With an exceptional charm, panache and musical skill all their own, Victor & Penny have crafted a career out of their delightful live performances. The duo was conceived in 2011 and fully realized in 2012, when Jeff Freling quit his job with the Blue Man Group in Chicago and relocated to KC with actress/performer Erin McGrane, who was then a member of the cabaret troupe Alacartoona. Since then, the two have taken their self-described “antique pop” on the road, logging over 125,000 miles through 34 states and playing 205 shows in a single year.
This mileage has placed Victor & Penny in various concert halls, coffeehouses, festivals, community centers, museums, libraries, even a former Civil War base on an uninhabited island. “We have lots of stories from the road,” remarks McGrane. “Some good and some laughably terrible.” Because constant touring can impede the creative process, the two are exploring more inventive ways to inspire their vision.
Freling’s incendiary Django Reinhardt-esque guitar licks and McGrane’s complementary ukulele riffs coupled with a classic appearance and affable chemistry allows them a wide audience, but their ability to think outside the box provides them with more avenues of artistic expression. Their schedule this week alone reflects this scope: on Tuesday morning they performed with their Loose Change Orchestra (Rick Willoughby on bass and James Isaac on reeds) prior to Mayor Sly James’ State of the City address; the next day, Freling and McGrane begun a 3-day songwriting lab in the lobby of Missouri Bank. This all leads up to Friday evening, where they will be playing to a nearly sold-out crowd at The Buffalo Room.
Even Mayor James took note of their ingenuity in his speech (via Twitter @KCMO): “Victor and Penny’s approach exemplifies the vibrant KC arts community and the entrepreneurial spirit powering our local economy.”
With Missouri Bank’s Artist in Residence program, the duo hopes to create new material for their first album of mostly original work (slated for early 2016) and connect with fans on a higher level by including them in the creative process. “We hope to deepen our relationship with our fans in a more meaningful way that invites their ideas, thoughts and reactions for our artistic inspiration and possible inclusion in the new work,” says McGrane. “If our goal as artists is to connect with our audience, then finding new ways to make our art accessible is essential for growth.”
By seeking new channels of accessibility and creativity, Victor & Penny grow into a more viable artistic unit and business model. “We want to be the very best artists and people we can be,” McGrane says. “We don’t want to stop or slow down; we just want to do things better and with more joy and less stress.”
You can catch Victor & Penny at the Missouri Bank Crossroads bank lobby from 10-5 pm today until Friday and, if you want, participate in their songwriting lab. Submit short phrases in person or via Twitter (@VictorandPenny) with the hashtag #VPSongLab. On Friday evening, they will perform at The Buffalo Room with musician and humorist Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. As editor of The Deli Magazine-Kansas City and social media coordinator for Midwest Music Foundation and Folk Alliance International, she advocates and helps spotlight music in the area. She is also a freelance writer for The Kansas City Star and plays in area bands The Philistines, Dolls on Fire and Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds.