Kevin Kling and Mason Jennings.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Public Radio
Kevin Kling and Mason Jennings first met about a decade ago, when both were on the bill for a memorial a year after the death of Paul Wellstone. "We really hit it off. I loved his work and him as a person. He is a real, honest, hilarious person," Kling says.
So when the chance came, Kling was thrilled to partner up with Jennings for Back Home, his latest piece at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Kling is in the middle of a three-year residency with Minnesota Public Radio. Along with the annual show at the Fitzgerald, he also does commentary several times a year on the radio and leads workshops. In the past, the workshops have helped to connect local storytellers with the radio network. This year, he plans to move out state to reach other communities and high schools.
As you would expect, Kling will tell stories and Jennings will sing songs, but there is some bleeding between them as well. Jennings has several stories he wants to share, while music will be added to several of Kling's pieces.
Jennings is "a brilliant storyteller. I always say you either are or you aren't a storyteller. He is a storyteller. He's a natural. You can tell by his songs. They have that quality," Kling says. "He's gotten me into a more poetic vein. In some of my stories, he plays underneath and it really gives them a nice lift."
Kling knew the collaboration would work from the beginning. "We are rehearsing in this little church. Mason got there early. I went into the church, the light was shining, and Mason was playing Bach on this grand piano. How do you beat that?" Kling says.
The two are working with director Jason Ballweber, best known for his work with Four Humors Theater. The director has helped the keep the pair on track, even as the show constantly evolves through rehearsals. "Mason and I are like two kites without strings. It is great to have someone working the strings," Kling says.
Kling has included "a couple of new stories and a couple of used ones. Mason is doing the same thing. He has some songs that he has never played before and some crowd pleasers. With a musician, people want to hear their favorite songs. It's different with a storyteller. People say, 'We've already heard that one.'"
Both artists are transplants. Kling lived in Missouri until he was five, when the family moved to Minnesota. Jennings came here from Pittsburgh when he was in his 20s. "I had the idea of this as home pounded into me. For him, it was more of a recognition," Kling says.
Both of their art forms work to unlock the heart of the listener. "Music has a direct pipeline to that place in us. Storytelling is looking for ways to open the heart," Kling said. "It makes you vulnerable, and you experience things you wouldn't at other times."
Considering the season, Thanksgiving and family gatherings are on their minds. Kling recalls the Southern side of the traditions, such as having a holiday country ham instead of turkey. "My grandfather would make them with salt and sugar, and then hang them for months at a time. At Thanksgiving, you would cut off the mold and serve it," he says. "You would wake up in the middle of the night with this pain in your kidneys because you were so dehydrated, so I would run the faucet and not even bother getting a glass to drink."
IF YOU GO
The Fitzgerald Theater
10 Exchange St., St. Paul
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, November 23-24, 2 p.m. Sunday, November 25
For tickets and information, call 651.290.1221 or visit online.