If you play any kind of amplified music in Chicago, you've probably dealt with enough live sound engineers to know that you'd be lucky if the one working your gig was Patrick M. Kenneally. "Playing in bands, sound guys are often your first introductions to venues—seeing Pat made you feel a little more at home," says Metro talent buyer and Lasers and Fast and Shit vocalist Joe Carsello. Kenneally, who died at age 43 on Wednesday, June 6, spent the past couple decades doing sound at clubs such as Darkroom, the Empty Bottle, and Lounge Ax. (Recently he worked mostly as a building superintendent, but he still picked up the occasional gig.) He'd ingrained himself in the local scene, becoming a vital piece of the largely invisible infrastructure that keeps it healthy. He wasn't just punching the clock—he cared about the music community and supported it with more than his labor.
guitarist Josh Elmore got to know Kenneally at shows in downstate Illinois in the mid-90s, and their friendship blossomed after they both moved to Chicago and ended up at the same punk concert in early 1995. "He was always working, always doing something, always trying to positively contribute something," Elmore says. In early 1996, Elmore and Kenneally formed the screamo band My Lai. "We were like, 'We want to do this band. If people can't stand it, if they hate it, that's fine—we want to be this ball of energy,'" Elmore says. "Fortunately—unfortunately—that didn't happen. People actually liked it."
Rebecca Ann Rakstad
Brian Peterson (left) and Pat Kenneally during a My Lai set at the Fireside Bowl
In My Lai, Elmore was on equal creative footing with a bandmate for the first time in his career. Previously he'd just taken orders, but now he was an active partner—to the band's benefit. "The push-pull between his style and my style, especially at that time, gave it more of a distinctive edge," Elmore says. Kenneally had a melodic, aggressive sound, inspired by Skin Graft Records noise-rock and by Steve Albini's band Shellac—he interned for Albini at Electrical Audio around the time My Lai took off. Kenneally also recorded bands on his own time, and in 1997 he engineered a demo and the Pony Soldier
seven-inch for My Lai, the latter of which came out on Martin Sorrondeguy
's Lengua Armada label.
Elmore describes Kenneally as a "fix-it dad," someone eager to help anyone in a pinch—and not shy about sharing his obviously correct opinions. "It's like he came out of the womb as a sort of grumpy plumber," Elmore says. "I mean it in the most complimentary way." Elmore and Kenneally developed creative differences, though, and by the end of 1997 Kenneally left My Lai. "We just sort of faded away from each other and didn't speak as much," Elmore says. "There was a thing in the room. We were such good friends before that, and he didn't cease to be this cool person." Before they grew apart, Kenneally introduced Elmore to the woman who's now his wife.
Kenneally had been a regular at the Fireside Bowl since moving to Chicago, and his My Lai bandmate, Brian Peterson, booked it as cofounder of MP Presents. There he became friends with veteran soundman Elliot Dicks
, whose company Elliotsound provided the venue with a PA system and people to run it. The day after an employee bailed on a shift, Dicks complained to Fireside owner Jim Lipinski about the no-show. "The owner was like, 'You should hire Pat,'" Dicks says. "We became great friends working together." Kenneally's first live sound-engineering gig was at a Fireside show by U.S. Maple
and the Scissor Girls, in 1997 or 1998 (Dicks can't remember for sure). "He was organized and he was good at solving problems," Dicks says. "If you needed help with tools, he was the one you went to." Kenneally quickly picked up more work as a soundman, landing regular slots at the Fireside, Lounge Ax, and Darkroom.
Pink Avalanche front man Che Arthur began working as a live soundman around the time Kenneally got his start (at the time he played in Atombombpocketknife). "In Chicago, there are a lot of engineers, but it's kind of a relatively small community as far as people who are actively, professionally doing live engineering," Arthur says. "A lot of us know each other—it's a relatively close-knit community." In that community, Kenneally soon established an enviable reputation. "He was an audio-engineering nerd," Arthur says. "We were pretty young at the time, and I remember him striking me as a person who had this vast knowledge—it was impressive. He didn't hold back his opinions, and he was an opinionated person. That's admirable, and also can be alienating."
Courtesy of Cynthia Castiglione
Kenneally outside the Fireside in 1996
It wasn't just other engineers who could expect to hear constructive criticism from Kenneally. "If you played and he liked your music, he would probably come up and tell you, 'Oh that was great,' and probably tell you a criticism," Carsello says. "Sometimes when you produce music, when you put it out there, you're like, 'Is anyone paying attention to this?' Playing in local bands often feels like that," he explains. "So when somebody takes note, it's a reward."
When Milwaukee screamo band Seven Days of Samsara played their first show in 1998, Kenneally was there. "He said, 'You guys would be even better if you tuned,'" says bassist Dave Rudnik. Kenneally offered to record the group, and brought them to Windy City Music in Old Irving Park. "That band, it was our first time recording, and he took the time to walk us through it—and to not hold it over our head that he knew what he was doing," Rudnik says. "He was caring, he was nurturing—and a goofball." Kenneally helped Seven Days realize their ideas, even if they weren't particularly bright. "I brought an upright bass with me because I thought it would sound cool—just playing this droning note on an instrument I didn't know how to play," Rudnik says. "He was game for it."
