John Lamb, Published February 14 2012
Bismarck folk singer Kris Kitko has plans for big changes
If you go
What: Kris Kitko
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Spirit Room, 111 Broadway, Fargo
Info: $8, all-ages show. (701) 237-0230
What: Celebration of Women and Their Music
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
Info: $10 for students, $15 general admission. (800) 514-3849
FARGO – Fans of folk singer Kris Kitko have two chances to see the self-described “troubadour for troubled times” this weekend.
The singer/guitarist plays the Spirit Room on Friday night, a preview of her smaller set at Saturday night’s annual Celebration of Women and Their Music at the Fargo Theatre. The latter also features music by area artists Chastity Brown, Mary Cutrufello, Deb Jenkins, Linda Coates, Rosie Sauvageau, Fancy That, Nita Velo, Jesse Veeder and more.
Fans of Kitko’s stylized, funny folk songs will want to catch her concert, because the Kris Kitko they know will be going away for a while.
The Bismarck singer’s next disc, due later this year, is a darker detour from her chipper tunes.
Kitko will be going through a sort of metamorphosis; changing her stage name to Lucy Vandal, altering her look, and last, but not least, her sound.
“It will be more raw,” she promises. “It will be a parallel life, but I’m not giving up anything either.”
The shift is a result of a bad romantic breakup. While she knows exes inspire “heart-wrenching songs,” like Adele’s Grammy-winning album “21,” Kitko’s project was more visceral.
“I just sat down and poured out all these songs. This is just an angry breakup album. It was more therapeutic than anything else,” she says of the disc, tentatively called, “What’s (messed) Up Must Come Down.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something harder. The folksy, funny stuff was really only supposed to be just a couple of songs. The songs about underwear or virginity or becoming (her) mom were liked so much more.”
The 45-year-old woman is hoping these new songs expand her listening base and help get her shows at places other than Celebration of Women, where she makes her fourth appearance.
“I think people have seen me do these ‘Ode to My Bra,’ and you don’t really think of a good venue or someone like that, because it’s sort of pigeonholed as a comedy thing,” she says. “I’m hoping this shows I can do some other things too.”
But it’s songs like “Ode to My Bra” and “Underwear” that make her a big hit with the Celebration crowd.
When Kitko played the one-night festival a few years ago, she brought in 50 bras and handed them out audience members before the show. At the end of her set, during “Ode,” she gave the signal and the 50 women started waving the distributed bras, creating quite a buzz in the crowd.
At last year’s show, she invited her parents onstage for the “Underwear” number.
“There’s no one like Kris at the show,” says Celebration founder and organizer, Deb Jenkins.
Jenkins, herself a singer, says she’ll be grooving to Kitko’s pop tunes, then suddenly catch the lyrics and think, “Oh, my god, did she just say that?”
Kitko openly addresses femininity, women’s bodies, body issues and politics – sometimes all in the same song. Jenkins likes that Kitko’s songs may seem light and poppy, but that they include a message. The loudest messages have come across in her most overtly political ditties.
In 2010, after Rep. Dave Weiler, R-Bismarck, was charged with assaulting his wife for the second time in less than a year,Kitko wrote “You Can Beat Your Wife.” The song features the chorus, “You can beat your wife just once not twice/ So you better get it right the first time.” The reference is to Republican lawmakers who didn’t call for Weiler’s resignation after the first incident, to which he pled guilty. Charges from the second incident were later dropped and Weiler announced he would not seek re-election.
Kitko never heard back from Weiler, who represents District 30, where Kitko lives.
“I didn’t plan to, I didn’t want to. It’s not why I did that,” she says.
She has heard back from those in the oil fields after expressing her concerns about the environmental impact of the energy boom in Western North Dakota in songs like “Frack That Oil” and “Frack Pit Love Song.”
“It’s so serious because people are getting sick and animals are dying. It’s hard for me to focus on other things now,” Kitko says, adding that she’s “obsessed” with the issue.
No matter if the subject is about spousal abuse, the oil boom or her underoos, the one common thread is the child-like tone of the tunes. Not juvenile, mind you – child-like.
Kitko has a degree in elementary education and runs a music instruction studio mainly for kids called Kittyko, the name she uses when she performs for younger crowds. She also has a relatively new children’s album out called “North Dakota Songs for Kids.”
As Kris Kitko the adult musician, she uses kids’ music as the soundtrack to counteract the weightiness of the subject matter, which she underlines with a light touch.
“It’s heavy topics done with humor, to a certain degree. So I try to balance it a bit that way,” she says.
This weekend Kitko will let the balance shift more to the feminine side at the Celebration events. There she’ll be selling her disc “I Will Not Behave,” a collection of female-centric songs about women’s hygiene and the woman cave – as opposed to the man cave.
“I try and make this a complete and total celebration of woman, whatever that means – gay, straight, married, single, non-celibate, I don’t care,” Kitko says. “I hope to have a little something for anyone who is a woman, loves a woman, or knows a woman. I plan to have a lot of fun with it. I want people to get a good belly laugh out of these songs. Poke a little fun at me, ourselves and our culture and try to have a good time with it.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533