Her own recording career continues on an indie career after a one-album stint on Warner, but McKenna has proven to be a major league hit maker in Nashville as a songwriter. Just ask Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and RaeLynn.
And while some songwriters can fall victim live to the audience understanding why they may be better off writing the hits than performing them, McKenna has always been a warm engaging performer, something she proved yet again on the final show of her long-running (13 years or so) annual December pilgrimage to this venerable music club.
McKenna meshes well-written songs, an ability to tell stories with a sense of (sometimes self-deprecating humor) and the ownership of the material to infuse emotion into her delivery.
It helps to have an authenticity about her. With that ideal firmly in place, McKenna delivered a song about her late mother ("Lorraine") along with one meant for her children ("Humble and Kind," which Tim McGraw put on his latest disc). The latter is about how to live life the "right" way - maybe preachy in a way, but it's okay to give lessons as well.
McKenna saved her hugest hit - "Girl Crush" for near the end. McKenna, who was staying in Nashville, told how the story came about with fellow writer Liz Rose not all that interested because of the social media kind of approach to the theme. When third songwriter Hillary Lindsey bounded down the stairs after sleeping in, she sang the first four lines of the song after being given the idea.
The song was on its way to being a megahit for Little Big Town, whose two female singers were showing up at where McKenna and friends were staying for a songwriting session a few hours later.
McKenna lit into the song. Maybe she's not quite as strong a singer as LBT's Karen Fairchild, but McKenna more than held her own.
The December run at Passim always been a chance to let McKenna shine live before the local folks - most of whom had seen her before. As usual, she was up to the task - with a few more hits in tow.
McKenna always brings along a Nashville songwriter to open her shows. This year's beneficiary of her kindness was Steve Moakler, a Nashville-based Pittsburgh-area native who wrote the title track to Dierks Bentley's latest, "Riser."
Moakler made a lot of sense as an opening act. Like McKenna, he had the ability to set up a few songs with stories that contributed to the meaning of the song. And Moakler, appearing solo acoustic, also uncorked a good voice with good material to work with.