May 30, 2008
The new KC Live! downtown amphitheater across from the Sprint Center has been met by most Kansas Citians with a rousing “Uh, well, that’s kind of cool, I guess” attitude. Since yours truly is one of the last independent and unbiased (and of course, broke) writers in Cowtown, a little trip to see Dr. Hook and Three Dog Night at one of these much-publicized free concerts seemed appropriate.
First of all, there has already been some grumbling about the parking situation downtown, so let me clear up this issue once and for all: it sucks.
Particularly at your wallet.
Your best bet is a metered street spot nearby (which will require a crapload of quarters and least a minimum of an ability to parallel park…unless for course you’re in front of me, in which case please take your time, really, I’m in no hurry) or in one of the many 5-10 dollar lots scattered around.
Please note that these lots do not at all look just alike, making some people wander for a half-hour after the show trying to find their own freakin’ car. Ahem.
After forking a fiver over for a spot my companion (and a relative newcomer to KC via LA) was disappointed at the rather hum-drum streets. She loved the older art-deco buildings that once made Kansas City known as “the Paris of the Midwest” but the new buildings seemed somewhat cheap by comparison.
There’s no doubt that downtown is a heck of a lot better now than it was before the P&L district: Where there were once only empty storefronts and great drifts of refuse, there are now clean sidewalks and fancy neon signs.
However, the four-block walk to the entrance was rather sterile and, well, boring. Where are the street venders, the roaming musicians and performers? For all the hype the result is several blocks of fancied-up strip-mall-type chain-restaurants that look more like Village West-lite than a major metropolitan downtown district.
Speaking of that entrance to KCLive!…have fun finding it. My companion and I used the tried and true method of following the people in front of us, which didn’t work very well since they were following somebody else who was not going to see the show (however, we did find a nice, quick route to the new Paddy O’Crummy’s or whatever its called).
Finally after winding our way to the entrance, I was told buy a “security guard” (meaning a guy who looked about 16 and was wearing a snap-on western shirt and Paris Hilton-style pimp sunglasses) that I had to change my shoes, as no lace-up boots were allowed inside.
Now, this rule was helpfully listed on a sandwich board half a foot from where Mr. Rock n’ Roll Security Guy was standing. I am more than happy to oblige the KC Live! “ not-at-all-racist” dress code, but it might be a good idea for them to advertise that little restriction before people forked over the five bucks to park several blocks away.
There is also the little fact that I was wearing a pair of surplus military boots, which would mean that any service member in uniform would theoretically be turned away as well.
After running home to acquire some proper God-fearing Post 9/11 shoes (this is of course all the fault of that one stupid “shoe-bomber” asshole who despite failing to blow himself or anything up still managed to make us all have to take off our shoes in airports), my companion and I raced back down the occasionally not-flooded Southwest Boulevard…to stop for gas.
Given the ever-rising price of gasoline (remember that Saturday Night Live skit last season where Will Fortain, as the president, got big laughs talking about 5$ a gallon prices? Anybody still laughing? Anybody?), having a downtown destination spot is great, although most of the prices tend toward the upper-end and seriously drinking there could easily demolish most people’s wallets. Still the concert itself is free, right? Now all we needed to do was find a place to park…again.
(Hey, little prediction: next summer, gas will be over eight dollars a gallon! You can start laughing now.)
Well, so far this free concert has cost us 10$ for parking and 15$ in gas. Still, we’re pretty stoked after finally getting stamped and let in (R’ n R’ security guy was gone, now replaced by two guys who spent more time looking at the girls serving Miller Lite than checking footwear), and found our way to a good spot at stage-left. Just like the old Sandstone amphitheater, this is pretty much a standing-only venue, unless you are lucky enough to snag onto one of the few balcony seats, or are on a horse, so get used to being on your feet.
The crowd was a mellow group, mostly consisting of older blue-collar types who tend to be a good crowd as long as no one yells “Play some Skinner!” The show was a good half hour late getting started, but then that is waaaaay early by most midtown bar-times.
One of the main complaints I (and others) have had about the venue concerned the sound quality, and it was certainly an issue at the Doctor Hook show. Not that this was the band’s fault — it’s hard to imagine anybody doing better with that giant flat wall looming up from behind. I also heard several people say that the sound was “pretty good” farther back, which means you could either hear the band or see them.
I realize that the whole “amphitheater” idea was sort of thrown in with all the construction, but the sound quality pretty much has to improve to keep the fans coming, and that should be more than doable. Unfortunately, it’s the quality of the space itself that was lacking. What with all the uneven walls around it was like being at the bottom or a rock quarry, and not even a very comfortable quarry at that.
The roof was a nice idea, but the whole thing just seems too sunk into the ground to get that big open-air theater feel (especially with the people packed in like sardines — luckily my fellow Midwesterners made me proud and politely made their own makeshift paths for all to get around).
Still, the ol’ pirate Dr. Hook himself smoked (and smoked) his way out with the crowd’s merry glee. “Sylvia’s Mother” a big hit from 1972 (and written by Shel Silverstein) had the whole place singing along (and their lyrics were easier to hear than the Doctor’s — again, not his fault), and of course his little ditty about getting on the Rolling Stone magazine cover had the whole mass howlin’ in joy.
Between so much standing, walking, parking, and shoe changes for freedom, my companion and I were exhausted and opted out the Three Dog Night show (which others later said was pretty good — at least the sound quality was better). We vanished into the night, content if not thrilled with both the music and the KC Live! stage. So far the upcoming schedule there seems a little skimpy, but that could change given the right audience (how about a Punk night! Hello? Anybody?).
The best bet for a revitalized downtown doesn’t just rely on places to go: You also need people to go there (and if they do, that means some places will have fewer customers, say like Westport, Brookside, the Plaza, etc…), and right now downtown is far from user-friendly, although it is a hell of a lot better than a bunch of abandoned buildings.
Add in the Crossroads District and a yet-to-be-finished Performing Arts Center, and downtown may just make a comeback — just make sure you bring a handful of five-dollar bills, and watch your shoes, buddy.
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at email@example.com or found wherever the gas being sold is the cheapest — like the rest of us.
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