The Bacon Brothers: Road Warriors, Songwriters, Pillars of Alexandria
By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Alexandria has been home to many famous faces over the years, from George Washington to Dave Grohl, but it can add a 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 taken to playing at Birchmere, Alexandria’s legendary concert hall, for over a decade. Between these performances and a series of community-focused events, the Bacon Brothers have forged a distinct bond with the port city. They are due to return to Birchmere on April 11-12 as part of their first tour since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The history of the group is closely linked to that of Birchmere and Alexandria. Every show in the Birchmere chronicled their rise from “that ‘Footloose’ guy and his brother” to a headlining act in their own right.
“The first time we played Birchmere we only did one show, maybe we even opened for someone,” Kevin said in an interview with The Times. “…Then we finally hit the headlines and we headlined two shows.”
“Apart from it being a great place to play because it’s a great listening room, it’s really perfect for us,” added Kevin. “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 quiet stuff too.”
The group’s shows in Alexandria have helped establish them as mainstays, which helps give the two brothers confidence that there will be “repeat offenders” at their shows, Kevin joked.
“People will show up who already know the band, and that’s something that really helps because then you’re not going on stage with that job having to convince people that you’re not just afraid of the downbeat. It takes the pressure off a bit,” Kevin said.
Besides their performances at Birchmere, the Bacon Brothers also made a name for themselves in Alexandria through a series of impromptu appearances. They held a pop-up show at Sugar Shack Donuts in 2015, and in 2017 sang “Footloose” with former police chief Michael Brown at Rock It Grill for a fundraiser for the Alexandria Police Foundation. . The latter was an extension of Kevin’s work for a non-profit organization he founded called SixDegrees, a play about famous games involving the actor’s prolific career.
“I think what I like is that it’s spontaneous. People are surprised and it’s really fun to play live with the band,” Michael said of these community performances. “It’s one of my favorite activities. You don’t have a sound system. You don’t have an inner ear in your ears. You just listen and play together, and people really like you.
Kevin and Michael have been playing together since they were kids. They grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a family of six and were encouraged to express themselves artistically. Kevin wasn’t even the first Bacon brother 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 rocketing to stardom through a successful career in Hollywood, the two started writing a few songs together. After hearing their music, a childhood friend contacted them and helped them get a gig at the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia as 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 other full albums since, including “The Way We Love” in 2020. They also made a name for themselves on the road, playing shows in venues around the world, from Germany to Japan, and from Carnegie Hall to the Grand Ole Opry.
Along the way, the Bacon Brothers have recruited a motley crew of longtime companions. Most of the band members have been playing with Kevin and Michael since the band was formed in 1995. Bassist Paul Guzzone and drummer Frank Vilardi have been around since day one. Newcomer lead guitarist and mandolin player Tim Quick joined the band in 2018.
Looking back on the band’s nearly three-decade career, Michael marveled that the Bacon Brothers managed to survive as long as they did without major hits.
“There aren’t too many bands that have been together as long as we have that don’t really exist yet based on a huge hit that they had a long time ago,” Michael said. “…We kind of approached it from a whole different direction, which is trying to make the shows really good so that the word gets out that we can actually perform and that we’re not just movie stars.” I think that makes us a bit unique.
The band also refutes the long-held superstition that bands with brothers are doomed to failure. In fact, both Kevin and Michael have said their creative partnership has strengthened their relationship both on and off stage.
“I think the bottom line is that when you’re in business with a close relative, there’s a level of trust that you just don’t have with anyone else,” Michael said. “… My work is extremely solitary. Some composers really work on their own, unless they are 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 too.
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 can go from an acoustic number to a heartbreaking rock song to a laid-back reggae-infused jam. But whatever the style, the Bacon Brothers bring a refreshing, no-frills approach to their music.
Michael brings his experience as a multi-instrumentalist, hopping on the cello and, on 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 group of well-traveled troubadours who have spent decades on the road together.
Kevin’s melodic rasp works just as well with acoustic folk ballad as it does with 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 with as much energy as they did in 1995. The artistry 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 you and the dog, then you want to play it,” Kevin said. “You want to play it for people, and for me, that’s what makes it roll.”
Music also allows Kevin to express himself in a different way than when he tackles a film or television role.
“One of the big differences is that I’m one of those people who when I’m playing never thinks about trying to put a part of me up there,” Kevin said. “I really want to lose myself in the character. Given that it’s me – it’s my face, it’s my voice – there are going to be pieces of me that are going to shine through: my emotional story, etc. .. But when it comes to songs, it’s a way of sharing a piece of you and a different way than acting. It’s my words and my music, and it’s terrifying in some ways. but also, [on] the chance that someone actually relates to it, extremely gratifying.
The passion the brothers and their bandmates have for their craft has kept them busy during the pandemic. They have released an album and served as judges for the American Songwriter Lyric Competition, performed in The Grand Ole Opry’s tribute for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and produced six music videos. They have also written and recorded a five-song EP which will be released this summer.
These songs have made their way into the Bacon Brothers’ set for this tour, which also features songs from their 2020 album, “The Way We Love”, for a live audience. Coming back to the stage after so long away is a little anxiety-provoking, admitted Kevin.
“…We haven’t really done a lot of touring of this record, and then to add to that, we’re putting four new songs in the set, so there’s a lot of challenges to get this show up and running, but we love challenges,” Kevin said. “Being able to play music and connect with people and hang out with the band and just hang out is really exciting.
But for Kevin and Michael, the excitement of going on tour again outweighs any 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 star since I was about 13, and I still want to be and never have been, but I’m still trying,” Michael joked. “…I think you have a band and you write songs, you just hope that one day you write a song that everyone likes and [can’t] to have enough. We are still waiting, but we will get there.