Mat Kearney talks Hawai‘i, upcoming concert at KCC

LIHU‘E — Oregon-born and Nashville-based musician Mat Kearney is no stranger to Hawai‘i. His parents first met and were married here in the 1970s, and he has traveled to the islands many times since his childhood days in Eugene, Ore.

“My dad worked (in Hawai‘i) as a deckhand on a snorkel boat and my mom was a mermaid on a glass-bottom boat,” Kearney said over the phone Jan. 7 from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “They met and were married six weeks later on the beach.”

“Rochester,” the final song on Kearney’s latest album, “Young Love,” tells his father Michael Kearney’s story, including growing up around his grandfather’s illegal gambling ring in Rochester, N.Y., becoming a lawyer, joining the Army, following Pink Floyd through Europe and moving to Hawai‘i.

“It’s one of the more personal songs I’ve ever written,” Kearney said.

On Saturday, Kearney will finish a three-night run of acoustic shows on the islands with a concert right here on Kaua‘i.

Over the years, Kearney has traveled to at least four of the Hawaiian islands, including Kaua‘i.

“I grew up going out to Hawai‘i a lot,” he said. “Kaua‘i is one of the spots we love to go the most … (but) it’s been awhile.”

Over the phone, Kearney reminisced about surfing on Kaua‘i’s North Shore, saying “I got destroyed at Hanalei Bay.”

Although he has vacationed to the islands many times, Kearney’s upcoming performances will be a first, having never played a show here.

“I’ve always just gone there to unwind,” he said, adding that when the opportunity to come out and play presented itself he “jumped on it.”

In addition to Kaua‘i, Kearney will play shows in Honolulu Thursday and on Maui Friday. Afterward, he will spend one week relaxing on Kaua‘i’s North Shore before returning to Nashville.

“I’m very excited about it,” he said of his upcoming Hawaiian mini tour.

When asked about his favorite places to perform, Kearney mentioned several big cities, including Chicago, Boston, Portland, Ore. and San Francisco.

“I tend to like to perform where people like me,” he laughed. “I’m willing to put Kaua‘i on that list … It could easily be one of my favorite places, but people have to like me first.”

On Saturday, Kearney said the audience is in for an “entertaining, fun and intimate” performance.

“These acoustic shows are really special. You can really peal it back and tell some stories.”

For those who aren’t familiar with his music, Kearney describes himself as a “rhythmic, storytelling singer-songwriter,” covering a variety of genres, including rock, folk and hip-hop.

For his latest album, “Young Love,” released in August 2011, Kearney said he asked himself what would happen if Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Kanye West — three of his biggest influences — were hanging out in a room together.

“Mat Kearney didn’t set out to write just another collection of songs for ‘Young Love’ … Instead, he penned a pastiche of honest, heartfelt and hypnotic stories that’ll make you move your feet and put a smile on your face,” according to his website. “Kearney gives a piece of himself on every tune, while building timeless tales for listeners to follow as they dance and sing along.”

Presented by BAMP Project, the acoustic performance Saturday begins at 8 p.m. at the Kaua‘i Community College Performing Arts Center in Puhi. Doors open at 7 p.m. and all ages are welcome.

Tickets cost $25 in advance, $30 day of the show and can be purchased online at or at select on-island retailers, including Rainbow Gas & Mini Mart in Kapa‘a, Pono Market in Kapa‘a, Healthy Hut in Kilauea, City Liquor in Lihu‘e, Progressive Expressions in Koloa and Hanalei Surf in Hanalei.

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