Mark Kennedy returns to his Vermont roots

SAXTONS RIVER, Vt. – Mark Kennedy recently returned to Vermont after 42 years teaching, playing, and composing music in San Francisco. A native of Bellows Falls, Kennedy is now teaching guitar and bass lessons out of his home in Saxtons River and even makes house calls to surrounding villages.

Tell us about your musical journey.

After Berklee College of Music in Boston, I packed up “The White Wonder,” my 1970 Ford van, with my instruments, amps and dog, named Moby, and headed for San Francisco.

What was the music scene like in San Fran at that time?

I started out playing jazz clubs in North Beach, in many of the places frequented by Jack Kerouac and the beat poets years before. Eventually, this led to better gigs in the grand hotels playing with big bands, singers, comedians, blues, rock, and pop bands. And for 13 years, three nights a week, I had a steady gig at Harris’ Steak House with the Susan Chen Trio.

How did you get into composing?

Mark Kennedy with his guitar. Photo provided.

I ran away and joined the circus. The Pickle Family Circus was a one-ring, European-style troupe that was started in 1974 in San Francisco and revolutionized the circus as an art form. There were jugglers and clowns and acrobats, but no animals and no sideshows. There was, however, a live six-piece band, and I became composer and music director for the show. We scored each act as if it were a dance performance, with original compositions. We toured all over the West Coast, including Alaska, and did a two-month run at the Round House Theatre in London – the venue for many famous rock shows in the 60s.

After I ran away from the circus, I wrote music for a children’s theater company for 12 years, then composed music for a feminist theater company called Miracle Theatre. We did three large productions: “Uncharted Waves,” a show about what happens to a scientist with a brain tumor; “The Two-Bit Tango,” a dyke-detective story set in the Castro district; and “Audrey Does Kennedy,” a musical review of 25 of my songs, performed by SF Mime Troupe veteran, Audrey Smith, with piano accompaniment.

Were you able to make a living as a musician?

I have always supplemented my income by teaching, first at Blue Bear School of Music (the college of rock and roll), the Community Music Center in the Mission District, the San Francisco School of the Arts, and privately in my home. I enjoy teaching almost as much as performing.

Why did you come back to Vermont?

Due to an unfortunate encounter with a surgeon’s scalpel, I have been unable to perform professionally for several years. I can teach anywhere, and my wife and I have family here on the East Coast. The bright lights of the city no longer hold their appeal. Nor does the traffic in the Bay Area, the second worst in the country! And, by the way, Vermont is beautiful, the air is clean and cool, the people are friendly and life in Saxtons River is serene and lovely, and my wife tells me, because of global warming, winter no longer exists.

For information about lessons, visit Mark Kennedy’s website:

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