- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

Call it the power of two. On Friday, longtime Washington favorites the Kennedys perform at the Birchmere with the New England based folk-pop group the Nields. But unlike musicians who perform on the same date and simply share a stage, these duos will share a set.

"We do each other's songs in a way that's never been done before," says Maura Kennedy, who along with husband Pete, won six Wammies from the Washington Area Music Association this year. "Most of our audiences are familiar with both of us, but never quite like this."

Each group will perform a set alone. Then the two groups will join and tackle everything from their own work to the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield.

To be sure, other folk and pop groups have collaborated successfully, most notably Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Schindell in a darkly tinged explosion of angst dubbed "cry, cry, cry."

"We like to call ourselves 'ha, ha, ha,'" Mrs. Kennedy says. "We're all having so much fun."

Such collaboration has been a long time coming. Nerissa Nields remembers seeing Pete Kennedy years ago playing lead guitar for Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith on the television program "Austin City Limits."

"I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, I have never heard such a beautiful guitar player before,'" says Miss Nields, who along with sister Katryna has since performed with the Kennedys many times. "He was such an incredible musician."

The music making continued after Mr. Kennedy met Maura Boudreau in 1992 at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas. By then, the Arlington, Va., native was playing lead guitar for Miss Griffith. Miss Boudreau was working the Texas circuit, playing keyboards and singing in bands that featured driving rhythms and Everly Brothers-type harmonies.

The two immediately hit it off, jamming far into the night and even writing a song together. With separate commitments, however, the two parted, only to meet weeks later at a point equidistant between their two last gigs Buddy Holly's grave.

These days, the Fairfax, Va.-based couple have recorded albums spanning a range of musical styles, with backup help from the likes of Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren and the group Eddie from Ohio.

"We love their energy, chemistry and the vibe they create," says Nerissa Nields, who credits the Kennedys' enthusiasm with "lifting up" the Nields during the recording sessions for their last album. "They're really like our angels."

Through it all, the Kennedys' music, a pop-influenced blend of folk and rock, has continued to evolve. The Internet has enabled musicians like the Kennedys to tap new audiences in ways unheard of just a decade ago.

"The whole climate is different now for recording artists," Mr. Kennedy says. "The Internet has created a musical middle class, where people can make a living without signing with one of the big record companies."

The Kennedys' newest album is only available through their Web site and at their shows. It's called "Positively Live," a compilation from their live concerts, and features the high spirits and high energy that has endeared the duo to audiences.

"It's just two acoustic guitars, so production-wise it's much different from our other albums," Mr. Kennedy says. "We've compensated for that by injecting more energy into our guitar and vocals."

Sister duo Nerissa and Katryna Nields have their own devoted fan base, which includes the Kennedys.

Fans familiar with the five-piece incarnation of the band will be surprised to learn that the Nields are performing strictly as a duo these days. For listeners, that means a more elegant line, sparer rhythms and a new acoustic sound.

"We've tried to stay true to our artistic style while experimenting with various forms," Nerissa Nields says.

Graduates of the Madeira School, Nerissa and Katryna Nields grew up in McLean, Va., with parents who "sang all the time," Nerissa Nields says.

"Our parents loved folk music," she says. "Everybody knew us as the family who sang."

The Nields' latest release, "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now," features songs revolving around the theme of homecoming and self-discovery. But unlike singer-songwriters who tend to wallow in pools of self-inflicted despair, the Nields remain upbeat. That's especially true when they're performing with the Kennedys.

"Playing with them is one of the highlights of our year," Mrs. Kennedy says. "They are like family to us."

• • •

Finally, the Chieftains, who have collaborated with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Sting, will be appearing at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall tonight. Their annual St. Patrick's Day show is a bit early this year they will be performing at New York's Carnegie Hall on the 17th. The Kennedy Center performance should be enough to wet the whistle of even the most jaded fan, though. It features a return to the band's Irish roots with a number of selections culled from their most recent release, "Water from the Well."

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