Peter Keane


Peter_Keane_DSC_5353I first met Peter Keane up at Columbia University in New York City, when we were both on the bill one night at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse. The Postcrypt was in a chapel basement and measured about 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide. It had stone walls, a tiny wooden stage and no P.A.; student volunteers sold bowls of popcorn and cups of wine from a tiny counter in the corner. They booked four acts a night on Friday and Saturday nights while school was in session, and the parking sucked all around. Still, it was my favorite place to play in New York, and a lot of other people’s favorite place, too. Peter had come down from Boston for the gig that night, and may have already begun recording for Rounder, making him a veritable rock star as far as I was concerned. I loved his repertoire of blues and country arrangements, his original tunes were great, and both his singing and picking were deft, relaxed and unhurriedly convincing.

When I first got to Austin, I knew Peter had moved down a few years earlier to study library science at U.T., which I thought was almost as cool as recording for Rounder. When he wasn’t working at the library, he was out on the road for up to three months at a time, and he played with a trio in town as well. We would hang out at Ruby’s on 29th street and talk about music and Austin and the East coast, and eventually wound up doing a little playing together here and there – a night when I sat in with his band at Threadgill’s, a set of duets at the Cactus, a few tunes at Flipnotics.

Both of us quit performing around the time we had kids, and I didn’t see Peter for a while. Then, one morning when I had taken my six-month-old son to Book People, I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was Peter, who had brought his 18-month old son to the store as well. He told me later his first thought was, “David has a kid too? Cool, now we can hang out again!” I hadn’t quite recognized him at first because, as I subsequently explained, he looked like he’d finally been eating on a regular basis. “Yes,” he said, “one of my other friends told me, ‘Pete, when you were doing the full-time musician thing, you were starting to look at bit cadaverous.'”

Once, when I interviewed Peter for a profile in Acoustic Guitar magazine, he told me he’d had a radio show in college. “What kind of music did you play?” I asked. “Oh, the show was basically, ‘Here’s what Pete’s working on learning this week.'” Which at the time was entirely the classic pre-war country bluesmen. Over the past several years, though, he’s developed a consuming interest in old-timey music, experimenting with various guitars, flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques, fiddle tune accompaniment styles, and of course, learning new tunes to sing. I love the way he plays Jimmy Rogers tunes just as much as the way he plays Skip James songs, and his delivery is as relaxed and convincing as ever.

Since Peter’s not gigging a whole lot these days, my best shot at hearing him is to invite him to come play on one of my gigs. This is one of those nights; he’ll be down at Strange Brew to play a few tunes with me tonight at 6pm. If you’re free, come on down, and you can hear for yourself why I think this guy ought to get out of the house more.

photo by David Smith


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