Kansas City Music Scene
Lauren Wells | April 4, 2014
During the 1930s, the big band era in Kansas City transitioned to a jazzier sound. Music legends like Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Joe Turner, Jay McShann, and Hot Lips Page performed throughout the city. This bluesy shift in style continued, stretching out the beginning of an iconic time in music, as saxophonist/composer Charlie Parker led the fast paced bebop jazz genre during the 1940s. Kansas City is known for its jazz history, but that isn’t to say that other genres haven’t become prevalent throughout the city’s music scene. Rock, hardcore, and hip-hop lives on through many of today’s artists. Kansas City churned out rock bands like Shooting Star and the Rainmakers during the 1970s and 1980s, before the 90s introduced rappers like Tech N9ne, Sole, Krizz Kaliko, and Kutt Calhoun. Edgier acts like Coalesce (a metalcore band), The Get Up Kids (an indie rock band with an emo flare), The Casket Lottery (an indie rock band), The Gadjits (a ska punk act), The Elders (an Irish folk rock group), and Reggie and the Full Effect (a pop punk band) also came out of the city during the 90s. The millenium saw multi-genre acts like hip hop rapper Mac Lethal, screamo punk band Flee the Seen, alternative space rock band The Life and Times, indie rock group Vedera, indie rock band Blackpool Lights, and alternative rock band the Republic Tigers.
The Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland books entertainers like ZZ Ward, George Lopez, Bill Maher, YES, Garrison Keillor, Sevendust, Diana Ross, and Amy Schumer. Renovated by AEG Live, the Cordish Company, and Arvest Bank, the venue is located in downtown Kansas City in the Power & Light District. Originally opened in 1927 as the Midland Theatre, the venue now hosts more than 125 concerts, entertainment events, and charitable functions per year. The 1,300- to 3,000-capacity space also hosts wedding receptions and private parties, as its stunning historical architecture makes for a great backdrop.
The American Jazz Museum’s Gem Theater features jazz acts like Poncho Sanchez, Anat Cohen, Karrin Allyson, Randy Brecker, Mark Whitfield, Peter Martin, Clarence Penn, and Larry Grenadier. A great venue to experience Kansas City’s deep jazz roots, the Gem also features poetry festivals, concert series, and theatrical performances.
The VooDoo Cafe and Lounge at Harrah’s North Kansas City Casino is a lounge and nightclub that features live music from acts like Killer Queen, Todd Rundgren, and Citizen Cope. A two-story venue, VooDoo has hosted names like the Indigo Girls, Snoop Dogg, Gary Allan, Randy Travis, Slash, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Pete Yorn and Lucinda Williams.
Located in downtown Kansas City, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyrics Opera of Kansas City, and the Kansas City Ballet. Also home to the Muriel Kauffman Theatre and Helzberg Hall, the Kauffman Center offers a variety of live programming, especially aiming to connect with the youth through educational outreach programs. The 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre hosts Broadway productions, comedy shows, and mainstream music performances, providing the audience with an intimate viewing of each show. Each seatback even has the Figaro supertitle personal monitor system, allowing audience members to enjoy foreign language productions. Helzberg Hall is a 1,600-seat oval-shaped venue that hosts solo concerts, chamber music performances, and full orchestra performances. It’s also home to the 5,538-pipe Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ.
The Uptown Theater originally opened in 1928 in the Midtown area of Kansas City. Officially a historic landmark, the theater originally had a capacity of 2,300 before later renovations made it so that the capacity is currently 1,700. Designed by architect Robert Gornall, the venue was on its way to becoming an office and shopping center before it was acquired by the Universal Film Company. The unfinished building was then completed by John Eberson, an Austrian designer who gave the space its Italian Renaissance style (complete with twinkling stars, clouds, mechanical flying birds, and a replica of a Mediterranean courtyard). Having hosted vaudeville, movies, and theatrical productions, the Uptown Theater even featured a Fragratone system that piped fragrances into the auditorium during key moments in the films being shown. From corporate events and concerts to political speakers and weddings, the Uptown Theater has hosted Lyle Lovett, Slayer, Needtobreathe, The Wanted, Koan Sound, The Monkees, Barack Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, Ron Paul, and Bill Maher.
Built in 1887 as a railroad boarding house, Knuckleheads Saloon hosts acts like Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys, Earl & Them, Danielle Nicole, Edgar Winter, Mark Winkler, Kris Lager Band, Tab Benoit, and the Howlin Brothers (don’t be surprised if you hear train whistles between songs, given the venue’s track-side location). If you’re an amateur musician, Knuckleheads Saloon welcomes you to their no-cover open jam sessions held on the weekends. The venue keeps the spirit of Blues alive across its three stages: an outdoor stage area with adjoining VIP caboose area, a 220-seat indoor stage, and a 50 seat lounge called the “Retro Room” give concertgoers plenty of options for enjoying a show.
Big names like Miley Cyrus, Cher, Kenny Loggins, Chic, Elton John, Garth Brooks, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, Jason Aldean, and Madonna perform at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. The 19,252-capacity venue was once home to the AFL’s Kansas City Command, but currently hosts large concerts, sporting events, and conferences.
