunge, they just spoke to me.”
Howard quit playing in college after playing in some crappy bands and having some bad open mic experiences. “The third major influence came when I was driving home one day and I heard Dashboard Confessional and their album, “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.” I thought wow, this band really knows how to craft the lyrics. That was my renewal. I knew then that I had to get back into playing music and take it serious again. The most recent real change in me is when I heard Jeff Buckley’s “Grace.” I didn’t hear that until five years past his death. It’s depressing because I know I would have been totally in love with it seven years before that. I would’ve done anything to go see him in concert. I now have everything he’s ever done, I’m a total junky.” There were other little influences too, like Dave Matthews. “I wanted to play stuff that girls would listen to not “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” When I was in college and you wanted to talk to girls, you’d grab a guitar and play Dave Matthews. I absolutely love Dave’s stuff. So I guess I have five influences.”
Kevin Howard had his first solo gig at an open mic while attending Siena College. He’d been playing guitar but never sang, so he figured he’d give it a shot. “I watched my Dad play so many open mics over time that I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to test some of my music on people.”
I assumed it went great, and Howard answered, “It was horrible, just horrible. I was awful. I had this total 90s grunge rip off voice. I hadn’t found my voice yet.” His friends’ ridicule propelled him to get better to show them what he could really do. “These were my boys, my family and you want to impress them. I wish they could see me now. I don’t think they would recognize the person that’s playing in front of them.”
Howard mostly does solo gigs but he also has a couple of bands: The Kevin Howard Band and King Ginger. He loves playing so much. “I actually get anxious if I’m not playing, if I don’t have a full calendar or I’m not doing this full-time. There’s something I think that’s innate in all of us that really play music and really care about it. I just always want to give a different show every time. I might play something that I haven’t played in five years. A band like Phish is great because they can break out a song now that they haven’t played since 1994. I don’t have 3,000 songs in my catalog like they do, but I do have 500 or so songs, so I can throw something at people that’s a little different. I can make their experience a little different each time they come out. For me that keeps me into it. My joy is that I can give them a totally different show from Friday to Saturday. You might hear Dave Matthews at both shows but you’re going to hear different tunes. You might hear me play “Crash” one night and then the next night I’m playing “Jimi Thing” into “Ramble On, something cool like that. Howard used to run trivia and would sometimes do it four or five nights a week, but honestly he would rather be playing music. “If I only had one guitar gig a week, I’m fine with that. There’s something that drives me and gets me anxious if I’m not playing out.”
Howard is excited for this opportunity to branch out and meet some new people and to make some new fans. “I’m looking forward to bringing a new solo acoustic experience to Killington.” Kevin Howard doesn’t like to play the really obscure tunes but he does like to play the songs that make you say, “Wow, he’s playing this? That’s cool.”