December 16, 2011



What are we in … Peoria?

by Bruce Rodgers


Live here long enough and occasionally the smallness (I’m talking about mindset.) of this town fades a little into the background.


For example: The opening of the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts possibly can balance out the disgust quotient that comes from tearing apart a noted architect’s building design to appease a law firm (West Edge) or eliminating a long-established sanctioned drag strip (KCIR) for a park to cater to potential developers eyeing nearby land or having a plastic duck race (Duck Derby) float down polluted Brush Creek and get “in-depth” coverage by the local media.


Kansas City is Kansas City, lousy school district, car-addicted, this year’s NFL-joke, forever field of dreams baseball town that it is. At least there’s excellent barbecue and something to wrap the remains of the short-ends at meal’s end.


In addition to being a decent grease sponge, The Kansas City Star is this town’s main purveyor of smallness. The Star’s lateness example of small-town news masquerading as something important for a city comes from yesterday’s Preview magazine’s cover story, “Feeling Sleepy?” The subhead went: “Why do so many KC concerts keep fans up way past their bedtime?”


When I read that line I thought the story would be about the clubs in Westport — with their crowds and loud music — keeping residents from going to sleep at night in their houses and apartments. That issue had been around since the 1980s and most residents know it may take decades for the city to solve a problem.


But it wasn’t about that. Timothy Finn, the Star’s workhorse of a music writer, wrote about bands starting too late at their gigs to keep the crowds around, or attract them, and club owners anguishing over what time to schedule — early or late — a show for this or that particular group. And the article wasn’t even tongue-in-check!


I mean, really. Is this a problem? Are businesses around the city complaining that productivity is being affected by their sleep-deprived,  music-loving employees attending shows where bands start at 9 or 10 pm? Is the city’s budget being strained because traffic department workers are staying late to recalculate traffic signals because of increased traffic after midnight? Is there a shortage of teenage babysitters willing to work pass 10 p.m. that keeps attendance at weekend shows down?


Read Finn’s article closely and what comes across more than the ridiculousness of its subject material is that Kansas City’s music scene is suffering — economy or not. Are there too few live music venues? Too few really gotta-go-out-and-see bands? (Even the two photos in Finn’s article display a more-empty-than-full club.)


Finn quotes one musician complaining that when playing a three-band ticket and the headliner shows up “at 12:30 (a.m.) … the crowd is usually on their mental way out the door.”


Could it be that music wasn’t that good to keep people in their seats? Could it be that club owners double-and triple-bill bands to justify a cover of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five bucks a head? And by the time a patron sits through two hours of mediocre music before the headliner hits the stage, listening to partial set can be enough to justify the departure especially after paying a hefty cover.


Or maybe it’s just the economy. Look at Jardine’s


Finn returned to his better reporter form with his front-page story today about Jardine’s. He’s correct to write that the problems at Jardine’s could affect the city’s jazz scene. The club on Main Street is important not only for its longevity — giving stability to the jazz scene — but because it’s different in its feel and atmosphere. It’s not a hotel lounge and it’s not in Johnson County where such clubs come and go, opening and closing mainly on the desire of a club owner to be hip until the reality hits that jazz in suburbia doesn’t’ fill seats.


Maybe in bedroom communities, with 10 p.m. as a sort of witching hour for commuters, a band’s start time matters but for the Midtown music scene the struggles of club owners, to me, have little to do with what time a band starts playing.


Though I don’t flow through the night like I once did, back in the late 1970s and most of the ‘80s, I was one of thousands who devoured KC’s music scene. I soaked up the sounds at such purely music venues as Parody Hall on West 39th, the Grand Emporium on Main and Blayney’s in Westport. More times than not the only way to get people to leave at those clubs was to have the band stop playing. At the 3 a.m. club Blayney’s, it wasn’t unusual to have a band’s last set go past 1 a.m.


Those three clubs may have concentrated on a few musical styles — rock, blues, reggae — but they booked other genres, including jazz. There was a reliance on independent promoters to bring the club owner quality bands, some local, some from the region but a band that might stir a crowd, get them up on the floor. If the promoter failed and the band sucked, that promoter had to do a big mea culpa to stay in business.


From my vantage point, independent promoters like Roger Naber and Jeff Fortier who helped elevate Kansas City’s music reputation in the 1980s and into the 1990s aren’t around. What music promoting that seems to be done now is from hired publicists or individual bands. Why?


Finn didn’t go into these questions with his Preview piece. Instead, readers got a tale about people not getting their 8 hours of sleep because the band started too late in the evening and club owners are dumbfounded while musicians just want bigger crowds to play to. I doubt that newspapers in Denver, St. Louis, Chicago or Minneapolis would seriously consider the fans-are-up-too-late premise of Finn’s piece as something to pursue.


Why? Because it does nothing to help the local music scene.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at