The fine art of winning over an audience
● By J. Chambless
Mary Kate and Colin McGetrick have been performing around West Chester as a duo for two years.
By John Chambless
It's 10 minutes before showtime at the Avalon Restaurant in West Chester, and Colin McGetrick is absently strumming a shiny dobro, right next to the patrons standing an arm's length away from him at the bar. Each quavering note summons up the deep Bayou, or some blues tune rooted in America's distant past. It's an impressive improvisation, made more so by Colin's calm detachment, as if he's practicing in his own living room.
A few minutes later, his wife, Mary Kate, arrives and takes her seat next to him by the restaurant's door. With a beaming grin and a wave to friends standing near the bar, she snaps her fingers to set the tempo and MK and Col, as they bill themselves, are off on another evening of resonant, shrewdly chosen and very hip music.
For the past two years, MK and Col have been putting their spin on music for diners and drinkers in West Chester and surrounding towns, and picking up fans everywhere they go. It's apparent from their tightly locked harmonies, Mary Kate's bubbly, slinky stage presence and Colin's rock-solid guitar work that these musicians know how to command a stage -- even if that stage is the cramped corner of a restaurant.
Mary Kate and Colin won local renown as the lead singers for the rock party band Ka-Pow!, but having stepped away from that group's packed schedule and turned down the volume a bit, they're finding a whole new audience. MK and Col don't fade into the background, thanks to a repertoire spanning a sexy "Fever" and "Son of a Preacher Man," a reimagined acoustic "All Along the Watchtower," a jaunty "Walkin' After Midnight," a sly cover of "All About That Bass," an ethereal "Into the Mystic" and a searing "Oh! Darling" and other selections that keep an audience engaged and wanting more.
Finding a quiet spot to talk between sets, Mary Kate and Colin quickly sketched out the paths that led them to this point.
"I've been singing since I was 2," Mary Kate said with a wide smile. "Putting on little shows for my family. I studied musical theater at West Chester University, and I've studied classical voice since I was 12."
It's clear that, even when she's perched on a bar stool and crooning a standard, Mary Kate has stage-filling skills that she's keeping under wraps out of consideration for the small space.
For Colin, music came about after his family moved to Pennsylvania from Long Island when he was 11. "My grandfather dabbled on the piano," he said. "My dad's mother did sing on stage for a short time, as well. After we moved to Pennsylvania, my friend Adam, who lived up the street, played the drums, and he started playing guitar. On Long Island, we all grew up playing sports, so the fact that he had a drum set and electric guitar in the basement -- and their parents let them do this -- was awesome. I had no idea music could be so much fun. His older brother gave me an old guitar of his, and I learned how to play."
Mostly self-taught, Colin fell in love with music. During his years in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, jam sessions introduced him to Mary Kate, who was 19 when he was 16.
"My older sister was really gracious by allowing me and my friends to hang out and mingle with her friends," Colin said. "We'd have sing-alongs. It was really cool. Our friend circles would mingle on Friday nights, when my parents would have pizza night. That's how we started singing together."
When Mary Kate was 26, she and Colin started jamming and writing together.
"We had these songwriting sessions at my apartment at the time," Colin said. "We'd just get together and come up with melodies and chords."
After that era came Ka-Pow! "Our friend, Ben Green, had a basement with musical instruments and we'd get together on Sundays to jam," Mary Kate said. "For a year, we did that, and learned songs just for fun."
The rock band played regionally for almost three years. But the late nights were affecting Mary Kate's job as an elementary special-education teacher in the West Chester School District. A trip to Ireland two summers ago proved fateful for the couple, who have a home in West Chester.
"We played an open mic night over there," Mary Kate said.
"We went for the possiblity of finding work there later on," Colin said. "We were lucky enough to stumble upon this open mic situation. In these pubs, you have a group of musicians huddled at a table in the corner -- fiddles, guitars, banjos. It's really just a jam, not like a performance situation. They just get together to play. They invited us to join in, and we got to play a few American tunes for them."
Inspiration struck. "We thought, 'Wow. We can do this as a duo back home,'" Mary Kate said, laughing.
A steady lineup of weekend shows in West Chester and Exton have led to quite a few private party and wedding gigs, where the set list can be customized in just about any way. "We love working as a duo," Colin said. "Making music together has been a pillar of our relationship since the very start, and we feel very fortunate to share this connection with our audiences."
Colin has another musical direction with WaveRadio, a band that plays harder-edged material and will perform at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington on June 13. "That's my rock band thing," he said, smiling. "We work very hard at it. My first passion in music is writing, and WaveRadio allows me the ability to do that in addition to touring, performance and recording." The other members of WaveRadio are James McLaughlin (keyboards and bass) and Chris Cotter (drums).
Mary Kate and Colin got together last month with two of their former Ka-Pow! bandmates for a party booking.
"Sometimes we'll get a call that somebody's having a wedding and they want a full party band, and we can put that together," Colin said. "We have a great community of musicians here in Chester County. We are fortunate to be surrounded by some very talented folks. It's always a pleasure to put together ensembles with our friends to cater to just about any musical situation."
"West Chester is a really good music community," Mary Kate added. "We're so lucky to be here."
For Colin, having to win over an audience every night has plenty of dividends. "By the end of the night, when people let their guard down, they'll start letting us know that we played a song that was important to them for some reason," he said. "That really feels great. When someone can actually tell a story about why it's their favorite song."
With the audience standing right next to them, MK and Col can easily take requests as well. "We do get requests, and if we know it, we'll do it," Mary Kate said. "Sometimes, Colin will say, 'Yeah, I think I can figure that out,' and we'll just play whatever they want."
Upcoming dates include:
MK and Col:
May 29 -- Avalon, West Chester, 7 to 11 p.m.
June 5 -- Red Star, Exton, 7 to 10 p.m.
June 12 -- Avalon, West Chester, 7 to 11 p.m.
June 19 -- Pietro's Prime, West Chester, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
June 26 -- Avalon, West Chester, 7 to 11 p.m.
June 27 -- Weso's, Exton, 8:30 p.m. to midnight
WaveRadio's single release party will be June 13 at the World Cafe Live at the Queen, beginning at 8 p.m. Colin will be performing solo at The Crow and Pitcher in Philadelphia on June 9, and he hosts a weekly showcase at Sprout Music Collective in West Chester called the Thirsty Thursday Roadshow. Every week, from 9 to midnight, there are two featured artists and an open mic.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/MKANDCOL.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail email@example.com.