Famous for his acting roles in Dances with Wolves, JFK, The Bodyguard, Field of Dreams, in this summer’s Man of Steel and last year’s blockbuster mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys, Kevin Costner also makes time for a lesser-known role.
Costner and his band, Modern West, play about 35 shows a year. The group recently performed in Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow and the Oktyabrsky Grand Concert Hall in St. Petersburg.
Costner’s upcoming gigs include three Louisiana dates, Friday night at Coushatta Casino in Kinder, Saturday at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge and Aug. 3 at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
Costner started production last week on Black and White, a custody-battle drama being shot in New Orleans. Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for 2011’s The Help, is among the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor’s co-stars.
Public performances with Modern West are a way he can get out into the places where he makes movies, the actor said.
“That was the reason for the band at first,” he explained last weekend. “I found myself in communities for two months, but I felt like I was just somebody people would spot at the supermarket.”
Playing music with the band that includes John Coinman, the longtime friend he previously performed with in the 1980s band, Roving Boy, Costner & Modern West mostly perform original material.
“I enjoy doing this with my friends,” he said. “It’s a real release for me and people respond to our brand of music.”
Costner & Modern West have appeared throughout the U.S., in France, Germany, Austria and South America. The band’s recent Russian shows were actually return engagements.
“We were asked back,” Costner said. “That’s been the hallmark of the band. We’ve been asked to do five more cities in Europe in January. I don’t know if I’ll do it but it’s always nice to be asked back.”
Even though Costner makes a very nice living via his movie career, music is no lark for him.
“If you’re going to charge people money, you have to treat your music seriously,” he said. “You have to make sure it rises above your own bar. That gives you the confidence to like your music enough to share it.”
Costner hasn’t always believed in his music. A harsh 1988 review of a Roving Boy recording by Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn devastated him, so much so that he put music aside for years.
“We did a little record and a critic really brutalized me,” he recalled. “It froze me in my tracks. I thought, ‘Do I need this?’ It was probably the only thing I’ve ever backed down from. I just quit doing the music.”
About a decade ago, the actor’s wife, Christine, began encouraging him to play again.
“For two years, she kind of coached me,” he recalled. “She asked me, ‘Does music make you happy?’ I said, ‘It does.’ ‘If it makes you happy and your audience happy, what’s wrong with that?’ It was kind of like she released me.”
While filming The Guardian in Shreveport in 2005, the actor called his old bandmate, Coinman.
“I started with John again and brought a couple of guys down from Nashville. We formed the band in Shreveport, played a Super Bowl party for about 30 people, played at the Air Force base. And then we got an offer of $40,000 to play a golf tournament. My friends said, ‘You better take it.’ ”
From there on the band simply evolved.
“There was no grand plan,” Costner recalled. “I haven’t tried to parlay this. I haven’t really played on television. That moment hasn’t emerged for me, although I’ve been asked multiple times. When it seems natural, I’ll do it.”
Costner & Modern West released 2010’s Turn It On, 2011’s From Where I Stand and 2012’s Famous For Killing Each Other: Music From And Inspired By Hatfields & McCoys. The latter album includes the actor’s singer-songwriter daughter, Lily Costner.
As proud as he is of the Famous For Killing Each Other album, Costner knows the music’s ambient bluegrass bent isn’t so suitable for a rock show. But the band does perform an up-tempo version of one of the album’s songs, “Devil’s A Long Way From Home.”
In the second of a five-week shoot for Black and White, Costner is back in the city where he filmed 1991’s JFK, the film in which he portrayed Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison. He’s starring in Black and White and co-producing the project with its writer-director, Jim Binder.
Costner previously appeared in Binder’s 2005 drama, The Upside of Anger.
“Mike is a real original guy and I like that,” Costner said. “I read this script and I thought, ‘This really works.’ In the world of movies, some of these stories, the studios don’t want to make. They don’t seem big enough. I think Black and White is a pretty big story. Ultimately, I had to make it myself.”
Costner believes in Black and White, just as he believed in Hatfields & McCoys. The mini-series’ finale drew 14.3 million viewers. The show received 16 Emmy nominations and Costner won an Emmy for his performance as “Devil” Anse Hatfield.
“To me that is a good indication that you have to go after the things that you believe in,” he said.
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