Nominated CV Weekly’s Best Duo, Best Male Vocalist
By Lisa Morgan
Strolling through downtown La Quinta on a perfect spring night is an enchanting experience any day of the week. But should you find yourself doing so on a Sunday evening between 7 and 10 pm, you will have done yourself a great injustice if you do not stop into The Wine Bar. The beckoning sounds of Michael Keeth’s and Martin Barrera’s music streaming from the classy yet charmingly delicious and welcoming venue will envelope you and make it a night to remember. I stopped in for just a few minutes myself this past Sunday, and found that I could not pull myself away.
Keeth’s voice is a force of nature in itself. Full of rich texture, perfect pitch and tone, this voice can go from one to 100 decibels in a single, smooth, dynamic leap. Tastefully, and with absolute control, Keeth chooses to only use this near superhuman power when it suits the flavor of the song. Singing popular songs from rock to country, each song has been broken down into its most perfect acoustic form and is delivered with the kind of skill and passion that would stir envy in any of the song’s original artists. As Keeth weaves in his original songs to his captivated audience, he is constantly asked, “Is that one of yours?”. The crowd responds with absolute delight when the answer is yes. Keeth and Barrera’s audience are a loyal fan base, some of whom come from Canada and make it a point every year to be there with this duo, without fail. At the foundation of every song is an amazingly intuitive blending of acoustic and electric guitar. As Keeth plays adeptly on his acoustic, Martin Barrera (a staple guitarist for years here in the desert) plays tastefully and warmly on his electric with a combination of rhythm, lead and bass notes creating the perfect serving platter for Keeth’s stirring vocals. The end result? A musical journey the quality for which some in the industry are paid in the thousands for. Yet here these two are, grateful for every tip, CD purchase, round of applause and the fact that they are able to do what they love for an establishment full of people who appreciate them.
Michael Keeth began his melodic adventures singing in the car with his mom. “I’ve been singing pretty much since I could talk. My mom was a really good singer and she taught me harmonies. I don’t get to do it in the duo, but I love good harmonies.” Though Keeth’s vocals and guitar playing both sound very trained, he is very much self-taught. “Eagles and U2 were my two favorite bands growing up. I had my mom’s record collection with older Jackson Brown and was exposed to some very good songwriters. Now, I just really like strong songs whether they’re from Zac Brown, Pearl Jam or Tool.” Keeth got his first guitar when he was 14, started song writing at 16, was in his first band at 17 and started recording original music by the age of 18. “I am a firm believer that the song should get what it needs, even if that means less vocal and more guitar (or visa versa). It needs to be well rounded with both strong music and strong lyrics.” His first solo record, “Shed The Skin” was recorded in 2012 and exhibits just that. A prolific songwriter, two more albums are set to be released by Keeth, one this summer and his third, hopefully by the end of this year. Now 31, Keeth beams when he talks about his wife, Jody, and their 4 year old daughter. “Jody is a gigantic inspiration to me. She really helps me stay focused. We’ve been together for 9 years and our daughter is 4. My daughter is the best thing in the whole world. I am so very thankful every day for my family and to be able to work, doing what I love to do.”
Martin Barrera, Keeth’s first class wing man, is known and respected by his peers throughout the Coachella Valley. Even so, it is not an easy task to get the very understated and humble Barrera to talk about himself. When Keeth points out Barrera to the crowd for his great playing, Barrera becomes obviously uncomfortable with the spotlight. He is much more at ease singing the praises of others, especially Keeth. “Martin is an amazing guitarist,” Keeth boasts. “His ability to learn new songs on the spot and add perfectly placed leads amazes me every time we work on something new. He’s one of the most devoted musicians I’ve ever met. He plays because he loves it, more than for any other reason.” Other stellar musicians who have worked closely with Barrera echo Keeth’s accolades. “Martin is truly one of the most talented guitarists I’ve seen,” shared Linda Heinz, music educator, and keyboardist for CV Weekly’s nominee for best band, Blasting Echo. “He has an excellent ear and could easily sit in with just about any genre band and contribute something amazing. He’s also a talented songwriter. Despite his incredible talent, he has no ego. He makes whoever he plays with sound 10 times better. Martin is da man!”
“I started singing at age 3,” shared Barrera, “and began playing drums at 13. I played in my Dad’s band for a bit (traditional music) but ended up gravitating to the rock scene and bands like Kiss. I eventually picked up guitar and moved on to bands like the Allman Brothers and Def Leopard.” Martin surrounded himself with musicians and bands like Lung Cookie, who were part of the early desert rock scene, eventually playing in a desert band called B Movie Super Stars. “I’ve been playing with Michael for around 2 years. I can read him pretty well and so I pretty much know where he’s going melodically.” You see the intuitiveness of Barrera’s playing as he follows Michael by studying his face or watching his hands on the neck of his guitar. The result: musical perfection. “The people at the Wine Bar really take care of us. They treat us like family. It’s one of my favorite places to play.” The smiles and attentiveness of the patrons, staff and ownership at The Wine Bar reflect Barrera’s impression. This musical duo has brought something very special to their Sunday nights.
The Wine Bar in Old Town La Quinta is also nominated for Coachella Valley Weekly’s “Best Wine Bar”. Keeth and Barrera are nominated for “Best Duo” and Keeth is nominated for “Best Male Vocal”. All the more reason to pay them all a visit this Sunday. The Wine Bar is located at 78015 Main Street, La Quinta. You can visit them on their website: www.thewinebaratoldtown.com
Martin Barrera can also be seen accompanying the velvety voiced Courtney Chambers at the Westin Mission Hills Fireside Lounge every Saturday night between 7-10pm.
You can also follow Michael Keeth at www.michaelkeethmusic.com