Kenn Kweder at Smokey Joe’s: Philadelphia music legend turns 30

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Elon Musk is a guest at Kenn Kweder’s show tonight at Smokey Joe’s.

That’s according to Kweeder, who says Musk worked at Smoke‘s. “He was barback there and brought me my fucking beers. The richest man in the world brought Kweder his fucking beers,” he said. “I can put this on my tombstone.”

A folk-rock musician with five albums to his name, Kweder, 70, was born in Upper Darby. National fame may have eluded him, but the man known as the “Bard of South Street” is a beloved local icon.

Smokey Joe owner Paul Ryan, who 30 years ago hired Kweder and his guitarist sidekick Mark Teague to play at the University of Pennsylvania’s favorite dive, isn’t so sure about the company’s claim. singer-songwriter.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Ryan, whose father bought the revered The bar in West Philadelphia in 1952, when it was located a few blocks away at 36th and Walnut. “Musk has never worked here.”

Guitarist Teague is more diplomatic. “It’s hard to say. Musk wasn’t famous when he went there, so it’s possible. I know Eric Trump and Ivanka were there. John Legend came as a group.

That, in a nutshell, is the kind of Kweder madness that has made him an absolute legend on the Penn campus for the past 30 years. Did Elon Musk really bring him a beer? Who knows? We do not care? Legends are funnier than facts. And Kweder is nothing if not a legend, and one of Philadelphia’s greatest storytellers of all time. The living legend and his partner Teague are celebrating 30 years of making memories tonight at Smokey Joe’s with a special show that is expected to attract Penn alumni from all over.

The story of the birth of the weekly show Smokey Joe’s begins 40 years ago when Kweder was banished from the Penn institution affectionately known as Smoke’s. “I got fired for something crazy…I was just out of control.”

Paul Ryan agrees. “He was a mess,” agreed the bar owner.

“Years later, I was a bartender at a Penn campus bar called the Palladium,” Kweder continued, “and Paul came in for a beer and said, ‘Would you ever consider coming back?’ And I said, ‘I thought I was banned.’ And he says, “No, 10 years is long enough.”

Ryan, who speaks much less than Kweder, simply said, “I brought him in and put him in touch with Mark. And he’s been there ever since. »

Teague, a highly skilled musician who Ryan says can play any song on the planet, is the perfect partner for Kweder, who appreciates the help. “Credit goes to Mark Teague for tolerating my craziness. He’s a serious musician, unlike me.

Kweder is, of course, a serious musician. But Mark is the straight man, the consummate pro, while Kweder is the goofy showman. Says Ryan, “He’s a little goofy on stage. Kids love it. They love his looseness. He works the crowd hard. Every week. He doesn’t just sit there and play songs.

Courtesy of Kenn Kweder

This lines up with memories of alum Alex Bregman, who dated Penn from 2004 to 2008 and said he attended many Kweder and Teague shows at Smoke’s. “It’s almost like a religious experience, everyone sings like they’re at a concert in an arena. And he gets to know people.

It’s something that everyone has mentioned. It’s not just about performing a show, it’s about getting to know the audience. There is a depth of humanity in Kweder that the crowd connects with.

“Every year at the end of the year when the kids are graduating, a lot of them are sentimental because it might be their last night together,” Teague said. “I once saw him write a poem for someone in about 2 minutes while she was there waiting crying. He always takes time for anyone who comes to him.

Kweder performed at Teague’s wedding. He also played at Bregman’s.

“People who didn’t go to Penn were a bit confused at first,” says Alex. “They had never heard the song Heroin before” – one of Kweder’s legendary originals – “and there was a lot of confusion. But once people saw how everyone from Penn reacted, it was spread and soon I felt like Smoke was at the wedding.

And there you have the power of Kenn Kweder…and Mark Teague…and Smokey Joe’s. That a young man, celebrating one of the greatest days of his life, wanted it to be like Smoke’s on a Tuesday.

“I’m overwhelmed that such a young audience is interested in what I do,” said Kweder, who noted that he was still nervous. “I respect the public, and I don’t phone it, man. I go on stage, it’s like a dead time, you know.

It will be “killer time” tonight, as the show is expected to attract quite a few people. Unlike most shows, which start at midnight, this one will start at 9 p.m. to accommodate alumni who can’t stay up as late as before. Oldies like Bregman – and who knows, maybe Musk. Said Kweder, “He’s kind of a crazy motherfucker, he might just show up in a spaceship or something.”

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