A Band Well Worth a Second Introduction

Tim Brennan

A few months ago I wrote about the local power pop band A Fragile Tomorrow. That blog ended up being a biography of the first 18 years of lead singer Sean Kelly's life, as told to me during one two-hour meeting. 

Here's a summary of said biography (I'll keep it short): In 1991, triplets Sean, Paul, and Dominic Kelly are born with cerebral palsy just outside of New York City. At age three, they fall in love with Hootie and The Blowfish. Sean and Dominic put on regular basement performances of the band's songs, while non-verbal Paul enjoys the show. Another brother, Brendan, is born without CP three years later. Paul dies the night before starting first grade. In early 2001, their mother develops peritonitis following surgery and is given only hours to live. She miraculously recovers. Several months later, 9/11 happens, and their dad, a NYC cop and first responder, rushes to Ground Zero. The family believes they will never hear from him again, and for two weeks, they don't. The boys take their emotions and life experiences, start writing songs, and form a band. A local businessman becomes their record label/manager, encourages them to hire a much older Sean Rhodes as bassist, and gets the band in a studio for their first record. Immature and naïve, the boys soon discover the manager does not have their best interests in mind. The band meets their musical idols, Hootie And The Blowfish, along with Danielle Howle, backstage after a Hootie show. The connection between the band and their new South Carolina friends grows stronger while the band progresses. A second CD, recorded by the well respected Malcom Burn, gives the band a big step up. The band members' friendships with Mark Bryan (of Hootie of the Blowfish), Danielle Howle, and connections met through them, give reason for the band and the Kelly family to relocate and start a new life in South Carolina.
And that's where I ended my last blog on A Fragile Tomorrow. Things should be roses and gold records after all that, right? Not so much.
The move to South Carolina came when the eldest Kelly boys were only 18. That's a lot of life by 18. But life wasn't done being unfair to them.
Soon after moving to James Island, the boys' mother was diagnosed with cancer. Their father split time between their new home in SC and the hospital in New York. Unsure if their mother would live and being strangers in a strange land, the boys made their recording studio into a cocoon. With Danielle Howle producing, they cranked out their third CD. While that CD continued to show a love for jangly, shimmering guitars, smooth vocals, tight harmonies, and pop appeal, it also revealed a darker side. That was especially apparent in the plaintive "Mother," a clear call to bring their ill mother home. 
With a brand new CD in their catalog and a collection of friends including Mark Bryan, Danielle Howle, and others around the new Awendaw Green experiment, you might think that A Fragile Tomorrow was about to be a star on the local stage. Again, that didn't quite happen. Shows were few; press and radio support was nearly nonexistent. 
Instead of local stardom, the boys hit the road. First with the Indigo Girls for a few shows. Then for a few more. Then they got an invite to join the Indigo Girls onstage in New York to help play an encore production of their mega hit "Closer to Fine." Maybe it was the mutual friendship with Danielle Howle that got them the gig. Perhaps it was the Indigo Girls' desire to give some rockers with cerebral palsy a shot. However it came to be, they took that shot and made the most of it. 
After the Indigo Girls' tour, they got a chance to open for the Bangles on a West Coast series, and followed that with a series of shows supporting Matthew Sweet. So if you haven't seen their name in local venues these past few years, it's because they've been kinda busy.
And while you may not have seen them play locally, you've most likely heard them on the radio. That above-mentioned performance of "Closer to Fine" was recorded and released on an Indigo Girls live CD, and the track has hit the airwaves. The boys are in the mix and their names are in the liner notes. Yet no DJ has been heard to comment that the boys are on that song. 
The reputation the band had cultivated, however, did not gone unnoticed. Besides fielding requests to support other acts, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and REM's career launcher, Mitch Easter, asked to produce the band's fourth CD. During that process, which happened last year, members of the Bangles, Indigo Girls, and other luminaries like Don Dixon and Mitch Easter himself came into the studio to add parts to various songs. Most of them did it for no money. 
The resulting CD, Be Nice, Be Careful, is a wonderful collection of power pop tunes, with several primed to launch off the CD and through your radio signal. Positive reviews are already pouring in from across the US and from over in the UK. 
A few months ago, when I asked the powers that be at 105.5 The Bridge what they thought of A Fragile Tomorrow, they told me they had never heard of them. When I mentioned they played on the Indigo Girls live track, I was met with blank stares.
With this new record, however, things are starting to turn in a more positive direction for the band. The Bridge just had them in studio. The ticket sales for their CD release party (more on this in a second) are moving well. Other touring opportunities are coming their way. Things are definitely turning their way right now. For example, Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls just up and decided to come to town this weekend to open for the band at their CD release party, which happens to be this Saturday, January 5th at the Windjammer.
I asked Mark Bryan about these kids that he has known about since they were pre-teens. "They've grown from a band that had potential to a band that can make a career out of music. They are the real deal and getting better still," he said.
What surprises me most about the band is how they comport themselves. You hear a lot of bands these days who yell, thrash, and spit out angry music, yet the only injustice most of them have experienced is a poor cell signal at certain spots in Whole Foods. 
Some of the guys in A Fragile Tomorrow have been born with cerebral palsy, lost a brother, almost lost both parents, been largely ignored in their adopted town and yet still don't feel the need to thrash and shout. Their music, instead, is so much fun that one reviewer described their sound as "Rootsy power pop that's so sweet that I can not, in good conscience, recommend this to diabetics" (Rocktober magazine).
I asked Sean Kelly how he could remain so light and positive with all of these issues that would have sidelined most people. His response: "I've made my own choices. We all have in the band. From where we live, to who we work with, to what God we believe in, if at all. So when you make all the choices in your life, you really can't be angry."
These are good guys with loads of talent. I hope Charleston takes some notice. Getting to the Windjammer at 8 p.m. this Saturday would be a good start.