Established as a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Farmington Road six years ago, Kenny’s Westside Pub has always hosted live music. But after relocating to downtown Peoria in 2016, a noticeable shift occurred. “We became a live music venue—not just a bar that has live music,” says owner Sean Kenny. “We’re hosting ticketed events with national acts, so people are traveling from the entire Midwest to see shows here.”
And Kenny has Jason Miles, his good friend and director of entertainment, to thank for this. Miles has been promoting music for 20 years—working with Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment for the past five, and booking talent for some of the area’s biggest music festivals, including Summer Camp and the Peoria Blues & Heritage Music Festival. “Kenny’s was built for music lovers and that’s the clientele we want to cater to,” Miles affirms.
Bringing Music To the Masses
In the early 2000s, the two worked together at Eamon Patrick’s Public House—which happened to be located where Kenny’s Westside is now. “I was a bartender and it was the best job I ever had,” Kenny recalls. “I loved the music and the whole vibe, and Jason was a young independent promoter… well, younger,” he smiles with a wink and a nod to Miles, who’s sitting beside him. The experience helped inspire the opening of his own establishment on Farmington Road, which they used to call a “mini-Eamon Patrick’s.”
“Jason and I have the same brain when it comes to music,” he continues. “When you come to Kenny’s, you’re going to see a lot of bluegrass, funk, jazz, Americana—all original music. You’ll never see a cover band here.” Having staked out their niche, they generally steer away from popular genres like classic rock, country and EDM. “That stuff isn’t in our wheelhouse, and it’s not what our customers expect.”
And Kenny’s has invested heavily to ensure a great experience. In 2018 they installed a new stage, along with professional production, lighting and sound, while multiple HD cameras project performances to big-screen TVs in the bar area. These investments have paid off not only for their customers, but the musicians, who tend to be pleasantly surprised and impressed by the setup—and appreciate the venue’s intimacy. “We have bands that play at massive theaters that seat 10,000 people, and they talk about how much they love this place and the staff,” Miles explains. “The energy in the room is unmatched because the crowd is really focused on the music, and they feel that.”
When you can sell out a concert on a Tuesday night in the dead of winter with temps hovering at minus-40 degrees, you know you’re doing something right. That was the scene on January 29, 2019, when the Marcus King Band took the stage. “The whole place was packed—it was standing room only,” Kenny recalls incredulously. “And then that Friday, the band was on the Stephen Colbert show.”
Even Kenny himself is surprised by some of the larger acts Miles can bring in—like the progressive bluegrass act Yonder Mountain String Band, who performed at Kenny’s in August. “That’s a bucket-list show for this place, and one that I never thought we would actually get,” he says. “I’ve been going to see them at theaters and venues around the Midwest since I was 15, so for me that was huge.”
A Midwest Destination
Miles’ longstanding relationships with bands and agents is a major asset, and because he’s booking talent for major festivals, there’s always some crossover. Nearly four dozen bands that have played at Summer Camp, for example, have also played at Kenny’s over the last three years. Not surprisingly, Kenny’s has a big presence at Summer Camp, occupying a large stage at the entrance and hosting a pre-party concert on the Wednesday before festival weekend. It’s the same with the Blues & Heritage Festival—it all feeds each other and has helped establish downtown Peoria as a bonafide destination for touring bands.
“Kenny’s has a great reputation with the bands that have played here, and they spread the word,” Miles explains. “I now have people seeking us out. We’re in such a great location between Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and the Quad Cities.” With his contacts at various clubs around the region, he’s often able to offer bands multiple Midwestern stops—making Peoria an even more attractive option.
And given its proximity to the Civic Center, any live music happening in Peoria is great for business, Kenny adds. “People come in and eat before their event, and then come back to see more live music after the show,” he notes. “It’s all good.”
Of course, many who walk through the door are regulars, grabbing a bite to eat and chatting with staff. Many of Kenny’s employees have been with him since the beginning, so they’re like family. “You’re never going to find anybody here with a bad attitude,” Miles notes. “They legitimately want to be here… and they’re all music lovers themselves.”
As he continually strives to improve the venue, Kenny is looking to expand the music experience beyond their physical location through live streaming. “I feel like that’s the future, and we’re on the cutting edge,” he explains. Bringing live music to the masses is all he ever wanted to do, and he’s fulfilling his destiny. Thanks to Sean Kenny, Jason Miles, their loyal staff and faithful patrons, Peoria’s downtown music scene is alive and kicking. PM