By Bob Evans
Blues enthusiasts have a chance to spend the day in Kansas City, Kansas June 23 at the 2018 KCK Street Blues Festival in a new location that allows for greater participation and a lineup of musicians to keep fans entertained.
The KCK Street Blues Festival began in June of 2000, at Third and Troup and will celebrate its 13th Festival at a new facility overlooking the Missouri River. The new location, about one mile north of Leavenworth Road is undergoing preparation now to accommodate up to 4,000 patrons, Frank Lavender, promoter said.
According to the KC Blues website: “The goal of the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival is to bring all races together by means of a music festivity. On a “grass roots” level, along with community support and an appreciation of blues music, we celebrate Kansas City’s blues heritage showcasing its finest musicians in grand style.”
This year’s Street Blues Festival runs from 2-11p.m. The new location is Lavender’s Circle L Ranch, 3924 N 49th Drive, Kansas City, KS, 66104. Lavender’s site is a 44-acre area, resting on a bluff, overlooking the Missouri River.
“The festival was started to honor the cultural contributions of Kansas City’s rich blues and jazz heritage and the strong relationship between the musicians and the northeast neighborhood,” according to a KC Blues spokesman. “As stated by many musicians, this northeast area was popular during the ‘40s through the ‘70s as a hotbed for the blues, with a little jazz mixed in. This unique music festival focuses on performers who were born, raised, lived in Kansas City, Kansas, or who played a significant number of years there. Some of the indigenous artists who have performed at the festival include Lawrence Wright, Jay McShann, Provine “Little” Hatch, Myra Taylor, Ida McBeth, The Scamps, Linda Shell, Bobby Watson, Millage Gilbert, Annetta “Cotton Candy” Washington, D.C. Bellamy, Sonny Kenner, “King” Alex Littlejohn, and Danny Cox.”
Promoter and organizer, Dawayne Gilley, a graduate of Turner High School in KCK discovered KCK jazz and blues as a college student at Pittsburg State University through a music appreciation class and has promoted KCK’s musical history since.
“I went to Pittsburg State ( 1986-89 ) along the way I attended a music appreciation class and discovered that Kansas City had a super-rich jazz & blues history,” Gilley said. “In the 1990s I began to discover what Kansas City had to offer in the way of artists who were still living and performing. After traveling often to see blues around the country I began to see the niche need for KC to honor our own.”
Since its inception, the KCK Street Blues Festival has continued to grow. We have a small committee that has grown in the last year. Frank Lavender, Cathy Ramirez, Lance Lavender, Tim Sewell, Emmett Brison, Niel Henriksen, and me. The budget ranges from $6300 to $32,000.
“All of our performers have the same things in common for the most part. They travel the globe on occasion. Some more than others. Recognized worldwide for their music, talent, and images. Some more than others. KC is famous for Jazz and Blues for so very many reasons. Our festival features a range in styles of blues. We are limited to pure blues, but is our heavy focus. We also present on a limited basis, Jazz, Reggae, R’nB, Acoustic Folk, and Zydeco. Our bread and butter is Blues,” Gilley said.
This event property has the feel of country but is in city limits. Two different stages will be used for the festival. During the day the stage on top of a hill that allows a person can see 15 miles in each direction. Shuttles will be available to the stage areas. Handicapped parking will also be available, Gilley said.
This year’s lineup of performers and times are:
Mountain Acoustic Stage
2 p.m. – Ernest James Zydeco
3:30 p.m.- Danny Cox with Terry Bohner, Bob Simons, and special guest Joe Miquelon
4:15 p.m. – Norman Liggins & Danita “Little Red” Oliver with special guest Jason Vivone
Electric Down In The Valley Stage
5:00 p.m. – Jaisson Taylor Group
6:30 p.m. – D. C. Bellamy “2018 King – Living Heritage Tribute Show” with special guests TBA
8:30 p.m. – 51% Blues Band with special guests Mark & Sue Corbett, Allen Locke & Shannon Basham
10:15 p.m. – Eugene Smiley Blues Band with special guest Millage Gilbert
The festival has lined up food and beverage vendors with very affordable prices. Many comfort foods that you would expect at a blues festival. BBQ of course, burgers, hotdogs, fried chicken, variety of Louisiana sausages, Turkey Legs, Fish, Philly Cheese Steak, Tacos, tons of deserts, specialty juices and tea. Specific vendors are listed on the KC Blues website.
