Kemp Harris comes to the Island


About five years ago, musician Kemp Harris made a trip to the Vineyard to perform before a modest wintertime crowd at the Pathways space in Chilmark. Now, for the first time since then, Harris will be returning to the same venue, and if you missed him before, this is a must-see event on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 7 pm.

The Boston-based singer, keyboardist, and raconteur will be joined by harmonica player Adam Osgood this time around. Harris often performs with a full band for gigs around his hometown and beyond, but his solo (or in this case duet) performances are just as thrilling, and provide a more personal, intimate experience.

Performing a mix of originals and smoking blues, R&B, and even a folk-rock tune or two, Harris intermingles his set with stories from his life. In one of his original tunes, he sings about his experience as a Black youngster growing up in a small Southern town, where segregation was still very much a reality.

Throughout his repertoire, however, is a sense of joyfulness and optimism, and his performances are full of energy, masterful musicianship, and a bit of playfulness, providing a rollicking, toe-tapping good time.

Harris has an impressive résumé, having performed all over the world. He is a fixture at Boston-area clubs, and travels to New York City often to play at venues such as the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub and the Mercury Lounge. In the past he has shared a stage with such legendary musicians as Taj Mahal, Gil Scott-Heron, and Koko Taylor.

As a songwriter, Harris’ versatility is in evidence in some of the commissions he has undertaken, including writing a piece for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, music for a WGBH documentary, and the theme song for the “Ralph Nader Radio Hour.”

It’s no surprise that Harris, a former schoolteacher, has such a powerful stage presence and a talent for storytelling. He’s enjoyed a dual career as an actor in TV, film, and musical theater, and he continues to work with kids, performing a variety of programs that incorporate music with folk tales and other stories.

Recently Harris was approached by Bonnie Raitt’s bass player, who is also a producer, about recording at the famed Muscle Shoals studio. Having a chance to experience Harris’ original blend of blues, soul, rock and R&B in an intimate space is a special treat not to be missed.

Kemp Harris with Adam Osgood, Saturday, Feb. 11, 7 pm at Pathways Arts at the Chilmark Tavern. Free; donations accepted.