How much of the legend of Philly rocker Kenn Kweder is actually true?

Did Denzel Washington really drop Kweder’s name in his commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011? Yes, he did, mentioning “a guy named Kweder who sings … over at Smoke’s on Tuesday night.”

When Kweder ruled the Philly rock scene in the late 1970s with his band the Secret Kids, did he spoil a major label deal with record executive Clive Davis by intentionally pouring beer on Davis at Doobie’s in Center City?

No. He accidentally knocked a pitcher into Davis’ lap. “That got conflated with a story of me dumping a pitcher of beer on some other guy at Doobie’s,” Kweder says, setting the record straight.

And speaking of Smokey Joe’s, have Kweder and his partner Mark Teague actually played 1,500 shows at the Penn watering hole since they began a Tuesday night residency in 1992?

“At least that many,” Smokey Joe’s owner Paul Ryan said this past Tuesday as Kweder and Teague celebrated the three-decade gig in front of a raucous crowd of Senior Week undergrads and returning alums.

In nearly 50 years on the Philly music scene, Kweder has played countless venues in the city and the suburbs, from long-gone stages like the Hot Club, Ripley, and Bijou Cafe to the TLA, Trocadero, and many incarnations of J.C. Dobbs on South Street.

The musician whose business card identifies him as a “Rock Star” is the subject of the 2016 documentary The Adventures of a Secret Kid: The Mass Hallucinations of Kenn Kweder and the 2018 one-man show inspired by Springsteen on Broadway known as KNOB: Kweder Not on Broadway.

On May 24, one of Kweder’s favorite annual gigs returns: the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash at Ardmore Music Hall, which this year falls on Dylan’s actual 81st birthday. The free show is organized by Kweder and John Train singer Jon Houlon and will feature 40 Philly artists doing Dylan covers. Kweder will sing “To Ramona.” Cheesesteak impresario Tony Luke Jr. will do “Make You Feel My Love.”

But for all of Kweder’s adventures — from opening for Patti Smith at Glassboro State College in 1976 to his 1989 Elvis Presley tribute at Dobbs in which ex-Phillie Tug McGraw acted as his bodyguard — he’s never had a gig as steady as Smokey Joe’s.

Counting the nights other than Tuesdays the duo has played — and including the early days of the pandemic, when they performed livestreamed shows — “it’s way more than 1,500,” said Ryan, whose family has owned the campus bar since 1952.

“He connects with the younger kids,” says Ryan. “He still connects with every group that comes through, like he did 30 years ago. He starts in early September, and by October, November, they’re hooked.”

As Ryan spoke, Kweder and Teague were whipping the crowd into a frenzy, mixing in trademark Kweder tunes like “Heroin” while taking requests.

Kweder sang his own “I Drink a Lot” — and did, with the crowd supplying celebratory Irish whiskey — and performed two Taylor Swift songs plus Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Playing an acoustic guitar signed by Kris Kristofferson, the 70-year-old showman shot fake $100 bills with his picture on them into the crowd.

“It’s a circus, like everything I do,” says Kweder, in a lunchtime interview at Winnie’s Manayunk, the Main Street eatery near his apartment where he’s also frequently performed. “But I also take it seriously.”

“It’s like a religious experience almost,” said Alex Bregman, 36, who graduated from Penn in 2008, and came from Manhattan for the show. Kweder played his wedding after party in 2019. “My husband would not let him play the main event,” he says with a laugh.

“I just love how he’s so unique and he always brings so much spirit to Smoke’s, which is so amazing” said Claudia Melendez, 21, who wore a “Kweder & Teague: 30 Years” sticker. “He’s so fun to come and see on a Tuesday.”

Kweder’s shows have always had a carnival atmosphere. He grew up in Southwest Philly, the youngest child of a Lithuanian scrap metal dealer father and homemaker mother who “thought she was Judy Garland. She would sing, and recite poetry. A.E. Houseman. The Wreck of Hesperus. An incredibly dramatic woman.”

Kweder got his first acoustic guitar at Woolworth’s, acquired with S&H Green Stamps

He learned to play watching Laura Weber: Folk Guitar shows on public television and hung out with hippies in Rittenhouse Square and Sansom Street, coming under the sway of Dylan, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and David Bowie.

Mike McGrath, the public radio You Bet Your Garden host who was Kweder’s booking agent in the 1990s and 2000s, met him at Temple University in the 1970s.

“Kenn Kweder is like Godzilla,” says McGrath. “He’s a force of nature.” Kweder always has had a knack for self-promotion. “He would walk around with shot glasses with his face on them. He was always doing that, with a nod and a wink.”

In 1978, when Fleetwood Mac played JFK Stadium, Kweder hired a plane to fly a banner: “Fleetwood Mac welcomes Kenn Kweder.” When Pope Francis came to town in 2015, stickers read: “The Pope Welcomes Kenn Kweder.”

Jon Houlon, who started organizing the Dylan bash with Kweder in the early ‘00′s, first encountered Kweder as the opening act for Richard Thompson.

“His ability to capture a crowd is just astounding,” says Houlon, also citing Kweder’s underrated songwriting skills. “I was just so captivated by the guy. He’s the kind of performer who comes on stage, and everyone’s looking at him. Not a lot of people can do that.”

One thing that astounds Kweder followers is how well-preserved he appears to be, like some kind of Philly rock scene Dorian Gray.

Houlon thinks it might have to do with Kweder’s unique diet. “I’ve been over to his place, and he’s always eating large cloves of garlic.” At Winnie’s, he looked stylish in an Italian sports jacket and white shirt with French cuffs, Keith Richards style. He stays in shape walking in Wissahickon Valley Park every day. “And I can get five or six thousand steps in just walking up and down the hallway in my apartment, making calls, trying to get gigs.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked for social welfare agencies for the city and the state, and in more recent years did part-time bartending. But mainly Kweder, who’s never married and has no children, has earned his keep as a lifelong professional musician, toting gear to gigs, always looking for the next job.

Leading up to the pandemic, he was playing as many as 275 shows a year, he says. “This sounds ironic, but when the pandemic came,” Kweder said, having to live a healthier lifestyle “almost saved my life.”

As live music has come back, Kweder has slowed his schedule somewhat. But he’s still busy, with a mix of private parties and public gigs. And not performing is not an option.

“Here’s the thing,” he says. “I love what I do so much. And my biggest fear is that I physically can’t go out and do gigs anymore. People say, ‘I can’t believe you’re still coming out and playing.’ And I say, ‘I’ll stop coming out when I can’t come out anymore.’ "