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Across the Universe

A manufactured celebrity tool? Not the Bacon Brothers

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CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival
The Bacon Brothers.

Let’s set aside, at least for the purposes of this music story, that Kevin Bacon is an actor. With an extensive movie career, including “Footloose,” and the big-worm epic “Tremors.” Television, with appearances on “City on a Hill” and “Will & Grace.” Animation: He was the voice of the dog in “Balto.”

So we’ve got that out of the way.

When The Bacon Brothers hit the stage at 9 p.m. Friday at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, it’s purely a songwriter-driven evening. The Bacon Brothers take this gig seriously. The band has released 11 albums since 1997. It has been at it for a while, since the Bacons were kids growing up in Philadelphia.

“I was backing Michael up when I was pretty young, maybe 12 or 13, as a percussionist,” Kevin says. “But we weren’t doing – I wasn’t playing the guitar then – we weren’t doing it in the current form, when we put it together in the ’90s.”

In fact, the cover of the first Bacon Brothers album, “Forosoco,” is a photo of the two shaggy-haired brothers from their early days: Michael with a guitar, Kevin behind a conga drum. It’s a long-term relationship.

“When you’re siblings, you have a level of trust,” Kevin says. “A lot of the stuff that might cause friction, it’s just not there.”

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It’s pointed out to Kevin that the famously feuding Liam and Noel Gallagher of the rock band Oasis might disagree: The brotherly love the Bacons feel is not always how it goes. “Mostly it doesn’t, it seems,” he concedes. “I don’t know why.”

Despite that shared interest in music, Michael and Kevin didn’t evolve into the Bacon Brothers until late. Michael, who is nine years older than his brother, was living in Nashville for a while, where he met Don Potter, who along with Bat McGrath was at the core of Rochester’s music scene in the late 1960s and ’70s. They put together a band, and even played Rochester a few times, before Michael moved on to teaching music and doing session work in New York City.

“Don Potter, he was an enormous influence on me,” Michael says. “Pound for pound, as a singer and guitar player, nobody plays guitar and sings like him.”

Kevin took a different creative road.

“We had been writing songs together for quite a few years, not with the idea that we would have a Bacon Brothers Band. Michael had really stopped the whole singer-songwriter piece of his life, but was working still in music in different kinds of ways, composing. I was offered an acting career. But when we would write, we were trying to write songs that we thought somebody else might record, or songs that might end up in a movie.

“And then, just for one show, we put this little band together, with two guys backing us up. And then we enjoyed it, we started to become what would become a band, basically.

It was 1994. The Bacon Brothers, as we know them today, had finally arrived. Kevin was in his mid-30s. Michael was 45.

“We didn’t really have any goals, exactly,” Michael says. “I think we both felt if the songs keep coming, and the band’s getting better, and the audiences are coming out, we’ll continue.”

“Forosoco” is a clue to where they were going musically. That’s the first two letters of the kind of music The Bacon Brothers played: folk, rock, soul and country.

Over the years, they had already developed the mechanism that would create this music. Michael points out that there are two types of songwriting. Tin Pan Alley, where you sit down at 9 a.m., start crafting a tune, and finish by happy hour. And, “Confessional,” he says, “where you kind of live your life and wait for the muse to strike you, and you come up with some kind of a song that represents something that happened to you, good or bad, and hopefully gets translated into something universal.”

He and Kevin, who both write the band’s songs, are of the second variety.

“Sometimes you get your heart broken,” Kevin says, “and then you write the song about it. Sometimes you can write a song about something and not be experiencing it at the time. But when it comes time to sing it, or it comes time to perform it, or be in the studio to make it work, or even finish the song, you can draw on it.

“Everyone’s had their heart broken, at some point, I would hope so, in life,” he says. “And even when you can’t draw on it when you’re writing it, you can definitely draw on it when you’re performing it.”

Kevin and his wife, the actor Kyra Sedgwick, have been active on issues such as women’s reproductive rights. But The Bacon Brothers do not delve into social issues.

“Generally, the songs tend to express stuff that’s happening in our lives personally, rather than more of a global, political venue,” Michael says.

The band’s latest release, a single called “In Memory (Of When I Cared),” is a sad tale of a broken relationship. The Bacons created it with Desmond Child, a songwriting industry heavyweight who also wrote Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Aerosmith’s “Crazy” and Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

As songwriters, do the Bacons ever reveal too much about their personal lives?

“I’ll be a little bit vague,” Michael says, “but I’ve always wondered about novelists, and they’re writing this novel, and the people around them that are close and love them all of a sudden start to see themselves being represented in the work. And that must be a really difficult thing. But I think, in terms of songwriting, even though the inspiration might come from something in your personal life, it really is not how the song ended up. If it’s a good song, it makes its own way into places you never thought it would be. So I see a disconnect between that, the personal life, and the songs.”

“I’ve done countless interviews as an actor over the years,” Kevin says. “But I’ve always said, you know, if you really want to see something about me, really on a deeply personal level, read the lyrics. That’s going to be more revealing than an anecdotal story about my favorite color.”

In revealing themselves through song all of these years, Kevin says they knew “there’s gonna be a moment when you want to share these songs with people, for better or for worse.”

Yet it was always organic. The Bacon Brothers are not a manufactured celebrity tool.

“Never was there a moment where we sat down and said, ‘You know what, let’s have the kid from Footloose sing,’” Kevin says. “‘And let’s see if there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.’”