Kevin Riordan: At Collingswood Farmers' Market, a guitarist's soulful sound

Troubadour Dave Kelly, 43, at the Collingswood Farmers' Market, one of his South Jersey venues.
Troubadour Dave Kelly, 43, at the Collingswood Farmers' Market, one of his South Jersey venues.
Posted: August 18, 2011

The applause flutters and fades in the sunny din of the Collingswood Farmers' Market.

"Thank you," smiles a wry guy in shades who perches on a stool, wearing a classic Planet of the Apes T-shirt and wielding a guitar.

"I'll be at Treno's in Westmont tonight. And every Tuesday night, I'm at the Tap Room."

Meet troubadour Dave Kelly, who juggles parenting duties and regular musical gigs at South Jersey restaurants, bars, and other venues.

The 43-year-old Audubon resident makes it look as easy as his laid-back sound. There's plenty of hard work behind the music, however.

Kelly and his wife, Amy, are raising Alice, 3, and Charlie, 20 months. She's a speech pathologist and works days; he works mostly nights, bringing his guitar, mandolin, Dobro, or all three and mixing selections from his eclectic songbook.

Blues, rock, jazz, country, Celtic, patriotic, popular; George Harrison, Robert Johnson, Nino Rota (composer of the Godfather theme), and more. An amiable fellow who grew up in a musical family in Tulsa, Okla., Kelly can play pretty much anything from a repertoire he's been assembling for more than 25 years.

"It's been kind of a weird, crazy ride," Kelly says, taking a break in the welcome cool of a canopy for the market's performers. The talented roster of about 10 local acts, mostly solos and duos, rotates weekly.

"I was in a lot of bands back in Tulsa. I had a funk band that was pretty big, and I was with a country band," he recalls. "I did a lot of show work, too. I used to play with the circus when it came to town."

Opening for Willie Nelson - as Kelly and his band did before he moved here eight years ago - is more glamorous than, say, an acoustic solo performance at Cork.

But he's not fazed by the shift from spotlight to sunlight, from playing for a ticket-buying audience to an audience more interested in picking out the reddest Jersey tomatoes.

"I've gotten used to it," Kelly says as High-Speed Line cars shriek past.

The farmers' market soundtrack mixes trains, toddlers and dogs; restaurants and bars offer different challenges.

"People are assimilating the music on some level," Kelly says. "It sort of ebbs and flows. Sometimes they're really into it, and sometimes you could hear crickets chirping.

"I just love having a guitar in my hand. I'm literally one of those guys who, if I was in prison but had a guitar, I'd be OK."

Even amid the hubbub and distractions of the farmers' market, folks do pick up on his soulful sound. About 20 people occupy a cluster of tables and chairs in the shade of the Speed Line viaduct, and many look as if they're listening intently.

"He's very talented, and he plays a lot of the music I like, such as Robert Johnson," says Anthony Calabretta, 62, of Collingswood.

Calabretta, who's semiretired and volunteers regularly with the Camden City Garden Club, is such a fan that "I've gone to some of the bars where he plays to hear him."

At the Mexican Food Factory in Marlton, Kelly has been a Thursday evening fixture for about five years.

"He's kind of part of our family," says Taylor Sodaski, general manager.

"He knows all my customers, and he really knows how to play," Sodaski says, adding that while "you can hear cover tunes anywhere," a mandolin player is different.

Kelly prefers what he calls these "under-the-radar gigs" to being on the road.

"I love doing the music, but being a parent pretty much defines me at this point," he says. "I don't get to play as much as I'd like, but it's incredibly rewarding.

"My wife and I had some difficulty having kids, and we have two healthy children. I take a lot of joy in just hanging out with them."

A man tosses a dollar into Kelly's guitar case. On a good morning, he may take home as much as $100 from market customers.

Time for another song.

How about some Taj Mahal?


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845,, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at

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