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Ken Koenig’s originals and covers mix with Vintner’s custom wine

Ken Koenig at Vintner’s Cellar

Sacramento indie musician Ken Koenig played to a packed house at Vintner’s Cellar in the Nimbus Winery Shopping Center Saturday night and mixed the show up with performances from other singer-songwriters, such as his daughter, a custom guitar maker and myself. Vintner’s Cellar, located at Hazel Avenue and Highway 50, has a cozy and intimate atmosphere for about 30 to 40 people. The music also projects to a bigger crowd outside the venue, waiting to eat at Spaghetti Factory or visit Tommy T’s comedy night club. Vintner’s main attraction is that it allows customers to create their own custom wine. What could be more indie than that? Add indie music and you’ve got quite a nice atmosphere. Vintner’s, launched by Kim Oliver and Andi Rothman in 2008, is also used as a venue for private parties and weddings. 

Ken Koenig is a singer-songwriter-guitarist who has introduced me to wonderful people, including his wife Cindy and daughter Amanda, who did her first public performance that night. He also introduced me to Mark Dobbins, who also performed a short set and spoke with me about how he designs custom guitars, which I would like to write about in the near future. Each of us got up on stage and mixed familiar cover songs with our own original material. Ken does a lot fo Beatles and Elvis songs along with 80s and 90s music such as songs by Men at Work and Crowded House. Most of the people there were already familiar with Ken’s music, in which he has released three CDs available on iTunes and CDBaby. The most recent release came out last year called The Organic Life, featuring an instantly uplifting opening song called "Beautiful Day." 

One of the amazing things Ken does that stands out among Sacramento indie artists is that instead of selling his CDs at shows, he gives them away while asking for donations in return. It works. The idea is similar to what the game-changing band Radiohead has accomplished in recent years, allowing fans to name their own price for music. This warmer approach that contrasts with the failed major label strategy of suing customers for downloading or sharing free music illegally, puts him in a much better light with fans than the tired struggling greed-driven 3-label music industry.

In our exclusive SacTV.com interview, Ken explains how he grew listening to the music of his older relatives, which shaped his musical choices. He recognizes that there is something very timeless about 60s and 70s hit music that even today’s younger generation can appreciate. Many of those songs communicate a spirit and vision of social unity, not to mention rich memorable melodies. It is pretty amazing how much audiences still admire these songs. What’s even more interesting is how he is able to integrate his original material into this diverse mix of legendary music and make it work. As he says in the interview, he never set out to play one specific genre, which differs from the one dimension marketing rule of the music industry the past few decades. Instead, he incorporates many styles into his music, including pop, rock, soul, jazz, folk and country. 

The idea of mixing covers with originals is nothing new. It’s just something that makes perfect sense, yet many local artists who go nowhere seem to only want to do originals. Sacramento’s home grown bands Tesla and Cake both rose to national fame drawing from a blend of originals and covers. During KWOD’s heyday as an alternative station when I programmed it in the 90s, the way we were able to prove local music can work in regular rotation is to surround it with familiar music. Creating a relatable atmosphere by reaching a common ground with the audience with covers is one way to get people’s attention and then introduce them to original music written in a similar vein. 

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

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