Nominated for no less than FOUR Washington Area Music Awards at the 2016 30th Annual WAMMIES – for Best Roots-Rock Vocalist, Best Roots-Rock Instrumentalist, Best Roots-Rock Group (Ken Wenzel & Cross Kentucky) and Best Roots-Rock Record (…Beneath Potomac Skies) – singer/songwriter/saxophonist Ken Francis Wenzel has come into his own as one of the DC/MD/VA region’s most recognizable, unique performers & songwriters.
A saxophonist, a guitarist, a singer/songwriter, and a bandleader, Ken has been described as a purveyor of restless midwestern sentimentality, who searches in his songs for the kinds of truth that’s often best found within oneself. Whether performing as a solo acoustic singer-songwriter or with his full band Cross Kentucky, Ken stays busy, playing 200+ shows a year across the DC, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia region, the eastern seaboard, the midwest, and south.
With the 2014 release of “…Beneath Potomac Skies” – a 12-song, full-band collection of moments and memories culled from time spent in Washington DC, and many other locales – Ken Francis Wenzel introduced his own roots-rock, country jazz-tinged take on love, learning, and life in contemporary America. Featuring several guest appearances from some of the DC area’s finest musicians, “…Beneath Potomac Skies” is the long-awaited follow-up to Ken’s 2010 debut acoustic EP, “…This is Cross Kentucky”. With a raw voice, lyrical saxophone, and honest, straightforward songwriting, both records showcase the perspective and passions of a well traveled, yet still searching singer/songwriter – one with a somewhat different story and background than most.
Born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, Ken studied classical saxophone at the University of Illinois before graduating from UNLV in Las Vegas, NV with a degree in jazz studies. He spent the next decade playing all over the world: in Las Vegas casinos; on cruise ships in Northern Europe, Africa, and Asia; at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan; on national tours of Broadway musicals; at festivals including the 2004 Montreux Jazz Festival and 2010 Chicago Blues Festival; and of course, in countless clubs and small venues. He continually worked as an in-demand freelancer, playing saxophone with artists both locally and nationally – including, among many others, Frankie Avalon, Ben Vereen, Bobby Parker, Noel Gallagher & High Flying Birds, and Carlos Santana.
In 2007, tiring of the endless grind of freelancing and the narrow branding brought on by being considered “just” a saxophonist, Ken decided to buy himself an acoustic guitar. What followed, during time spent practicing and singing at home and at local open mics, was a transformation both personal and artistic – reinventing his own sense of musicianship, and in the process, reinventing himself.