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At Smokehouse Live: Loudoun’s Ken Wenzel—‘The roots and guts of music’

Ken Wenzel will play at Smokehouse Live in the Village at Leesburg on Dec. 18. Photo Courtesy/Ken Wenzel
In many ways, local musician Ken Wenzel has lived a professional musician’s dream life.

As a classically trained jazz saxophonist, straight out of college, he toured with Broadway musicals all over America. He played in the pit orchestras of some of Las Vegas’s biggest shows. He had regular gigs in Los Angeles and New York City, and spent weeks on cruise ships and tour buses. Wenzel even performed for two years in Japan in a “Blues Brothers” music revue at Universal Studios.

His hard work studying jazz saxophone at the University of Illinois, and later on a scholarship at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, clearly paid off, leading to a 10-year career in the music business as a professional musician.

But ultimately it wasn’t enough.

“It’s one thing to be a professionally touring musician, but being a mercenary sax player going into my 50s was something different. I didn't want to be that guy," he says.

After watching countless successful band leaders, lead singers and rock and Americana roots bands his entire career, he was confident he could do it too. So, six years ago, in the midst of re-thinking his musical career, and feeling the need to make a major change, Wenzel decided to make a radical career shift.

So he taught himself guitar, started working hard on his vocals and songwriting skills (which he had honed since a high school student growing up in Illinois), and low and behold, he’s now produced two solo albums and is playing venues all over Loudoun County.

“It’s not been easy, I’ve worked really hard at it, but this is what I’m committed to,” he says. “To me, it’s all about the journey and not about some specific goal.”

His latest album, “Beneath Potomac Skies,” was recorded with an assemblage of uber-talented local musicians known as Cross Kentucky. They’ll join Wenzel onstage at Smokehouse Live in Leesburg on Friday, Dec. 18, for their first live concert in Loudoun County this year, something they hope to do more of next year.

“All these guys played on my record. And though we’ve not released a record as Cross Kentucky yet, it’s something we want to do. These guys are responsible for the great sound I have on my record, which I’m really proud of,” says Wenzel. “They put meat on the bones of my songs. They’re the roots and guts of the music.”

Wenzel says concert-goers can expect to hear music influenced by Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell and Grace Potter, with some country music influences as well. He says they intend to play mostly original tunes, with a mix of fun covers, and will even resurrect a Christmas song he wrote years ago.

Don’t be surprised if Wenzel picks up a saxophone as well.

“My roots,” he says, laughing.

If you go:

Ken Wenzel & Cross Kentucky
Friday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Free admission
Smokehouse Live
1602 Village Market Blvd. SE, Leesburg, VA


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