Telling a story through music

For more than 20 years, the Celtic duo Willson and McKee have performed at a variety of venues – from prisons to preschools.

The two will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Yellow Medicine East High School auditorium in Granite Falls for the 2014 Winter Fest concert put on by the Granite Area Arts Council

Willson and McKee is Ken Willson and Kim McKee. Willson attended school in the Dawson/Boyd area and graduated from Granite Falls High School in 1969. He also went to Southwest Minnesota State College for a couple of years. Willson said he went to school to be a chiropractor and practiced that for 22 years.

Willson and McKee met in 1989-1990 in Arizona. Willson said he had played different kinds of music – folk, country.

“Kim had always played Celtic music in different levels from way back,” Willson said.

“I’ve pretty much been a musician my whole life,” McKee said.

When they first started, the two had an agent who suggested they could perform music at a deeper level – by doing educational workshops. That agent happened to be Peg Furshong, who lives in the Granite Falls area. Back then, she was in Montana, Willson said.

“She just helped us out over the years getting our act together,” Willson said.

The two sing, along with playing a variety of instruments, the Celtic harp, accordion, mountain dulcimer, Irish bouzouki, bagpipes, bodhran and guitars.

“We’ve been traveling and doing this for 20-whatever years,” Willson said. “We do a lot of educational work, school residencies, even up to college level.”

“We never had any idea of doing it professionally,” McKee said. “It’s an interesting lifestyle, you have to make sacrifices.”

“It’s definitely a labor of love, that’s for sure,” McKee added.

The duo performs traditional Irish, Scottish and original acoustic music. Sometimes they will combine their roots with their Celtic heritage, Willson said.

“We call it a Rocky Mountain Celtic,” Willson said.

The two have toured Scotland and Ireland, but they mostly perform in the western part of the United States.

McKee said that their concerts are not just them playing music to a group of listeners.

“I set it up in such a way that the whole concert is storytelling,” McKee said. She said she’ll talk about where the song is from, the landscape, the history. “I make sure when I start a song, people are ready for it.”

“We really appreciate hearing them (audience members) sigh, hearing them laugh,” McKee added.

“We tell a lot of stories about what we’re doing,” Willson said.

McKee said her songwriting stems from listening to history, especially about somewhere she’s been.

“Most of the songs I’ve written have to do with place,” McKee said.

The two also do dance workshops, teaching Ceili dance. They will be artists in residency at YME from Jan. 27-Feb.1 and will conduct a Ceili dance workshop from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the high school auditorium.