Come for the Novelty, Stay for the Music!
Camille & Kennerly Kitt; Hodgenville, KY; Nov. 7, 2015
There are several acts out there right now who rework heavy metal, hard rock, punk, or tunes from other genres into set pieces for what are usually considered orchestral instruments (string quartets, for example, playing Nirvana songs).
The transposition of mostly electrically-bashed pop music fare into something played on an acoustic instrument (such as a cello or viola) somewhat changes the “feel” of the original, creating a unique musical experience in the interpretation. One of the best performances of its kind in recent years was a young man playing and singing OutKast’s huge 2003 hit, “Hey Ya!”, on acoustic guitar.
In the world of currently popular internet attractions are a pair of young women who are not only sisters, but identical twins as well. And, in addition to that, they are classically-trained harpists. But, more importantly, they take classic rockin’ tunes and arrange them for their instruments of choice, electric harps.
While Camille and Kennerly Kitt, better known as “The Harp Twins”, do have a massive internet following of appreciative fans that enjoy their very professional looking (and sounding) self-made music videos these young women are just as good performing live on a stage.
For those recently rescued from a desert island the Kitt sisters are Chicago native, mid twentysomething harpists. They are also proficient in piano, but it is the harp by which they make a living.
Their misspent youth revolved around a lot of community and extracurricular activities: sign language interpreters at a center for deaf and hard of hearing people, Tae Kwon Do (as students and teachers), riflery, competition-level swimming, and horse backing. They are also scholars, graduating “Summa Cum Laude” from Wheaton College.
They have also acted in movies with bit parts in a handful of big screen projects. Their most recent roles were in a Vince Vaughan fil, 2013’s Delivery Man.
And not only do they have brains and artistic talent, they have beauty as well as delightful personalities.
In short, they are well-rounded young women.
But it isn’t their super-model looks that make them what they are. It is their music and the way they present it. With a YouTube channel carrying around 70 videos they made themselves the public can see a creative force at work in this pair. The videos are lushly shot (in many), usually against outdoor settings. The Kitts dress for the occasion—Goth for the darker material, more moppish (for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”) or even in sci-fi style tunics for their “Star Wars” medley.
They obviously put a lot of thought into their videos and into the music they choose to interpret.
And they are popular. Their YouTube offerings have over 30 million views, their Facebook page is pushing 300,000 “likes”, and they are gaining ground with their third full-length CD, released this year, Harp Attack 2.
I got wind that The Harp Twins were playing in Hodgenville, Kentucky (birthplace of 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln), on November 7, 2015. Their presence in this small town had something to do with a local civic promoter having seen them live elsewhere and wanting them for a town event. After rallying a group of local businesses to sponsor the show the Kitts agreed to do the gig. And it was free!
Hodgenville is but a few hours’ travel time from the hole I call home so I made the commitment. My wife and I attended.
The venue was a converted Baptist church in the town (population a bit over 3,000 souls). It functioned as the community’s civic center and its city hall. Seating capacity—floor and mezzanine—is around 500, and The Harp Twins had a full house.
The stage was bare but for a couple of mics on stands. At stage rear hung a retractable projection screen.
An introduction of The Harp Twins was by the town’s mayor. The audience was advised that still photos were okay to take, but no video footage was to be shot.
That night, the twins wore black ruffly fairy-style dresses (see-through upper sleeves), wide metal-look belts, cross-hatched black hose, and stacked black ankle boots.
Kennerly took up a place on stage right; Camille was stage left. They introduced themselves. Their speaking voices carry the rapidity of the typical Chicagoan and with the “Chi-cah-go” accent. Throughout the night they told anecdotes, little jokes, talked with the audience, and goofed around with each other. While both women were fairly talkative, it appears as if Kennerly may be the more “chatterly” of the two.
They introduced their first number, and the show was on.
“I Need More Cowbell”
Their set list covered much of the material they have already recorded on their three available CDs (Harp Attack, Harp Fantasy, and Harp Attack 2).
One of the best pieces they’ve ever done is their cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 classic rock hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. And as they prepared to launch into it a bit of comedy followed.
