Thursday, April 11, 2013

P.S. Comings and Goings

A place I’ve never been before but in my mind,
I long to go there with you
And live another life full of brownstone buildings, and cobbled roads
Old sections of old towns where all the young people meet
In clothes I’ve never seen before.

I’ll work in a kitchen, evenings and nights
With the Hispanics and the Asians,
Cooking food for the locals and the all nighters;
I lie on the job application so nobody knows.

But you don’t know who I am either,
Even as we dance up and down deserted late-night streets
Of 50s glory, and the caterwaul of the man
Who has no direction and yet is free
Echoes along cracked, shadowed walls.

I’ve seen in your eyes the shattered hope
Of somewhere new and holy,
Smoke along the sides of stained walls
Moving to the distant, hollow music.

We end up there, and make sense later
When our whole discordant lives
Are not before us, but behind us 
In that same cloud of dispersing smoke. 
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Our philosophers should be rock stars, but our rock stars should be philosophers.
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Monday, April 8, 2013

What's Going on with Kansas City's Middle of the Map Fest?

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Last weekend marked the third edition of Ink's Middle of the Map Fest, with a lineup that once again is described as being "curated" by local label The Record Machine. Let me first say, that I've attended each year and I think this is a well-intentioned and positive event for the city and midtown/Westport specifically. Each year hundreds of fans throng in and out of the bars, venues, coffee shops and restaurants in what is surely a boon for the economy of Westport and the local bands that are often highlighted. This year we lost the Beaumont Club, which seemed to create some locale problems, but we gained the Uptown Theater which typically serves as a better concert going environment.

Still, I'm left wondering after this year's incarnation what exactly Middle of the Map Fest intends to be. The promoters don't seem to reach out much beyond their core base of fans and local groups that they book every year. It's obvious that in name and spirit, MOTM wants to be a successor to Austin's famous SXSW Festival. People from Kansas City or Austin will probably wince at the comparison, but perhaps for different reasons. As one patron of Buzzard noted on Saturday, "This looks like Kansas City trying to do SXSW and doing a shitty job."

It pains me to criticize anything local that brings in business and gives a platform to deserving local musicians, but somebody has to offer a critical perspective in what is largely an insular and self congratulatory music scene. (We can't expect this from the Star since they own Ink and by and by are therefore directly involved with organizing/funding MOTM. I don't know what to expect from the Pitch, but giving MOTM too much coverage is basically promotion for a competing rag.) 
The majority of core local bands booked this year were present in one or both of the two previous years, and although some of them are my favorite bands, I don't really see this as a productive use of MOTM. The Appleseed Cast are not an up and coming act, and anyone involved in local music has probably been seeing them annually for a decade+ (I've seen them about 30 times). On the other hand, great local acts like Cowboy Indian Bear and Soft Reeds are on the bill every year because they're signed to The Record Machine (absent this year was Capybara, which surprised me a bit). Then you have the rest of the usual suspects, which are often older indie musicians entrenched in the local scene that currently do booking/run venues, or are still kicking around town in one form or another. Hello Roman Numerals, Thee Water Moccassins, etc.

And oh yes, don't forget the Beautiful Bodies. We can't have a local show without the Beautiful Bodies.
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Every other entry in the fest appears to be a crapshoot after this. Typically, bands that just happen to be on tour show up and breeze through as if they were playing any other show on their current tour. As I watched Grizzly Bear Friday night at the Uptown, that's basically what it felt like. Location wise, the Uptown had little connection to the fest and besides two puny banners hanging from either of the sides of the box seats there was no indication that this was anything but another concert by another touring band.

But don't forget the twelve dollar beers. After paying a mostly reasonable 45 dollars for a three night pass, music fans were expected to pony up twelve dollars for a beer at the Uptown. You might've thought you were at Arrowhead Stadium at this point. (Sadly, not even the Chiefs charge this much for a beer.)

At this point, you might be wondering how exactly the fest is highlighting a broad swath of local talent when a lot of the bands basically play every year. I've wondered the same thing myself, and I've concluded that either: a) the local scene is a lot weaker and more limited than we realize, or b) the organizers simply aren't trying very hard or just don't have the pull yet. Let's not forget, this isn't SXSW. Bands probably aren't dying to play the Middle of the Map Fest in Kansas...City. (I'm sure more than a few visitors echoed that same confusion so many of us on the eastern side of state line have gotten used to hearing.)

I'm bringing some of these issues to light because I love local music, and I love Kansas City but this festival could be a lot better. Why not try and get someone like the Get-Up Kids to play? The recently reformed band is arguably the biggest thing to come out of the area in decades, but they have a national appeal as well. Perhaps the promoters have tried and the scheduling or money simply didn't work out.

What about having another high profile reunion rather than seeing the Casket Lottery play again every year? It was great to be there when they got back together for MOTM in 2011, but am I supposed to feel nostalgic for that each year when I see them open up with "Code Red"? Maybe just maybe if the circumstances were right and the offer was there, we could see Kill Creek or the Anniversary come together for an evening. Is our scene really so limited that we have to trot out the same tired act every year? Are we that challenged in our booking capabilities that our options remain either aging local bands, not ready for prime time players, a few random national acts or bands that are easily booked because the "curators" happen to be releasing their new album?

In this, it's third year, we might begin to expect more from Middle of the Map. But it ends up being a  mediocre representation of local talent that's even starting to wear on an ardent fan like myself.

Kansas City, we're better than that aren't we? Or is an unfocused, largely unoriginal and somewhat disappointing indie rock festival all that we have to offer?

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