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Prescott Opry features upbeat country Thursday

One thing is pretty universal among country musicians - the genre somehow invaded their souls when they were very young and never left.

For long-time Yavapai County resident John Kennedy, listening to his dad playing old cowboy tunes on his guitar was his entre to western music, along with the country music that was "always playing in the house." And, then, there were the Saturday night shows with Buck Owens and Marty Robbins that his family watched on television.

Steve Christensen recalls the same early encounter and getting hooked.

"Once I heard country, that was my soul," he said. "I wore out every record I could get my hands on. There was no going back to anything else."

Jim West grew up with a musician father and his uncle, Speedy West, was a famous pedal steel guitarist, both early influences. "When I was just 5 years old, I was playing guitar with my dad in his band, standing on a stool," he said. "Country has always been in my blood. I just love country. It's something you can understand. It's pretty, compared to the rock and roll they've got out there."

This love will shine through when they perform, along with young musician for the evening Wade Strader and the Brush Arbor Revival during the Prescott Opry's concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Elks Opera House. Tickets cost $12 to $25 and are available by calling the box office at 777-1370 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, by logging onto or at the door one hour before show time.

Kennedy, an accomplished fiddler and guitarist who is president of the Mile High Chapter of the Old Time Fiddlers, started playing the stringed instruments in high school. He gives a lot of credit for his success to high school classmate and college roommate Nick Malouff. "He's a real fine musician. He was really patient about showing me stuff on the guitar. He introduced me to bluegrass music," Kennedy said of his friend.

And, another fiddler he admires who boosted him along the way is Ray Gardner, a familiar name in the Prescott area for his talent with fiddle and bow.

Christensen, known professionally in the Valley as "C* Steve," prefers to entertain, rather than just stand up before a crowd and belt out songs, one after the other.

"There are pickers everywhere," he said of guitar maestros. "I had to distinguish myself, so I tried something different."

This "something different" applies especially to his Johnny Cash tribute show that he and Ken Killebrew are now performing around the Valley.

"I talk the audience through his songs," Christensen said. "I talk of his life through his songs. Let's tell the people something interesting other than the name of the song.

"I try as an entertainer to focus on what's behind the song and to deliver it so that it's heartfelt."

West is a regular in the Prescott Opry with his guitar, and he has his own band, The Dakotas, that plays in the Valley.

His style is "high driving country." "No waltzes," he said. "It's upbeat music."

Thursday's audience can expect a little bit of everything, from Kennedy's waltzes and hoedowns and bit of Christensen's Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard to West's version of "Pass Me By" and "Just Call Me Lonesome."

Strader, proficient on banjo, is a member of Jubilee, the Sharlot Hall Museum Youth Music Program and plans to play "Amazing Grace" and "Red Haired Boy."

Brush Arbor Revival "will cause your spirits to soar as they delight you with their humorous interaction and energetic delivery of well loved gospel and blue grass numbers."

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