The Festival has a history of growing annually until some unforseen setbacks caused the Festival into hiatus for a few years.
“In the early years we grew from 1,000 to 10,000 from 2000 through 2005. In 2006 we moved to Kaw Point Park and we only drew 1,000 for three days. We lost serious dollars and didn’t have a festival in 2007. For 2008 we moved to 13th & State Ave. In 2008 we had around 5,000. In 2009 we had 7,000. Then we had issues with the Unified Government of KCK over BYOB, and it forced us to shut down the festival from 2010 through 2015. Momentum and attendance are building after a rough restart in 2016 with 450 attendees. That rose to 700 for 2017, and this year likely 1000-2000. Could surprise us at around 3,000. We can feel a serious momentum swing so we are expecting a wide range of possibilities for attendance for 2018…we will see,” Gilley said.
The price to attend the KCK Street Blues Festival is a bargain. Only $10 gets full access pass for the entire event. People may bring their own chairs and blankets. Attendees may leave for awhile and return. Gatekeepers will have chips to distribute as guests exit so they may return later. The event also allows for picnic baskets and coolers. The event is on private property so BYOB is acceptable as well. The Festival prides itself in being family-oriented and allows free entrance to ages 12 and under, Gilley said.
‘We fought a long battle to keep this festival a BYOB event. We really want our festival goers to have a great time without the stress of spending crazy amounts of money. Big concerts and sporting events nowadays charge an arm and a leg for all beverages. We aren’t one of those. Blues goes better with your favorite beverage of your choosing. You select the brands that you like. Ice and a cooler is all you need to do it your way,” he said.
To accommodate the crowds and the length of the event, rest rooms and trash bins will be available for guests, and there will be security at the event.
“Our crowd is super laid back. Majority are 40-90 years old. We do get some 18-40 year olds that are really into the music. Audience tends to be mature in many regards. We have never had an arrest or fight at our festival. People really go out of their way to be friendly. Yes we have several off duty police officers and community elders who are in attendance to keep the peace. We treat people with respect. Things go smooth that way,” Gilley said.
Even though the event had problems with the UG, past mayors Carol Marinovich and her husband have attended. Her husband has performed with other artists and is invited again this year to participate. Former mayors Joe Reardon and Mark Holland have also attended and supported the Festival, as has Commissioner Melissa Bynum who helped with special permits for this year.
“Melissa Bynum has been a champion of our cause since 2000 when she was a member of Kaw Valley Arts & Humanities. Melissa has been there to hand us awards in the KCK community. She was there to help us to our proposal reapproved in 2016 for Lavender’s Circle L Ranch. I expect she will be with us again this year. Melissa is a true friend of our festival,” Gilley said. “ Mark Holland and Joe Reardon are always welcome. Several UG Commissioners attend. Many off duty police officers, fireman, city employees, judges, you name it. All walks of life frequent our festival.”
The KCK Street Blues Festival serves specifically the Kansas City, Kansas area and our Blues heritage. We encourage all Blues lovers in the Kansas City Metropolitan and suburban areas to attend. But, we get people from around the world. We draw our crowd from every KC area. We get regional and national visitors as well as some international visitors–Australia, Japan, South America, Korea, all over Europe, Canada. I think we have had visitors from over 30 American states at one time or another. Some folks have come from far and wide a few times.
The Ranch can seat 5,000 – 7,000. Parking that many is the problem. With 1,000-3,000 seating will be super comfortable. Some folks have to park a ways away. Shuttles will be available for the event.
“This is our 12th festival since 2000. We already have an established history and presentation style. We represent, present and honor the history of the blues in our greater Kansas City. We do that in a grand style for the novice and die-hard fan alike. If you come once you will be hooked. We want to continue honoring these fabulous artist. Entertaining the audience is secondary. I don’t want that to sound wrong. We treat our musicians with so much love and care that our audience ends up having a blast too. Everything we do is about honoring music first and musicians at a close second. We enjoy our small town block party feel of things,” he said.