Few people can honestly recall the first time they saw him. It might have been circa 1995, on one of those MJQ nights when the club was still in the basement of the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Maybe it was as far back as the late '80s, when legendary DJ Bobby Bridges was in the booth at Weekends. It could have been when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played the Echo Lounge in 2003, or perhaps it was two years later across the Atlantic, when the Foo Fighters performed at Leeds.
Any of those occasions, and countless others, could have been your first introduction to Kenny Crucial. But it's more likely that your memory goes back only so far, and Kenny goes back further.
No, people can't really say when they first saw him. They can only definitively recall when they became aware of his presence. Because he's been there all along, standing front-row at nearly every worthwhile indie-rock show to pass through Atlanta – and many of those across the country and overseas – for two decades.
Alex Weiss, whose company, OK Productions, books a significant number of the indie-rock bands that come to town, says he first noticed Kenny when his name kept popping up on the will-call list at the now defunct Echo Lounge. "Then I would see him at almost every show I went to," Weiss says. "I guess it's not really the place to be unless you see him in the audience."
"When I first moved here, every concert I went to he was in the front row," recalls Jonathan Whiteside, who plays keyboards and guitar for the band Spectralux.
Alex Adan, a local photographer who shoots a lot of indie shows, says he started noticing Kenny five years ago when Adan was a student at Georgia State University. "He kind of sticks out," Adan says. "When I went to concerts with friends, we'd see him, and they'd be like, 'Hey, there's that guy again.'"
Almost from the beginning, his presence was portentous. When two major indie-rock bands play the same night, you realize you've picked the right one when you spot Kenny in the crowd. If you're in a local band, you know you don't suck once he starts coming to your shows. When he starts to pump his fist in the air, you might have a shot at making it.
And so, somehow, Kenny Crucial has become Atlanta's benchmark for taste, a barometer for the highest quality DJs, the smartest indie, the best parties, the grittiest rock 'n' roll. If you go out at all, you've probably seen him: a ruddy-faced giant, imposing but mild-mannered (aside from the moment when the music gets the better of him, and he starts to dance like a maniac), friendly to all, but almost always traveling solo.
The weird thing is, lots of people go to lots of shows. But few stand out like Kenny Crucial does. And none has achieved his cult-like status. Kenny Crucial is an Atlanta icon. The question is: Why?
Despite being one of the most recognized faces in local nightlife, few people know anything of substance about Kenny Crucial: where he lives, what his real name is, where he came from, what he does to make a living, how he became so ... crucial. Nor do they have a clue what his intent might be in being everywhere all the time.
"As much as I see the guy, I don't really know much about him," says Marc Crifasi, ex-music director for WRAS-FM (88.5) and a former manager at Criminal Records. "The guy is really an enigma. But I guess that is the point."
Everybody knows Kenny Crucial. And nobody knows Kenny Crucial.
If you were describing him for the first time, you'd almost certainly start with his height. Kenny Crucial is tall. And because he's typically in the front row when you first notice him, he seems even taller.
Then there's his hair, which fluctuates from close-cropped (at the time of this story) to a frizzy, slightly thinning and ink-black halo. That's usually the second thing you notice: that wild mop lit up by the stage lights, perched atop a hulking frame.
Next, there's his uniform. With a few exceptions, Kenny will be found in a solid-colored T-shirt (typically gray or navy), blue jeans, black shoes and, when it's really chilly, a dark zip-up jacket.
Finally, there's Kenny's remarkable face. It's filled with twists and turns, the surface made more interesting by the winding contours, the imperfections more flawed in contrast to his shockingly blue eyes. He's obviously a good bit older than the majority of people who hang out in the clubs he frequents. And he's clearly not interested in following their fashion trends.
Basically, Kenny does not scream cool. And yet, to be on speaking terms with him is to have risen a notch in the social hierarchy of the city's indie scenesters. As one woman posted on a MySpace.com blog: "I guess I must need to start hanging out with Kenny Crucial more. Maybe I'll earn some more 'cool points.'"
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