Kelley Hunt celebrates CD release at downtown street dance

With Lawrence's sesquicentennial events kicking off this weekend, the city appears fully focused on musing about its own history.

Given the fact that Kelley Hunt is headlining a free street dance in celebration of the occasion, it seems fitting to pester the veteran singer to discuss her place in the musical history of Lawrence.

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Special to the Journal-World

Kelley Hunt will celebrate the release of her latest album, "New Shade of Blue," at the Street Dance in the Park concert on Saturday. This represents the third solo record by the Lawrence-based R&B musician and the first to be distributed on a national label.

"I'm somebody who wouldn't quit and who wouldn't go away," Hunt says, laughing.

"If people look at me as having any kind of effect whatsoever on the history of music in Lawrence -- I think that's a question to ask other people how they feel about it. If I'm any part of it, I'd be thrilled."

Despite decades spent honing her piano and vocal skills in Kansas, Hunt is far from retirement. If anything, she's enjoying one of the most prolific and high-profile points in her career.

Her third album, "New Shade of Blue," was released in July on the national Coda Terra label. The project was co-produced by country studio guru Garth Fundis (Trisha Yearwood) and prolific songwriter Gary Nicholson. It has already placed in the top 10 of the Billboard blues charts.

Yet Hunt had been patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity to throw a CD-release party in her hometown.

"Kelley was a shot in the dark," says Steve Braswell, co-director of the Lawrence Street Dance Committee.

His organization was hoping to lure a keynote act to perform at Saturday's concert, but assumed Hunt was out of their range.

  • What: Street Dance in the Park, featuring Kelley Hunt, Billy Ebeling and Wryly Bent
  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: South Park
  • Ticket price: free
  • Ticket information: 841-6902

"(Kelley) had planned to do a CD-release party within a couple weeks of the date," he says of a proposed Liberty Hall show. "So they put their thinking caps on and came back and said, 'Why don't we make this dance a CD-release event and tie it in with the 150th anniversary?'"

Hunt will commandeer a stage on the west side of South Park beginning at 9 p.m. Lawrence acts Billy Ebeling and Wryly Bent will open at 7 p.m.

Currently in Tulsa, Okla., recording tracks for the NPR program "Beale Street Caravan," the vocalist will bring her Nashville-based touring band to Street Dance in the Park.

"Everybody is coming up," she says. "And we're going to be doing everything off the new CD, plus a few things off of the first two."

Hunt feels "New Shade of Blue" goes a step beyond what her previous albums delivered.

"Just like anybody doing anything, the longer you do something the better you get at it," she says. "I think my writing has improved. My piano playing and my singing, I've felt a lot freer with it. I've been real inspired these last couple years because of this ongoing project and the people that are involved."

While solo artists inevitably elicit comparisons to other performers, Hunt considers her style to truly be a new shade of blue.

"I think it's unique to me," she says. "I don't feel like I'm emulating anybody else -- at least I'm not consciously trying to do that. That's been my M.O. all along, with writing my own music and being dedicated to doing it that way ... There's a large thread of blues and R&B; in everything I do, but I don't think it defines me clearly."

The street festival gives Hunt the opportunity to play before an audience that includes infants to octogenarians; pierced punks to schoolmarms. It emphasizes how diverse her fanbase is -- and has always been.

"I don't think I have one group or another corralled in," she says. "It's sort of in flux right now. It's changing a lot because the new record has come out nationally ... It's going to be interesting for me to see what happens these next three months, with something that is more widely available and has a lot more exposure than the first two CDs."

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