MOUNDRIDGE, Kan. — An old, beat-up piano sat in the garage of her Emporia home. It used to be a player piano, but the mechanism had been removed so it could be played manually. It was like a magnet for 3-year-old Kelley Hunt.
“I could not keep my hands off it,” she said.
This started Hunt down her path to being a musician for the last several decades. The Lawrence-based singer and songwriter performs around the world, and she is bringing her Kelley Hunt Acoustic Trio to Moundridge on Sept. 4.
The concert, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 7:30 p.m. on the Moundridge High School football field.
Hunt performs a combination of roots-style rhythm and blues with influences from gospel music. Her music doesn’t live in one genre.
“I’d say my music is mostly uplifting, and I like to tell a story,” she said.
Her goal is to brighten the day for anyone that comes to her concert, and that’s what she aims to do in Moundridge where she’ll be singing and playing piano and guitar along with bassist James Albright and vocalist Allena Ross.
“Hopefully, they’ll leave feeling better than when they came,” she said. “If people have heard me over the years, there’s going to be some things that they’re going to be familiar with. We’re also going to be doing some of the new stuff I’m getting ready to record. So it’s going to be a pretty energetic, jumping little trio.”
Hunt started performing professionally in her 20s and started writing and recording her own music in her 30s.
She has performed in all 48 contiguous states, most of Canada and even in Italy and Switzerland.
Still, Kansas is home.
“This is where I’m grounded. This is where my family is,” she said. “All throughout my entire recording career, the people in Kansas have been so extremely supportive and extremely welcoming. I come home for a reason.”
It was in her childhood home where her family exposed her to a variety of musical influences. Her parents and older siblings listened to Kansas City jazz and blues, along with New Orleans music and artists like Ray Charles.
She was hooked.
“The first album I ever bought for myself as a fourth-grader was James Brown’s ‘Prisoner of Love,’” she said. “I was also listening to everything that was on the radio — Motown and rock and roll and Jimi Hendrix and all that stuff.”
Though her love for certain genres came from what she listened to, Hunt’s ability and desire to perform came from within, starting with that old piano in the garage.
“I can honestly say I don’t remember a time — since I was having memories as a very, very young child — when I didn’t feel like a musician,” she said. “I couldn’t put it into words when I was young, but I also couldn’t keep my hands off the piano. I also sang every day. I also made little songs when I was a little kid. I feel like it was somehow an innate thing for me. I was born with it. I was drawn to it. And I was passionate about it.”
Hunt started out playing the piano by ear before taking lessons and learning to read music. Then, when she was about 9 or 10 years old, she picked up the guitar.
“I started playing my sister’s acoustic guitar, much to her chagrin,” she said. “I would only do it when she was gone, and I just taught myself. I’m not like a solo guitar player or anything. I just accompany myself. I also taught myself how to play bass.”
As she grew older, she took part in the high school choir, musicals and music competitions. She even joined a band.
Eventually, Hunt went to the University of Kansas to study music composition with a minor in voice. That’s when she switched from performing other people’s music to playing her own.
Though she loves what she does, it hasn’t always been easy.
“I’ve had to be open and willing to not only work really hard but have a pretty thick skin about things that came my way. It’s a subjective business to be in, and people either enjoy what you do or they don’t,” she said. “It’s not an easy business to be in, but it’s a joyful experience as far as the music and the growth in the music is concerned.”
Hunt’s decades-long career has provided her with many opportunities.
After performing in New York with John Mayer during a benefit concert, she was interviewed on CNN.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said.
She’s also played with mentors and idols such as Mavis Staples, Bonnie Raitt, and Johnnie Johnson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and worked with Chuck Berry.
Hunt’s song, “If I Don’t Dance” from her debut album, was used in the 1998 Kris Kristofferson and Vanessa Williams film “Dance with Me.”
Then, in 2006, she was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.
“I felt very honored and surprised,” she said. “It was a really nice validation of all the work I had done up to that point. You don’t ever do what you do, that you love, for any kind of recognition. And then when that popped in, I was surprised, honestly. And grateful.”
Performing is part of who Hunt is, and it helps her deal with difficult times in her life.
“It’s just a bit of a break from the hard stuff, from the hard day, from the hard news, from the whatever,” she said. “It’s a moment or an hour or whatever that performance time is to step away from that.”
The focus is on the audience.
“They’re there to have fun. They’re there to listen. They’re there to be inspired,” Hunt said. “They just flood me with energy and support, and it’s uplifting.”
Even when the COVID-19 pandemic halted concerts, Hunt continued to write music and perform, using Facebook Live to reach her fans.
“Music is who I am, no matter what’s happening in the rest of the world,” she said.
For Hunt’s Moundridge performance, the gates will open at 6:45 p.m. Parking is available at Moundridge High School, 526 East Cole, Moundridge.
Prior to the concert, she will be hosting a songwriting workshop. It is free, but individuals must register to participate. The registration form can be found at www.moundridgearts.org. Space is limited, and masks will be required.
In the event of inclement weather, the concert will be moved into the high school gymnasium. That decision will be made by the evening of Sept. 3. Updates will be posted on the Moundridge Arts Council website and Facebook Page.
Hunt said she is looking forward to being in Moundridge and performing for those who attend.
“It’s going to be really fun,” she said. “I think they’re in for a treat.”
The free performance and songwriting workshop are made possible by Moundridge businesses and individuals as well as by a grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.
For more information about Hunt, visit www.kelleyhunt.com or find her on iTunes, Amazon Music and YouTube.
The Moundridge Arts Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to assist area residents of all ages in understanding and appreciating the arts, to provide public art for citizens to enjoy through performing arts, visual arts, and literature, and to offer opportunities for continued learning and involvement through workshops, lectures, programs, concerts, exhibitions, and other activities.