They say that families who play together, stay together — and in the Koontz household, playing means making music. It has, in fact, become a multi-generational avocation.
In his job as the minister of music at Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church, Dr. Daniel Koontz’s primary instrument is the pipe organ and the music he plays, the type one might expect to hear at Sunday services.
But when he gets together with his father, Dr. Warren L.G. Koontz, and brother Andrew Koontz, they lean toward a different sort of musical influence altogether.
“I don’t know how you classify it,” confesses Daniel. “The best way is to say it’s the kind of stuff on the sound track of ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’ or Bill Munroe songs, the father of bluegrass. We do some blues as well, which is as close as we get to rock and roll.”
The band also plays some original tunes by Daniel that fit into the classic Americana style, such as “My Baby’s Got Pulchritude” (go ahead and look it up if you don’t know what it means).
“In a way it’s unusual though, because the reason it’s not technically a bluegrass band is because we don’t have a banjo — but that’s the only thing missing,” says Daniel. “I play guitar and sing, my brother plays fiddle and bass. My dad is a guitar player, but also sings.”
Collectively, they are known as “Edna’s Kin” — a reference to a favorite second cousin of Warren’s — and much of what they play is a reflection of the type of music Warren played around the house in New Jersey when Daniel and Andrew were growing up.
“I went to college when ‘Peter, Paul and Mary’ were starting to become popular,” explains Warren. “I was the original Bob Dylan fan. In grad school I got a guitar and one of the first books I got was ‘Great Songs of the Sixties’ – I still have that book. I also found out about the Folk Music Society of Northern New Jersey. One of the events was a first Friday get together at someone’s house, and we’d take turns playing songs. Mississippi John Hurt and blues players like that, or Some Doc Watson.”
“My father taught me how to play guitar when I was very young,” says Dan. “He was an amateur guitarist and an enthusiast of folk music, along with a lot of people in his generation. He taught a lot of that stuff to me. Occasionally we’d get together and play, but doing this band is the first time we’ve had any eye to doing anything serious.”
In fact, it wasn’t any of the Koontz men, but rather Dan’s wife, Stacy Dermont, who thought it would be a good idea for them to get a little more serious about their music. And like most good ideas, Dermont knew it wouldn’t go anywhere unless there was a deadline — in this case, a definitive date when the premier gig would take place – October 2007 at Christ Episcopal Church.
“She’s not a musician,” notes Daniel. “But she’s the one who knew this was a great idea — and if she left it up to me, it’d never happen.”
Part of the initial trepidation on the part of the musicians had to do with sheer distance. With Daniel in Sag Harbor, Andrew in New Jersey, and Warren up near Rochester, rehearsals posed a challenge.
“When she [Stacy] first brought it up I was frightened whether we could get an hour’s worth of material in the time we had,” recalls Warren. “We started making recordings of ourselves and mailing them to each other. The boys remembered some songs I played when they were at home, and that was the core of it.”
“When we got together for the first time, the three of us, up at my place in the Finger Lakes and put these parts together, it sounded really good and our confidence went up considerably,” adds Warren.
Now, two years later, “Edna’s Kin” is a cohesive and sure footed unit. On Sunday, September 13, they come together again for a gig at Christ Episcopal Church. This time, however, there will be a fourth family member on stage. Making his debut appearance with Edna’s Kin will be 14-year-old Bo Dermont, Dan and Stacy’s son who plays the drums.
“They’d been playing for about a year,” says Bo. “I told my dad I wanted to play with them.”
“The first thing we did together as a group was go into a studio and record a few songs with Bo,” says Daniel. “It was a little less pressure than doing it in concert. So we tried a few songs to see how it sounded and it sounded good.”
While drums certainly aren’t a instrument typically found in a bluegrass band, Daniel has worked with Bo, an avid fan of rock and roll drumming, to finesse his skills so they fit in with the music.
“As my brother pointed out, folk, blues, country, bluegrass are all pretty close to certain styles of rock,” says Dan. “One thing that always separated them was the absence of drums. The most important thing to emphasize to Bo is keep it soft and keep it simple. In rock and roll you play almost as loud as you want. In this kind of music, it’s a more disciplined style.”
“There are some songs where he really drops off on the drums,” adds Dan. “You can also use the drum to imitate Irish drums.”
“I like rock and roll and also funk,” admits Bo. “Funk’s a harder style than rock and roll, it involves more technicality with how fast your hands have to go. Since I was a small kid I wanted to play drums, but didn’t look into them until later and realized how diverse they can be.”
For all four band members, “Edna’s Kin” has become a bonding experience. Young Bo is getting to know his uncle and grandfather in a new light through music, and now, when they’re all in the same place, there’s no doubt about what they do to entertain themselves.
“It’s definitely increased the amount of contact we have with each other and gives us a focus of what to do together,” says Warren.
“For my brother and my father, neither of whom were professional musicians, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get back to doing something that had been relegated to the closet in some way,” says Daniel. “It’s a great thing to be able to do this. I’ve learned they’re very good musicians, sensitive about playing together and have great creative musical ideas.”
“When people look at it and they know it’s three generations of one family,” says Daniel. “It’s a distinction — even beyond music.”
“Edna’s Kin” performs at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 13 at Christ Episcopal Church, Route 114 and East Union Street, Sag Harbor. Special guest will be Don Schmitz on harmonica. Tickets are $25 ($15 students), at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. Admission includes a wine reception. Proceeds benefit restoration of the church pipe organ.
Above: (left to right), Andrew Koontz, Warren Koontz, Bo Dermont and Daniel Koontz