Saturday, March 26, 2016

halfway to winfield

Along the Walnut River at its confluence with Timber Creek, on the western edge of the Kansas Flint Hills, and just a short 17 miles north of Oklahoma, lies the sleepy little town of Winfield, Kansas.  The town appears rather unremarkable in stature and history.  Boom and bust years litter the past, but one thing has been constant.  The town has always been a focal point for music.

Chautauqua, an extremely popular adult education movement of the early 20th century, established a solid base at Island Park in the early years of the town.  The philosophy of the movement centered on enlightening and educating rural American communities through artistic entertainment and cultural outreach with speakers, teachers, preachers, musicians, and other entertainers.  Formed at a time when rural America starved for associated education and social activities, the movement established Winfield as a cultural center for Kansas, influencing establishment of an Opera House, as well as a highly respected School of Music at Southwestern College.

While the movement faded with introduction of television and movies, it left an indelible mark easily recognized in the annual fall music event.  The Walnut Valley Festival evolved from the National Guitar Flat-Picking Championships, formed originally in 1972.  It began with a 10 simple acts, hosting two championship contests, but is now host to eight different contests, two international contests, and five national contests with more than 30 acts and continues to grow every year.  Fifteen thousand visitors, contestants, and entertainers come from all over the world for this one of a kind event that lasts 5 days.

As a "participation" event, even the most famous are sometimes found sitting around a campfire pickin’ and grinin’ with their fans, so it is no surprise that there is a lot of excitement leading up to the event.  Indeed, so much so that Kansas City has begun hosting “Halfway to Winfield” over the last several years to celebrate the halfway point of the year, in the months leading up to the main event in Winfield, KS.

Some of the finest up-and-coming artists continue to grow this now annual event, and we finally had an opportunity to check it out this year.  It was really not so much an opportunity, as a desire to go and see one specific act we had heard so much about recently, the Ben Miller Band; everything else turned out to be a bonus.

The Ben Miller Band out of Joplin is quickly rising on not only the Country music scene, but also in Alternative rock circles, with a unique style referred to as Ozark Stomp or Mudstomp.  Grinding and grooving, it is somewhat reminiscent of sounds from years past and folks like Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynard, George Thorogood, ZZ Top, and Molly Hatchet  and other Southern Fried delicacies all rolled up with every Delta Blues Man that ever hammered a cigar box into their own unique sound.

Recently, the Ben Miller Band enlisted 4-time Grammy Award winning record producer, Engineer and mixer Vance Powell to produce their latest Album “Any Way, Shape or Form.”  Appearing on CMT Edge Live and touring it around Europe, they landed a story in Rolling Stone Italia, and are the opening act for several tour dates with George Thorogood and ZZ Top during their tours this Spring.

Opening the night up for them, a line-up of new folks and standards from the Walnut Creek Festival appeared and raised the roof on Knuckleheads Garage.  We arrived in the middle of a set by the John Brown Boys on the Side Stage (literally a stage to the side of the main stage), and just in time to catch Sugar Britches out of Lawrence, an entertaining group of girls playing what I term Saloon Tunes.  

We discovered the sound at the front of the stage contained a serious vocal dead zone though, causing their performance to sound a little empty.  The sound on the side stage was a bit much at times too.  While the music was good, the high-end on Betse & Clarke was a bit much at one point, so we stepped out for some air and to let our ears relax a little.

We found the sweet spot when we returned, near the back of the floor, about center-stage. From there, we enjoyed the rest of the show and some fun and fantastic sets from the likes of Konza Swamp Band, appearing along with special guest Jimmy Campbell, and after a side stage showing, Loaded Goat; the latter plagued by microphone and feedback difficulties the sound guy and his little tablet could never seem to overcome.  The band managed through it anyway and put out some great music.

In between, the side stage hosted a few acts of interest.  Jr Soapbox sang his set through a small megaphone, reminding us of the 80s Wall of Voodoo tune “Mexican Radio.”  A couple of songs probably would have been better without it though, as it was almost impossible to hear anything of what he was singing; perhaps, the problem was simply the sound, yet again.  The Fast Food Junkies were loud and clear though, keeping things up beat and lively, and acting as perfect precursor to Ben Miller.

The Ben Miller Band turned the house inside out.  Supercharged and banging out tune after tune, with a couple of newcomers to the band.  Smiling Bob on Guitar and Washboard kept pace with the driving force of Ben Miller, and Rachel on fiddle often outpaced and out-shined everyone on stage with a few fiery performances that would have put the devil to shame.  

The only disappointment, they only played for a little over an hour  I suppose it should not have come a a surprise the long line-up preceding them.  

Ben Miller is definitely an energetic and driving force in his band. We got a good live taste of most everything we had previously seen on YouTube, and definitely look forward to catching a longer performance sometime in the near future; perhaps, we might even find our way out to Winfield in September for more.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

ugly united dissonance

At first, it first it seemed as though April 2003 might be anticlimactic after the explosion of Chaos Theory the previous month.  It was not in the least.  One performance even equaled the status of that event, although in a completely different vein.

