Caitlin Dean for Middle of the Map (c/o Ink Magazine) and Midcoast Station
75 and sunny with fluffy clouds sailing lackadaisically across an azure sky. An all-access wristband, my trusty Moleskine in my bag, and a thirst to be satisfied only with some Jameson neat. My kind of wonderful. This is my Middle of the Map.
I spent Saturday traipsing Westport with near and dear friends, my only instructions to experience the buzz of the festival and later, bring it to life for readers. I obliged. MOTM swept me off my feet, cradling me with saucy whiskey, hours of dancing, and and a wonderful new appreciation for everything Kansas City offers, particularly the widespread drive to share art and let it live loudly. Does this sound like a love letter? It is. I love you, Kansas City.
I indulged in local acts. First thing, Hearts of Darkness had me dancing on my tiptoes at Buzzard Beach’s outdoor stage, laughing and smiling unashamedly, even if most of Kansas City refuses to do much more than bob its collective head slightly at shows. I sneaked a few peeks across the crowd and was pleased to see a handful of others moved by the music. I chased the white rabbit bus down at a stoplight, jumped aboard, and bumped over to RecordBar where Y(our) Fri(end), a standard solo act accompanied by a drummer buddy for the day, left my heart aching and yearning in the most beautiful, haunting way. I eavesdropped on The Sluts drummer analyzing Catch-22 (and its decidedly poorly written sequel) with a concert-goer, felt like a dick for pulling out a leather notebook to scribble thoughts in a bar, and bought a round of shots for friends.
Back at the outdoor stage, a friend insisted I see his friend’s cousin’s (…) band, Radkey. Comprised of all-under-20 brothers, this St. Joseph trio commanded the stage with the excellence of a much older and experienced band. Big instrumentals and even bigger vocals burst forth from this impressively seasoned family. Lead vocalist Dee teased the crowd into titters when he explained that the next song would be about “the first time [he] saw boobs.” Keep an eye on this punk band. You’ll be hearing more from them.
A hop, skip, and a jump transported me back to RecordBar to catch just a few songs by Grand Rapids natives the Soil & the Sun, a self-described amalgam of “experiential spiritual folk-rock/New Mexican space music.” Mmm. the Soil & the Sun blended oboe, violin, guitars, accordion, percussion, piano, and vocals to deliver sweet melodies saturated with emotion and a certain je ne sais quoi that left me refreshed and newly awakened with life. This was easily my favorite performance of the festival, and I’m sorely sorry that I couldn’t soak up more of their set.
The rest of the evening disappeared in a blur of Freebirds burritos, rocking with Lawrence’s (by way of Chicago) The Noise FM, nodding appreciatively to Kansas City’s own Soft Reeds while an older man danced with his hands in the air outside the venue gates, and, impressively, enjoying heavy rockers Maps For Travelers (I don’t normally care much for music that involves any kind of screaming). I decided to call it a (very successful) night after my gal pals lost track of me and broke into a bathroom using a debit card, concerned I’d passed out on the floor. I was actually down the hall, sitting in an office cuddling a puppy and piecing together my notes from the day. I was exhausted. Bedtime.
I missed Thursday and Friday evenings. I missed everything after 10:00 Saturday night. But what I did take in was an incredible reminder of how tightly knit, dedicated, and talented the Kansas City music scene is. These bands self-promote year-round, working endlessly to be heard and connected. In only its third year, the Middle of the Map Festival brought together top-notch acts from all over the country, while still retaining its vital focus on KC’s greatest musicians and making them the true focus of the weekend. This was a wonderfully orchestrated festival, and I look forward to seeing it grow in the coming years.
See a gallery featuring Friday & Saturday artists here.