Joel F. Kinney, the namesake and driving force behind the local venue packing band JFK is turning 50 years old. He’s bringing his milestone celebration to Half Penny this Saturday, January 21st, starting at 9pm.

Joel with spikes and hair in Ally. Circa 1984. Photo credit: Jon Boldt

Joel has been rocking since the 80s, when he formed his first hard rock band, Ally (see photo). He performed at parties and even had a few shows at his high school, McNary in Keizer, Oregon. It might seem odd that a high school administration would allow a rock show in the cafeteria; but that is a testament to Joel’s upbeat and gregarious personality. He may have had big rocker hair and wore leather and spikes, but there wasn’t anyone he wasn’t friends with.

He continued through the years in various bands, writing his own music in groups such as Lawless, Reign, Naked Faith, Thunderjelly and Slappyfoot. Performing originals can be unfulfilling in terms of crowd size – especially for a personality like Joel, “For me, it is all about the performance…I would rather play to a packed house…than play originals that only your girlfriends and your parents want to see.” Joel and I talked about the prevailing stigma that tends to surround “cover bands.” I am certainly aware of it, and it is often a topic of conversation among musicians. I personally often wonder with the recent proliferation of tribute bands, what the difference is. Joel made a decent point that, “…world class international symphonies are playing Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, but they don’t get any crap for it.”  It doesn’t matter to him. He gets as much satisfaction playing the classic songs JFK plays as he did playing original music.

And JFK did start out as an originals band. He released two CDs, “His First Big Steps” and “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” But because of his driving desire to perform to large crowds, Kinney changed formats, “We are less of your classic cover thing…and more like a high power, FM rock review – like you would see in Vegas. We shy away from the songs that are so tired and predictable. We are not offering covers. We are offering an experience.” This has definitely paid off for him. JFK has opened for David Lee Roth, Yingwie Malmsteen, Foghat , and Pat Travers. Not too shabby.

Indeed, there is no local band that puts on a show quite like JFK. Kinney owns a cache of PA equipment, lighting production, a drum riser and a huge backline. This spectacle has resonated strong in the community. JFK packs venues. There’s no other way around it. He even charges anywhere from $5-10 and still he packs them in. “People (go) nuts at our shows. Super high energy, full house all night and we evoke those precious memories from our youth.” Indeed, nostalgia is a powerful thing. Again, look at the recent crop of tribute bands. People love to hear their favorite songs from their past.

Bottom line is that Joel takes pride in what he does and derives great satisfaction that he can make so many people happy. That sounds like a life well-lived to me.

Of course, he can’t do it by himself. Joining him on stage is Bill Hallahan on lead vocals, guitars and keys; Arnold Williams on bass guitar and Michael Lowery on Drums. Joel shreds his guitar and sings. Again, JFK will be bringing their high energy rock show to Half Penny this Saturday. There is a $5 cover. And you’ll get a performance from artists who give it everything they’ve got.