For anyone not familiar with Christopher Walken’s classic Saturday Night Live skit from 2000, in brief it starred Walken as a record producer in the studio with BÖC (c. mid 1970s). SNL cast-member Will Ferrell featured as an overly exuberant cowbell player who is destroying the session. Walken’s character, though, loves the over-the-top cowbell, and at several points in the skit he cries out for “more cowbell”.
It is hilarious; the phrase “more cowbell” has passed into the American pop culture vernacular as a catchphrase.
Here’s a small sample of that skit as a reminder of how it went:
Now, when the Kitts prepared to start “Reaper”, Kennerly snatched up a cowbell and stick. As Camille plinked the familiar opening riff on her harp, Kennerly mercilessly beat the cowbell. It was (intentionally) overly loud and off time. After admonishment to cut it out (three times) Camille finally went over and took the cowbell and drumstick away from her sister. They then played the song straight.
At the end, Camille suddenly had a change of heart and told the audience, “You know what? I need more cowbell!” The pair enlisted the aid of a male audience member who clanked and clonked the cowbell for all it was worth as the Kitts reprised “Reaper”. It was fun and funny.
At the midway point the sisters took an intermission for about 10 minutes or so. The month before (October 2015) The Harp Twins had recorded a new video nearby at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. The night of the show they were to debut the video before uploading it to YouTube the following morning. So, during the intermission the audience was treated to a new piece (and it seemed clear they had not done this before, debuting a vid at a show).
It was Queensrÿche’s 1990 hit, “Silent Lucidity”.
And it was fantastic.
Another standout, and what I thought was their most powerfully rockin’ performance of the night, was their cover of “Nemo”, a 2004 number from the Finnish symphonic metal band, Nightwish. [And, no, it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the animated movie, Finding Nemo—“nemo” is Latin for “nobody”.]
This piece was amazing! It rocked, darkly, and the dual electric harps alternately rang high and clear or down and dirty as needed. This song has a great melody and variant parts that made it the most engaging thing the Kitts worked out on that night. And they flat out jackhammered it! [Their official video of the tune, while great, does not compare to how powerfully they put this song across live.]
Camille and Kennerly closed their show with Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark” as an encore. It, too, was slammin’!
There were two other stars on that stage with the sisters. I’m talking about their instruments. Their preferred model is the ebony Lyon & Healy Silhouette electric.
The acoustics in the Hodgenville Civic Center theater were pretty good. And I gotta tell ya, the resonance, sustain, and harmonics of these electric harps, when they’re both in sync, made it sound as if the twins had a piano underpinning their harp playing. It was truly a full, rich noise they made. [I’d like to hear the Silhouettes fed through a fuzz box and a reverb pedal and have the Kitts do Link Wray’s “Rumble”!]
During the course of the show, either Kennerly or Camille would talk about harps and their electrics in particular (what made them different from an acoustic harp, tuning needs, and other simple things) to help people understand the instrument better. With 33 strings it requires occasional tuning while onstage (I saw both of them making minor adjustments several times while they played and between numbers).
The Kitt women are petite to say the least. The Silhouettes are just a hair over 49 inches tall (around 1¼ m) and weighs 16 pounds (a bit over 7 kg). By way of comparison, a standard Fender Stratocaster that your average crotch rocketeer slings only weighs around 8 pounds (3.6 kg). Some people have been critical of their “not moving around” enough on stage: the heft of their gear is why.
Camille and Kennerly, though, handle their axes with grace and aplomb despite their bulk.
An extremely pleasant surprise was that the twins hung around for a “meet-n-greet” after performing for nearly two hours.
These women up close and personal are exactly as they represent themselves on stage: gracious, effervescent, personable, and downright adorable. The two are, as I wrote about in another article, as close to identical as twins get. Kennerly, on their web site, had put forth that the quickest way to tell them apart is that she has a freckle above her right upper lip. True—but you gotta get kinda close to see it (trust me, I did!).
They stood and met the queued fans as they passed through. They posed for pictures, talked and goofed around, and answered questions candidly.
