Mike Adams, a Kearney-based singer-songwriter, defined roots music as songs that transcend time. Mike performed Roots music, Americana music, folk, blues and jazz. Mike landed in Kearney in 2005, after a brief earlier residence in the 1970s. Immediately he began impacting local musicians and listeners alike not only with his music but also his lively performances. He encouraged local singer-songwriters and musicians in Kearney to flourish, asking them “to play without a net.” He was responsible for bringing music to listeners on each Wednesday evening at Cunningham’s on the Bricks. Along with his friend Terry Sinnard, bass player, they played there every week for about five years, often bringing in other local musicians to share their talents and love for music.
Mike was born in Colorado and grew up in several states – New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho. He considered New Mexico his home. He was a Vietnam Vet and harbored the pain of that war every day of his life. He realized the contradictions in the sorrow of its violence and comradery of soldiers – those emotional experiences are in his own songs.
All his musical connections are found in the history of American music, not only traditional tunes but also contemporary songs. Adams was a wealth of those historical contexts. He brought his understanding of history and folk music tradition to his role as Music Director of Prayers for the People – Carl Sandburg’s Poetry and Songs and his programs on Woody Guthrie. In both programs he selected the songs connected with Sandburg’s and Guthrie’s histories, politics, geography and he collaborated with local musicians at each venue.
Mike was passionate about music, whether he was reworking a Bob Dylan song or performing one of his own songs. He was instrumental in creating a collaborative bond among musicians in Kearney, that continues to this day. Delivering lyrics and selling the meaning of the song was second nature to Mike. Not everyone of course understood what he was doing, but musicians did. Offering those roots-based songs to new listeners was always a goal. Performing an eclectic array of timeless songs that gave the audience a good listen, and a peek into American music history – songs written by Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins, Hank Williams, Harry Nilson, John Lennon, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and many others.
In addition to his performance base, Mike was a noted songwriter. He recorded and produced several albums during his time in Kearney, but was always reluctant to play his songs live. He felt there were so many great songs already written that people needed to hear. But a song like Set Sail, written to his wife Kate Benzel, showed just how talented he was in painting a picture of of love between the two of them. He honored his dad in – Some Change; represented a Vet with – Lonely Chair; and relived his life in Abiquiu, New Mexico with Last Days in in Abiquiu. He had a knack of seeing and hearing the details in life, especially his life-changing moments, and recreated those moments in music that could reach everyone.
Mike passed way unexpectedly in 2015 but left a mark on all musicians in the area. His impact spurned local musicians’ creation of the M.I.K.E. Foundation, a non-profit organization found at Kearney Area Community Foundation dedicated to helping local musicians and students cover unexpected expenses. The group honors Mike every January with a fundraising event that features local musicians and bands.
Adams was Music Director and performed in all the performances of Prayers for the People: Carl Sandburg’s Poetry and Songs.
Written by Terry Sinnard
* Photo by Kerri Garrison
* "Set Sail" written by Mike Adams on Sky Above album (2006), performed by Mike Adams, Steve Wilcox, Brian McClure, Bill Franceour
* Produced by Kate Benzel, Face at My Door Music
* Recorded at Derryberry Audio by Mark Derryberry
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