In fall 1999 Kenneally moved to Portland, Oregon, where he opened a studio called Ground Score. In 2001 a local alt-weekly released a compilation of local bands called Portland Mercury Presents Compact Disc of Sound
, and Kenneally recorded most of them. He met Prids guitarist-vocalist David Frederickson when he mastered their song. "We chatted for a few moments, but we hit it off," Frederickson says. They became friends after Frederickson recognized Kenneally sitting at the bar at Portland club Satyricon.
"We liked some of the same music—he was into heavier stuff—but mostly what bonded Pat and I was skepticism," Frederickson says. "We were both atheists—and this was 20 years ago, so people didn't talk about atheism as openly as they do now. He was smart and liked to bloviate—he was a talker."
Frederickson is a vegan and Kenneally was an ethical vegetarian, which also helped them connect. When Kenneally opened an intimate venue and restaurant called the Blackbird in 2001, he put vegetarian and vegan food on the menu. Chantelle Hylton, who left a booking job at the Medicine Hat to do the same work for the Blackbird, describes the city's music scene in those days as small and tight-knit. "He was recording a bunch of bands in Portland, and was a little bit on the periphery and a total force—and he did it, he made a venue for us, he made it happen, and none of us could have done that," Hylton says. "The Blackbird ended up being a catalyst for Portland's music scene finding itself in that moment."
"He changed the landscape of the club scene in Portland when he opened the Blackbird," Frederickson says. "I was in a young band at that time, and gosh, you never thought you'd get paid. But Pat's club—he'd feed you, give you drinks, and get you some money at the end of the night." Other local clubs started to follow suit.
"It was such a small community that everyone who worked there played in a band," Hylton says. "We knew everyone who came to the shows, and it was really, really strange when there was a person at a show that you didn't know." Perhaps because the scene was so small, the Blackbird didn't discriminate when it came to genre. "There would be four bands playing totally different music," Hylton says. "That was something Pat created."
Kenneally continued to support local musicians outside the club too. "On the Prids' first full-length, he loaned me all the microphones that I used to make that record," Frederickson says. But Kenneally couldn't do everything. Once he opened the Blackbird, he didn't have enough time to take care of Toast, the studio dog at Ground Score. "So Toast became my dog," Frederickson says.
The Blackbird hosted shows every night of the week for two years. Deerhoof headlined the club's final show on August 30, 2003. "A bunch more venues popped up after that," Hylton says. "Now it's just out of control in Portland. Pat and the Blackbird had a lot to do with it."
Kenneally returned to Chicago after the Blackbird closed and got back into working sound at concerts. He brought the old Blackbird PA system with him, and Dicks says he used some of the equipment at the Lakeshore Theater. He moved into a building his father owned in Ukrainian Village, and in 2004 his friend Megin Wardle became his roommate for a four-year stint. "We had pretty opposite schedules—I was also in grad school, so I was out during the day a lot," she says. "I could always hear him come in from sound gigs, and he would make potatoes on the stove and it would be two in the morning. It was actually pretty nice. I felt safer because he was home. He was really reassuring."
Wardle was a live audio engineer too, and as she found her footing in the Chicago scene, Dicks and Kenneally helped set her up with gigs. In June 2004, Kenneally flew back to Portland to record a band, and he asked Wardle to cover a show for him at the AV-aerie. "He pulled all his good microphones—he was like, 'You should be fine, it's this band called the Unicorns,'" Wardle says. "'There's this band opening called the Arcade Fire, I've never heard of them.' When he got back from his recording trip, I was like, 'Pat, you owe me.'"
Courtesy of Cynthia Castiglione
Kenneally at Thalia Hall this April
It usually seemed like Kenneally was the one doing favors, though, not owing them. He'd always be ready to help in a tight spot, says Dicks, even if it was just to watch the mixing board for an hour. Wardle remembers losing a beloved winter hat with flowers on the ear flaps during a bad date at the Rainbo. "Pat was comforting me and said, 'I used to work door at the Rainbo—let me go back after close and see what I can do,'" she says. After she went to sleep that night, Wardle was awakened by a knock on her bedroom door. "Pat is standing in the kitchen, six-four, enormous man, wearing my flower hat," she says.
Since coming back to Chicago, Kenneally had become even closer with Dicks. "You name it, we do it for each other," Dicks says. "We often had each other's stuff at each other's places. He had his broken-down muscle car in my garage for a couple years." Kenneally also got his hands dirty with hobbies that had nothing to do with music. "He went through a kick where he was distilling, and he made a couple different kinds of moonshine," Wardle says. "My favorite one, the name he was gonna call it was Illinois Joy. The only other one I remembered sampling was Lincoln's Tears." The garage behind his apartment building was full of his tools, supplies, and music gear. In recent years, Dicks says, Kenneally had started to collect and modify antique organs—this spring the two of them traveled to the suburbs to retrieve one.
Over the past few years, Kenneally spent most of his time working as a super for buildings he co-owned with his father. But he still worked with Dicks, who'd started throwing him more sound gigs this spring as street-festival season cranked up. "We'd see each other regularly—we'd meet up for beers and pizza, this and that," Dicks says. "He's just a true friend."
Kenneally and a good dog