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Photo by Olli Tumelius, provided by Ken Stringfellow.

Ken Stringfellow to bring raw, stripped down music to Donkey Coffee

Donkey Coffee and Espresso is a place Ohio University students and Athens residents alike flock to for that perfect cup of coffee, a comfy couch to do homework in or to listen to live music on a chill night. Friday’s vibes will be accompanied by Ken Stringfellow and his intimate performance on the acoustic piano.

Stringfellow has over 25 years of experience as a performer, composer, producer and more in the music industry. He’s a founding member of The Posies, spent a decade touring with REM and has played alongside big names such as Neil Young and Ringo Starr. Presented by WOUB Public Media, he’ll perform his 2001 album, Touched, plus other songs from his musical history with special guest Karen Allen at Donkey, 17 ½ Washington St., Friday night.

Donkey is Stringfellow’s first stop of six in the region where he’s looking forward to playing Touched front to back. Despite the album coming out 19 years ago, it’s Stringfellow’s most popular piece of work among fans due to its release being on Sept. 11, 2001. 

“I think it’s already an intense album emotionally, but the fact that it accompanied that historical period for a lot of people, or a certain group of people, made it even more intense,” Stringfellow said. 

Stringfellow debuted his album at a show in New York only days after 9/11 and it slowly became an album people clung to the days and weeks that followed the tragic incident.

“What started out as a one show in New York has turned into over 70,” Stringfellow said. “[The album is the] right mix of grief and hope, and I think that’s what makes it a kind of strong album in general, but even more so that people were encountering this album during a time where they needed it most in a way.”

Even after all these years, Stringfellow has a deep connection with the songs on his album that make playing them night after night a memorable show every time.

“Even after playing the same songs I'm still feeling these songs very deeply in each performance,” Stringfellow said. “But it’s something that keeps bringing up the rawness in me.”

The latter half of Stringfellow’s performance will include songs from his 2015 album The Record and his 2012 album Danzig in the Moonlight with Allen.

“When I bring in these other songs and have Karen sing with me it kind of gets us out of that heavy mode and gives the listener something brighter,” Stringfellow said. 

The night will conclude with a grab bag of hits from Stringfellow’s past with his bands The Posies and Big Star. Stringfellow is excited to perform at a new venue, looking forward to making connections with people through a medium of music where people can feel free to put their emotions on the table.

“I’m usually off the stage, right in front, playing and singing really intensely inches away from the audience if possible,” Stringfellow said. “Even if I don't have any kind of audience there, a new place is a new place and a new audience is a new audience.” 

Luckily for Stringfellow, there will certainly be fans of his in the crowd Friday night, one of those fans being Emily Votaw. Votaw, the arts and culture director of WOUB, bought tickets as soon as she heard Stringfellow was coming to Athens, and invited her father and brother to come see him perform as well.

“He’s definitely someone who music geeks are crazy about,” Votaw said. “When I saw he was coming to Athens I was like, ‘Wow I cannot believe that.’ ”

Votaw was equally as excited when Stringfellow agreed to star on one of WOUB’s Radio A sessions, as well as when he asked if WOUB would affiliate itself with his show. While WOUB typically features state and local musical artists, the media station was happy to make an exception for Stringfellow’s national reputation.

“It just seemed like a natural fit to be affiliated with [the show],” Cheri Russo, community engagement manager of WOUB, said. “This is something that is unique that Ken wanted to partner with us, to present his concert here in town...being able to provide a niche audience something like this is a big honor for us.”

Chris Pyle, co-owner of Donkey, is also looking forward to bringing in an act crowds at Donkey don’t usually see. Pyle himself has been listening to Stringfellow since college when he played in the band The Posies and played second guitar for REM and Big Star.

“We just thought it’d be great for him to play at Donkey, he’s amazing,” Pyle said. “I’m hoping it’ll be a pretty large crowd coming out for his performance, especially since we’re pretty close to Columbus. Hopefully it’ll be a nice packed, intimate gig.”


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