SARATOGA SPRINGS — Kenny Kakaty, 13, of Saratoga Springs enjoys Independence Day as much as any other boy – the fireworks, the food, the festivities – but while most boys might impatiently shift from one foot to another during the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Kakaty listens with his whole heart.
The post-millennial teenager is a musician and a patriot, and has played the National Anthem on guitar for local crowds at Little League baseball games and a national audience on C-SPAN.
A baseball player himself with a pretty good pitching arm, Kakaty is looking forward to playing on the team for Saratoga Central Catholic School this year as he enters 7th grade. He recently played the National Anthem for Coach Phonsey Lambert’s 500th career win game at Spa Catholic, and also at the Mayor’s Cup and other Little League games.
But Kakaty’s audience expanded in 2016 as he played the anthem at the FreedomWorks conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida in February, and was then invited to open for the March 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord Resort in Maryland with the national anthem on electric guitar in front of 10,000 plus attendees and all the viewers of C-SPAN, where it aired.
His father, Joe Kakaty, reminisces how impressed Kakaty was as young as 4 years old at ball games when everyone removed their caps for the National Anthem. “I think that was his favorite part of the game,” said his dad.
His mom, Josey, said the family would go every year to the Revolutionary War Memorial at Saratoga National Historic Park. “We’d say a prayer for all of them, for people we don’t even know,” she said, “and thank them. I know that means a lot to Kenny. He’s always been an old soul. He asks a lot of questions, and does a lot of listening.”
Kakaty said he began to realize how strongly he feels about America through his history lessons at school. “The more I learned about the troops that have fought and died for us, how bravely they defended liberty for all – you can’t help be impressed.”
He said he could feel it, and was really moved, when he visited the Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial, and expressed how much he wants to see the memorials for the World Wars.
“I need to study more,” said Kakaty. “I need to understand deeply the questions the Founding Fathers asked and what they studied to make the Constitution.”
Kakaty has family that has served in WWII and relatives in the Middle East among the refugees. His extended family pulled together to help get them safely to Montreal. Kakaty asks questions and gets answers, dedicating himself to developing a greater understanding of current events and the world in which he is growing up.
“When I go to school, nobody seems to care about politics,” acknowledged Kakaty. “While I don’t want people to care about it a lot at my age, I just want to encourage them to be aware of what is going on. I have the passion of loving my country, and I think if people stay up-to-date with current events it will help them also to love their country. In school I explain to my class when caucuses and primaries are coming up and some kids in my class are starting to get interested, and I’m very happy with that.”
His friend, Matthew Apy, also in 7th grade at Spa Catholic, knows Kakaty is a patriot, right down to the American flag wallpaper on his phone. “He cares a lot about who would be a good president or a bad president. The things he likes most are politics and the guitar – he makes it look natural. It doesn’t look forced when he plays. And family – that always comes first.”
Apy’s brother John, 9, a 3rd grader at St. Clement’s, added, “He’s the best I know because I’m a guitar player, too, so I know. I like the way he uses the pedals to record so it sounds more complicated than it is.” He also shares Kakaty’s patriotism, and said he feels proud to live in this landmark-filled country, his favorite being the Statue of Liberty.
Kakaty received his first guitar for Christmas just before he turned 9 years old. He had been playing piano since he was 4, which he still plays, but acoustic and electric guitars are his passion.
“I love getting into the blues and really feeling it when I play,” said Kakaty. He loves Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, the three Kings (Albert, BB, and Freddie), and had a great time at the recent Dead and Company concert at SPAC. He plays everything from Santana to One Direction, and rocks the Seven Horse Pub at 43 Phila Street during happy hour every Tuesday, his confident fingers never hesitating over challenging chords. He also records backtracks while playing there, adding an extra layer to his solo.
“You put a backing track down with the chords and then play on top, it’s called lead, and it’s basically improvisation with guitar,” said Kakaty. “Or if you’re playing with another guitar player, they can play the chords and you can play on top and it’s all live. I love doing it.”
Giovanni DiMatteo of Saratoga Springs, an employee of the City Center and owner of Giovanni Concrete Services, has heard Kakaty play at the Seven Horse. “He’s pretty good,” he said. “You listen to it, and you’d think he was someone older.”
Seven Horse owner Dan Polidore agrees. “He’s been playing here a couple of months, now. Kenny’s such a talented musician,” he said, “but he’s even a nicer kid.”
The best advice Kakaty’s ever gotten? “To be the best at whatever I do and have good character,” said Kakaty. “My parents taught me that.”
Kakaty 3 is the name of his band, with his sister Bella, 11, on vocals, and brother Joey, 9, on drums. “We play a lot of 80s music and some other songs,” said Kakaty, “like Stray Cat Strut, Summer of ’69 by Brian Adams, and Love Story by Taylor Swift.” The band just played at Beekman Street Café in June as part of the art festival.
Ian Sondhof, 10, a 4th grader at St. Clements, goes to school with Bella Kakaty, and has heard the Kakaty 3 band. “She’s really good at singing,” he said. “I like how they play.”
Kakaty is a typical boy with many interests. He was part of his student council, served as class president, enjoys theater camp, and really loves math. His favorite foods are Mediterranean, such as pasta and stuffed grape leaves, not surprising given his Italian and Arabic descent.
Kakaty is interested in West Point or the Naval Academy in the future, and wants to take his math skills into finance or engineering. But wherever he lands, there will be music and politics, both as natural to him as breathing.
Kakaty’s uncle Paul, an occupational therapist, remembered when the family moved temporarily to Las Vegas, Nevada. “And here’s ten-year-old Kenny,” he said, “his first question was wondering whether Nevada was a swing state!”
While at the CPAC event in March, he met a number of national figures including Governor Scott Walker, Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. Kakaty most remembers meeting author and lawyer Mark Levin, host of the American syndicated radio show “The Mark Levin Show.” Levin worked in the administration of President Ronald Reagan and was a chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese.
Kakaty said he felt honored to meet Levin. “I enjoy listening to him on the radio,” said Kakaty. “I’m reading his book right now, ‘Liberty and Tyranny.’ I think he’s a really cool guy.”
While some might argue that exposure to conservative thinking such as Levin’s work may play a role in Kakaty’s ultimate choice in party one day, it is generally understood that Kakaty’s Generation Z are born conservatives, primarily due to the influence of 9/11, the recession, and deep respect for the values and sacrifices of The Greatest Generation.
Gen Z, the most diverse generation in history, has a respect for plurality, liberty, family and financial caution that is so like America’s Founding Fathers that MTV actually coined the phrase that labels Kakaty’s cohort as the Founder Generation. The broadcast company conducted a survey that found, among other things, that these kids see a system that is broken, but refuse to be the generation that will break it even more; according to a statement by MTV President Sean Atkins to Time magazine this past December.
Whether Kakaty realizes his generational role or not, for now, he’s happy sharing his music and love of America with his family, friends, and anyone who would like to hear him play.
“It’s not really about leaning left or right as much as being proud of living in your country,” said Kakaty. And he expresses that pride through his music. “Anywhere I can play the National Anthem, I play,” he said. “It’s becoming my thing.”