New Documentary Focuses on Career of Musician Kenn Kweder

Kenn Kweder
Kenn Kweder

With Adventures of a Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination of Kenn Kweder, documentary director John Hutelmyer has created a literate, harrowing, comic piece about one of the East Coast's most legendary folk rock heroes, Kenn Kweder. The film premieres Friday, March 25, at Philadelphia's International House in University City with several screenings, Q&A sessions and an acoustic showcase by the titular singer-songwriter.

For the uninitiated, Kweder has long been a Philadelphia institution and, of course, a rock star. Yes, it says so on his business card. Long before there was a Meek Mill, The Roots, G. Love, The Hooters, Cinderella or other Philly musical names of note, there was Kweder; a smart, caustically funny lyricist with a glam-to-folk music sense of inventiveness and an always-effortless loquaciousness that played itself out nightly (even daily, as he is known to do several gigs a day) with songs such as "The Ballad of Manute Bol," and "The Girl with the Dylan Flowers."

Making his bones at (now) long-closed, live music watering holes in the 1970s such as the Bijou Café, J.C. Dobbs and Doc Watsons (but no punk palaces, punk being the bane of Kenn's existence as played out in his documentary) to the present day of university saloons everywhere, if a mic is available, Kweder is there. With stories of desire, drinking, woe and want sung in a forceful warbling voice, Kweder presents himself as a survivor, a man haunted by occasional demons. Annoyed (but not broken) by having never signed to a major label when he had the chance (Arista and Clive David tried only to find Kweder uncompromising to any label's changes), Kweder is an artist as inspired by heroes such as Leonard Cohen and David Bowie as he is a gregarious mother - "a Judy Garland type for sure."

"Kenn is an entertaining person and a bit of a character," says Hutelmyer. "In my senior year at college, he let me follow him around for a few days to shoot a mini documentary on him. He is one of the nicest people I know and it just amazes me how he connects to everyone so easily. Add in his lifestyle and his mindset and you have the perfect subject."

Hutelmyer, along with co-director Robert Nicolaides and camera person /cinematographer Carman Spoto, made the film over the course of three years. "The film is certainly a biography and tells Kenn's past, but I also wanted to root a lot of it in who Kenn is now, as that is the person I know," says Hutelmyer, a Temple University grad. "I thought it would be interesting for people who don't know Kenn to see somebody at his age (mid-60s) still doing it and see what it takes to do it as well."

For his part, Kweder submitted tons of raw footage for consideration to the directors from his thirty-plus years of performing ("which fans of mine gave me through the years") and let the filmmakers go. "Warts, yes. Truth, yes; up and down and sideways," says Kweder of the process that found his past dissected into the successes and failures of life and business. Still, Adventures of a Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination of Kenn Kweder is not the end. "Never stop," says Kweder of his current situation where he plays eight days a week. "I gotta be in some sort of present tense artistic equation. Otherwise I have no meaning."

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Photo: Mark Prinzinger

Posted on Friday, March 25, 2016