The Starlight Theatre hosts names like Chelsea Handler, James Taylor, Backstreet Boys, Ray LaMontagne, Arcade Fire, Foreigner, and Styx. The venue also accommodates popular Broadway shows. The Starlight Theatre has a capacity of 7,958 and its adjacent Cohen stage house is a 1,200-capacity space. Live Nation heads up the venue’s concert booking efforts, bringing in the best names in entertainment. Established in 1951, the Starlight Theatre is located in Swope Park and was built in an effort to bring Broadway shows to Kansas City. The venue remains one of two self-producing outdoor theatres in the U.S., making it a popular, nationally-renowned entertainment center and summer concert destination.
A former vaudeville and burlesque house, the Folly Theater was built in 1900 in downtown Kansas City by architect Louis S. Curtiss. The 1,078-capacity theater is an official Kansas City historical landmark and hosts jazz series, kid-friendly shows, choirs, chamber music groups, and other orchestral performances.
The art deco Municipal Auditorium Arena is a large venue that is comprised of three sections: the 7,316-capacity Arena, the 2,400-capacity Music Hall, and the 400-capacity Little Theatre. Opened in 1935, the arena is currently home to Broadway Across America, the Kansas City Roller Warriors, and the UMKC Kangaroos (the space is the former home to the Kansas City Attack and the Kansas City Kings). The Municipal Auditorium Arena hosts sporting events, symphony orchestras, operas, ballets, private events and banquets.
Located in the Crossroads arts district, CrossroadsKC is an outdoor music venue that welcomes rock, reggae, bluegrass, hip hop, and everything in between. Each season, CrossroadsKC hosts approximately 40 shows from acts like the String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, The Flaming Lips, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Michael Franti & Spearhead, John Butler Trio, Dr. Dog, and Xavier Rudd. Also available for private events, the venue was established in 2007 and has since become a popular concert going destination.
The Jazz in the Woods Festival is Kansas City’s largest free music festival. Raising money for local charities, the festival features a 5K Fun Run in addition to showcasing acts like The Elders, Norman Brown, Vincent Ingala, Mindi Abair, Bobby Watson, Eldar, Lauren Braton, and Angela Hagenbach. The festival highlights all kinds of jazz, from ragtime, fusion, and smooth to contemporary, blues, and Latin! Going strong for over 25 years, the Jazz in the Woods Festival benefits three local charities that aid the youth of Kansas City. With excellent performances, an exercise component, and food vendors galore, this family-friendly festival is a must for those of you in KC this June. For even more jazz, check out Kansas City’s 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival featuring headliners like Pieces of a Dream, Con Funk Shun, The Messenger Legacy, Kelley Hunt, and Bobby Lyle & Maysa, among other local and regional acts. Held in October, the one-day festival is hosted by the American Jazz Museum and has even been voted Best Music Festival in Kansas City by the CVA Visitor’s Choice Awards in 2011 and 2012. Located in the Historic Jazz District, the festival features multiple stages, food vendors, arts and crafts booths, film screenings, panel discussions, and children’s activities. With a name like Dancefesttopia, it seems a bit obvious that what you’re going to do at this festival. Held in September on 17 acres of land, the two day EDM festival is going on its third year, having featured artists like Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Porter Robinson, Infected Mushroom, Doctor P, Adventure Club, EOTO, Gramatik, DJ BL3ND, Griz, RJD2, and Break Science, among many others in past years. When you’re too tired from dancing, check out the bodypainting booths, dunk tanks, and other creative vendors (you can even dive 30 feet onto the biggest Airbag in the world). Held throughout April, the Middle of the Map Fest features three distinct components: music, forum, and film. For the music portion, artists like Gary Numan, The Colourist, Wells the Traveler, The Get Up Kids, Those Darlins, Kate Nash, Of Montreal, and Kishi Bashi perform. Bringing together the arts, tech, and cultural communities, the forum aspect of the festival holds panels and sessions to inspire community engagement and collaboration, as speakers like Damian Garcia, George Packer, David Sullivan, Hugh Merrill, and Julia Cole address festival-goers. The Middle of the Map Fest accepts submissions for Best Feature Film, Best Documentary Film, Best Music Video, and Best Short, rounding out the film component. If you’re looking to get a bit edgier, Rockfest has you covered. Bands like the Pretty Reckless, Heaven’s Basement, Pop Evil, Five Finger Death Punch, Eve to Adam, Syn City Cowboys, Korn, Killswitch Engage, Staind, and Escape the Fate jam out in downtown Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial Park. The one day festival even takes it a step further: you can legally get married at Rockfest. The festival holds a “mass wedding,” where an ordained minister (aptly named Moose) marries about 40 couples in front of 50,000 other people. After marriage comes the baby carriage, right? The Jiggle Jam Family Fest at Crown Center is the polar opposite of Rockfest. The two-day family-friendly event is the nation’s largest independent family music festival, featuring over 25 different bands and entertainers. Held during Memorial Day weekend, the festival has been going strong for over seven years, providing the community with arts and crafts, entertainment, interactive workshops, and a Bouncy Land.