The month started quietly enough, with a little stop at Kabal to catch a special performance by Ces Cru at Wild Style Wednesdays.  This was the first of many special appearances at this night that would get the ball rolling for the Hip Hop crowd, and provide a solid base for Wednesday nights in Kansas City.

Local message forum, Syde-Sho held a fund raising effort out at Abe & Jake’s Landing the next night.  While there was not a huge turnout, anyone and everyone that was a member made an appearance to show their support.

Back at Kabal a few days later, their weekly installment of Sin Saturdays witnessed a surprise visit from Miss Erykah Badu.  Word passed quickly through the house on her arrival, and everyone wanted photos with the star. Everyone showed respect and gave her space the short while she was there.  She seemed to enjoy herself, and blended in, dancing and partying with everyone in the basement.

The next week calmed somewhat.  The only event I attended, the one-year anniversary of the Sunday night Rhythm & Bass event, hosted a special appearance by the breaks trio Breakbotix.  They always laid down a fantastic set, and it is a shame they did not get more recognition of their work outside of the City.

At Kabal the following Friday, the place turned inside out for House music great Diz.  Local House legend Pat Nice opened the show, a warmed up a full house that danced to the final beat.  There was something special in the air that night.  You could not help but throw your hands in the air and dance.

The United Tour exploded inside the Uptown Theater the next night, turning inside out with brutal performances by Pigface, My Life with Thrill Kill Kult, Zeromancer and Bile.  Head banging, crowd surfing, set smashing were the order of the day at this event, with an intensity like none other, and band after band smashed through their best tracks, leaving the crowd begging for more.

After a few days break, 4/20 made its round and I made side trip out to Gardner, KS for a little house party with some friends.  That was such a long and terrible drive, and I felt like I left just as I got there, when I had to leave again.  It was good fun with a small group of friends though on a random Sunday night.

Dissonance, featuring German DJ Daniel Myer played for a rather small crowd the next night, after having to spontaneously move itself from Balanca’s to Davey’s Uptown.  In addition to that little problem, it was a Monday night, which is usually rather hard to convince folks to leave the comfort of their couch.

A few days later, a new Wednesday started up at an old/new club.  Running under a new name, The Palladium was the only thing different about Club Evos, unless you count the special performance by Ugly Bill that night.  It did not really turn out much better than anyone expected for a Wednesday night in Kansas City, but the B.Boys and B.Girls made their presence known and had the floor all to themselves.

The last weekend of the month ended with a solid dosing of Techno from Lucien Foort, all the way in from Holland.  DJ Offtrack opened up the night, setting the stage for a performance that kept folks dancing until the last beat dropped.  Kabal was definitely becoming the hottest spot to see some of the biggest names in dance music, and it was just getting started.

Of course, as had been the trend for several months, the Inferno de L’Impur troupe dominated Davey’s Uptown with a militant performance featuring riding crops, ropes, chains, and cages.

Access to photos from these events are now available through the story archive, which is really the only access point for the photos now... and likely forever.  Stay tuned for more.

Monday, March 07, 2016

kaleo at mills

Local radio station 90.9 The Bridge presented a rare opportunity to catch the band Kaleo free of charge at Mills Record Company, so we dropped in for a listen to this up-and-coming Icelandic team of musicians.  After hearing of them only a few weeks earlier, then listening to everything found on YouTube, we were excited for this event.

The Icelandic indie band formed in 2012, producing a unique pop/rock/folk sound, and making their first major appearance at the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival that November.  After heavy rotation on Icelandic state broadcaster RÚV's radio station Rás 2, their track “Vor í Vaglaskógi” quickly placed on the top 10 for the station, and later appeared as the soundtrack for the first episode of the TV series "Trapped.”

In late 2014, the band released the video for “All the Pretty Girls” for their single by the same name, which had ranked over 3.5 million streams on Spotify.  This past year, Kaleo signed with Atlantic Records and moved to Austin, TX, debuting at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival and hailed by Esquire in their “2015 Songs of the Week, SXSW Edition: 40 Bands You Need to Hear.”

Kaleo recently released yet another music video for their second single "Way Down We Go,” also used as the soundtrack for the 10th episode of the TV series Blindspot, as well as the FIFA 16 soundtrack.  Their third single, "No Good,” appears on the promotional trailer of another new series, Vinyl.

Arriving about 315 pm for a 4 pm set, we discovered the band already has quite a following in Kansas City.  A diverse and amicable group of hundred or so, ranging from three to 60, stretched out from the storefront.  When we finally started to file in, the line had reached Central Street.

They put on a great show, hammering out six or eight acoustic tunes to a full room.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the moment, and not a soul left until after the band cleared the stage.  We definitely look forward to catching this act again.  We ended up in the back of the room, which actually turned out to be a good spot for recording a few of the tunes; not so much for photos, so there are very few, and none of the band.