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Local man finds 'greatest passion' in singing blues

BY CARLY HURWITZ | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Kevin Burt moved to the Iowa City area and quickly held five jobs simultaneously. The Waterloo native moved after being cut from a Canadian football team. But he didn't have to wait long for a new passion to unfold.

"Music found me here," Burt said.

Burt persevered through 20-hour days. He worked as a counselor and overnight staffer at a local community center, a job coach at Access to Independence, dishwasher at the House of Lords restaurant in the Best Western of Coralville, and bouncer at New Sensations, which is now the Union Bar.

"I had the philosophy if I was awake, I wanted someone to pay me for it," Burt said. "Opportunity is key and I learned along time ago opportunity is never lost, it just goes to someone else."

This personal philosophy allowed Burt to foster his true passion: singing the rich, soulful sounds of blues. It's a passion he has pursued for the past 20 years.

One day, Burt was in his office writing reports at Access to Independence, when his boss heard him singing along to a Luther Vandross track.

"She said, 'Boy, you can sing,' and told me her son was putting together a blues band and invited me over for dinner," Burt said. "There was really no dinner to be had, but the band was playing downstairs."

Burt auditioned and became the frontman of the blues group, Kevin BF Burt and the Instigators.

"Making the connection with audience as a front man is what needs to be done, [not just] singing pretty," the 43-year-old said. "If I can make you laugh, you will tell that story."

Burt began leaving his other jobs and finally decided to make music his full-time career.

Nicole Burt, his wife, said music is a very important part of their family. Hearing how her husband's music affects others has been inspiring, she said.

"When you have a cancer patient saying, 'This [music] is what got me through treatment' and a father asking you to play as he walks his daughter down the aisle, [you see] the impact he makes on people's lives," she said.

The recognizable blues singer is known for playing guitar, harmonica, and singing outside of M.C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St., for the past 15 years.

Mark Ginsberg, the owner of MC Ginsberg, started the Friday Concert Series 25 years ago because he wanted to bring live music back to downtown Iowa City.

"There was a lack of life on the streets when I returned from Chicago," Ginsberg said. "No outdoor cafes, vending carts, nothing on the streets. It was a little quiet for me."

Ginsberg said that Burt's music and other acts in the series were steppingstones for a lot of different programs that his company started, including a Gallery Walk in 1988 and Jazz Fest in 1991.

"A lot of [artistic] things have sprung out of the community as direct responses to these events," Ginsberg said.

Burt said the spot in front of MC Ginsberg is one of his favorites because he can play for a varied audience. If he can captivate people there long enough to make them late for what they were doing, then Burt said he's doing his job.

"Music puts me in my happy place," he said. "I've been blessed to find what I am supposed to do. I do what I love."


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