By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Alexandria has played host to a lot of famous faces over the years, from George Washington to Dave Grohl, but it can add one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon to its claim to fame.
As The Bacon Brothers, Kevin, an award-winning actor known for his roles in “Footloose,” “Mystic River,” “Tremors” and “Apollo 13,” and his brother, Emmy-winning composer Michael Bacon, have made a habit of playing the Birchmere, Alexandria’s legendary music venue, for more than a decade. Between these performances and a series of community-focused events, the Bacon Brothers have forged a distinct connection with the Port City. They are set to return to the Birchmere on April 11 and 12 as part of their first tour since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The band’s history is intertwined with the Birchmere and Alexandria. Each show in the Birchmere chronicled their rise from “that guy from ‘Footloose’ and his brother” to a fullfledged headlining act.
“The first time we played in Birchmere, we just did one show, maybe we even opened for someone,” Kevin said in an interview with the Times. “… Then, eventually we headlined and we headlined two shows.”
“Besides the fact that it’s a great place to play because it’s a great listening room, it’s really perfect for us,” Kevin added. “You have a great sound system, you can play rock n’ roll, but you can also be in a room where people really want to hear the quiet stuff too.”
The band’s shows in Alexandria helped establish them as mainstays, which helps give both the brothers confidence that there will be some “repeat offenders” at their shows, Kevin joked.
“People will show up that already know the band, and that’s something that really helps because then you’re not walking up on stage with this job of having to convince people that you don’t suck just from the downbeat. It just kind of eases the pressure just a little bit,” Kevin said.
Aside from their performances at the Birchmere, The Bacon Brothers have also made a name for themselves in Alexandria through a series of impromptu appearances. They staged a pop-up show at Sugar Shack Donuts in 2015, and in 2017 belted out “Footloose” with former Police Chief Michael Brown at the Rock It Grill for an Alexandria Police Foundation fundraiser. The latter was an extension of Kevin’s work for a nonprofit he founded called SixDegrees, a play on the famous games involving the actor’s prolific career.
“I think the thing I like about it is it’s spontaneous. People are surprised and it’s really fun to play unplugged live with the band,” Michael said of these community performances. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. You don’t have a P.A. system. You don’t have inner ears in your ears. You’re just listening and playing together, and people are really appreciative.”
Kevin and Michael have been playing together since they were children. They grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a family of six children and were encouraged to express themselves artistically. Kevin wasn’t even the first Bacon sibling that Michael played music with; he played in a band with his sister in high school.
Years later, in 1995, as Michael was working on his music career and Kevin was skyrocketing to stardom on the fumes of a blockbuster career in Hollywood, the two began writing a few songs together. After hearing their music, a childhood friend reached out and helped them secure a gig at Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts under the name The Bacon Brothers.
Ever since, Kevin and Michael have been making music, as committed to the art of songwriting as they are to the life of the road warrior. They released their first album, “Forosoco” in 1997 and seven more full-length albums since then, including 2020’s “The Way We Love.” They have also made a name for themselves on the road, playing shows in venues across the world, from Germany to Japan, and Carnegie Hall to The Grand Ole Opry.
Along the way, The Bacon Brothers have picked up a motley crew of long-time bandmates. Most members of the band have been playing with Kevin and Michael since the band formed in 1995. Bassist Paul Guzzone and drummer Frank Vilardi have been around since day one. Tim Quick, the band’s lead guitarist and mandolin player, the newcomer, joined in 2018.
In reflecting back on the band’s nearly three-decade career, Michael marveled at the fact that The Bacon Brothers have managed to survive as long as they have without a major breakout hit.
“There aren’t too many bands that have been together as long as we have that aren’t really still existing based on some enormous success that they had a long time ago,” Michael said. “… We sort of approached it from a completely different direction, which is trying to make the shows really good so that word gets out that we actually can play and we’re not just movie stars. I think that makes us kind of unique.”
The band also refutes the long-held superstition that bands with brothers are doomed to fail. In fact, both Kevin and Michael said their creative partnership has strengthened their relationship both on and off the stage.
“I think that the main thing is that when you are in business with a close relative, there’s a level of trust you just don’t have with anybody else,” Michael said. “… My work is extremely solitary. Some composers just really work by themselves except if they’re recording a session or producing a session. So, it’s really nice to have a group of guys to hang out with, and it’s great to have my brother there as well.”
Influenced by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Motown, Led Zeppelin, Philadelphia soul and 70s singer-songwriters, The Bacon Brothers don’t rely on elaborate compositions or flashy solos. They might swing from an acoustic number to a rip-roaring rock song to a relaxed, reggae-infused jam. But regardless of the style, the Bacon Brothers bring a refreshing no-frills approach to their music.
Michael brings his experience as a multi-instrumentalist to bear, hopping on the cello and, in this recent tour, his autoharp. But more often than not, The Bacon Brothers rely on the strength of well-written songs played earnestly by a band of well-traveled troubadours who have spent decades on the road together.
Kevin’s melodic rasp works just as well with an acoustic folk ballad as it does with a retro rocker. Meanwhile, Michael’s voice opens a portal to 1970s Nashville, where Michael honed his songwriting skills.
Despite nearly 30 years of touring together, Kevin and Michael talk about their music as energetically as if they were back in 1995. The art of songwriting and the catharsis of performance still fuel the brothers.
“You write something and then you play it for your family, you play it for your wife, you play it for yourself and the dog, and then you want to play it out,” Kevin said. “You want to play it for people, and for me, that’s the thing that keeps it rolling.”
Music also allows Kevin the opportunity to express himself in a different way than when he is tackling a role in film or television.
“One of the big differences is I’m one of those people that when I act, I never think about trying to put some piece of me up there,” Kevin said. “I really want to lose myself in the character. Just given the fact that it is me – it’s my face, it’s my voice – there’s going to be pieces of me that come through: my emotional history, etcetera. … But when it comes to songs, it is a way to actually share a piece of you and in a different kind of way than acting. They are my words and my music, and that is terrifying in some ways but also, [on] the off chance that someone actually relates to it, extremely gratifying.”
The passion that both the brothers and their bandmates have for their craft kept them busy during the pandemic. They released an album and served as judges in the American Songwriter Lyric Competition, played in The Grand Ole Opry’s tribute for the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 and produced six music videos. They also wrote and recorded a five-song EP that will be released this summer.
Those songs have made their way into The Bacon Brothers’ set for this tour, which is also a chance to play songs from their 2020 album, “The Way We Love,” for live audiences. Returning to the stage after so much time away is a bit anxiety-inducing, Kevin admitted.
“… We didn’t really do that much touring of that record, and then to add to that, we’re putting four new songs into the set, so there’s a lot of challenges to getting this show up and running, but we love challenges,” Kevin said. “Getting to play music and connect with people and hang with the band and just get out there is really exciting.”
But for both Kevin and Michael, the excitement of getting back out on tour trumps every other feeling. The world has changed, but the song remains the same for The Bacon Brothers, stalwarts of the road and stewards of song.
“I wanted to be a rock n’ roll star since I was about 13, and I still want to and I never have been, but I’m still trying,” Michael joked. “… I think you have a band and you’re writing songs, you just hope that someday you write a song that everybody loves and [can’t] get enough of. We’re still waiting, but we’ll get there.”