The room was almost empty after Van Kirk’s show at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. A man with shirt-sleeves rolled up in the August heat walked over to him and stood hesitantly for a moment before thrusting out his hand. “I used to sing for my wife in the evenings, but she has dementia now and doesn’t remember me. That song about the lost lovers and the dance hall…” he stopped for a moment before his Scottish reserve reasserted itself. “That’s it exactly.”
Kray Van Kirk has played festival stages in front of thousands and coffee shop corners for only a handful of listeners, but feels most at home playing house concerts and small stages where he can listen to his audiences and hear their stories. He walked away from his scientific career, in which he holds a PhD, to travel farther and listen more. His connection with those who come to spend an evening with his exceptional fingerstyle guitar and storied lyrics led the Borderline Folk Club in New York to write that Van Kirk was “what every singer-songwriter should aspire to.”
If you ask someone about Kray Van Kirk’s music, comparisons to John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Richard Thompson, or Dougie MacLean will come up. If you ask him to describe what he does, he is likely to jump on top of a table in a crowded coffee shop and shout ‘The wind is changing! Look sharp! Get out the map – it’s time to go! We ride across a thousand pages and sail beyond the sunset, to seek, to find, to strive, and not to yield!’ Some won’t understand it, and that’s perfectly fine. But those who do will wipe the tears from their eyes, smile knowingly, and drain their cups, toasting their own wild lands and wilder passions.