An interesting thing both my wife and I noticed is that the young girls (tweens) were star struck by this pair of performers. And what’s not to look up to? They are poised, gorgeous, polite, elegant, and professional in their demeanor—the Kitts know they don’t have to be skeezers to succeed. They can definitely be looked upon as positive role models of truly talented young women relying on their skills and business savvy to promote a great product, The Harp Twins.
And speaking of promotion, obviously there was Kitt-related merchandise on hand for the public to buy. Their mother (!) was on hand, working the merch tables.
One, they had a limited selection of items from which to choose (a good thing as some times you can be overwhelmed by band-related “stuff” from vendors). Among the wares offered were CDs, logoed T-shirts and baseball caps, and laminated photographs. Thus, making selections was simple.
Number two (and very important): their merch was >gasp!< reasonably priced! No $50 concert T-shirts here (thanks so much, Fleetwood Mac, for helping my wife and I empty our bank accounts in February 2015!).
Harp Twins CDs were $12, T-shirts $20, and most of the laminated photos were around $7. I felt really good about giving them our cash (T-shirt for me, one for my wife, and two CDs—Harp Fantasy and Harp Attack 2).
The twins autographed both CDs.
And they even smiled prettily when allowing a photo to be taken with the likes of a rough customer like me.
If I had to lodge any complaints about the show it was the dearth of classical music and the lack of lighting effects.
Hear me out.
I’m not looking for a Pink Floydian laser-light extravaganza here, but that blank, white projection screen behind them at this venue could’ve been put to better use. They had a projection system set up already; that was how we saw the world premiere of “Silent Lucidity”. Throughout the show that same screen could have been used for lighting effects or to shuffle through pastoral scenes or dancing cows or whatever the Kitts would’ve liked as visuals to help set the mood for a particular song.
Also, maybe a few stage props would be nice? Vine-covered columns, or a bench and a fountain? Or a castle façade? A Spinal Tap Stonehenge pylon perhaps?
Their set list that night, unless I missed something (and I don’t think I did) drew heavily from their metal and hard rock catalog with a smattering of video game and TV theme songs. All were outstanding. But, still, it would’ve been nice to hear “Für Elise” or Rachmaninov’s variation 18 of “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” or even Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” tossed in there just to show off the twins’ classically-trained chops while still appealing to the audience’s “pop” sensibilities. [And, dependent upon the demographics of their audience at any given venue, they may vary this set list to include the “long hair” stuff, but I have no way of knowing that.]
I know their take on such things (props, light shows, even singing) is that it detracts from the music of the harps. I get that. But it is something for them to consider (stage sets, of course, means probably hiring at least one roadie—currently the Kitts set up and load out their own gear).
Three very minor bones and really nothing to sweat about.
From Cyber to “Real”
These young women gave an outstanding performance that night. Plainly put, they were fun and entertaining. And proficient. And charming. And a sheer delight. And any other accolades or superlatives you care to throw their way.
And they are making a very wise decision by playing some off-the-beaten-path venues. It is the same tactic Led Zeppelin used when they first toured the United States early in their career: book the places where no one knew who they were and slowly build a fan base while doing it, one that will sustain the act over the course of its career.
You wanna bet if these harp hotties played Hodgenville again (whether by invitation at a community event or a heavily-promoted show in front of a ticket-paying audience) that they wouldn’t have a full house? You’d lose that bet—anyone who saw them on November 7, if not fans already, came away liking them. If the ladies came back, not only would there be returning attendees, the word of mouth would most likely insure a bigger crowd.
It is their dynamic live musical act that will help them emerge from the nebulous cyber world of “internet sensations” into the real world of recording and performing musical artists. [And here are a few suggestions I have for them as future projects:
- Release a CD of original material (whether EP or full length doesn’t matter), proving they are no novelty act constrained to covers only
- Release a DVD of their biggest YouTube video hits
- Release a DVD of their best “live” performance clips with attendant audio-only CD (like Celtic Woman does with some of their packages).]
In the end, Camille Karie and Kennerly Caye Kitt gots the stuff, kids—catch ’em in concert if you can!