Kansas City musician Beau Bledsoe is artistic director of Ensemble Iberica, which performs music from Spain and Portugal and those countries’ colonies.
Last month, Bledsoe, beaubledsoe.com, led a group of 25 on a tour of Portugal called Fado, Food and Wine. Fado (“fate” in Portuguese) is a type of soulful folksong that originated in Lisbon. The tour, a fundraiser for Ensemble Iberica, was the first time Bledsoe led a group to Portugal, although he has been there before to study music. Plans call for the tour to be repeated next summer.
The idea for the trip came from the board president, Bill Cutler, said Bledsoe, who thought it was a “horrible idea” at first.
“Take 25 Americans someplace and keep track of them and try to keep everyone happy? That was way, way, way outside of my wheelhouse,” Bledsoe said. But then he realized the fundraising potential.
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The group’s next Kansas City performance, with fado singer Nathalie Pires and Brazilian vocalist and percussionist Nanny Assis, will be Aug. 15 and 16 at Musical Theatre Heritage at Crown Center.
Bledsoe, who lives in the historic Northeast with his wife, Zhanna Saparova, and their children, Maya, 2, and Aiden, 6, was raised in Little Rock, Ark. Bledsoe started studying classical guitar in high school and earned a bachelor’s in liberal arts at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He earned a master’s in performance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.
This conversation took place at Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, 419 E. 18th St.
Q: Why Portugal?
A: The first time I went, I assumed there would be lots of tourists there. Like in Argentina, there were so many foreign people there to learn tango, and in Spain it was full of foreigners, but when we went to learn fado by immersion, it was like we were the first people ever to do it. So we had this weird power of “the first.”
It became more of a diplomatic trip. A lot of people wanted to take us out to dinner, journalists were picking up on it that we were there and that got me a lot of amazing connections with people for this trip: the really good chefs, the best fado houses, the greatest wineries.
Q: So, how was this trip?
A: It went extremely well. We are all surprised. Everything came off without a hitch. Everyone in the group was really, really cool.
Q: How did you prepare for being a host?
A: I got there five days before everyone else just to have face time with all the chefs and all the owners of the fado clubs.
Because it’s Portugal, so I need to look at them in the face and say, “We’re coming,” even though we already had contracts.
Q: Because personal contact is worth more than a contract in that culture.
A: Exactly (laughs). Just because you have some words on a piece of paper doesn’t mean that much in that country.
I also walked all the routes from the hotel to find the nicest, widest sidewalks in the shade to all the places we were going.
Q: Those are pretty good hospitality instincts.
A: Out of fear (laughs).
I think I have some of that in me. I like to be tour guide when people come to Kansas City. And I loved showing people my favorite places in Portugal.
I did it in kind of a tiered way: The first night was a very touristy fad house, and the second night was in a better neighborhood, but a place that was still air-conditioned, a nice, sit-down place. And the third night I took them to a real neighborhood fado house where you can only get about 30 people in there, everyone’s on top of each other, there’s no AC, just people from the neighborhood singing fado.
So it’s a very, very intense experience. But I can’t start with that, so I ramped up to that. Everyone got it — everyone had that catharsis that fado brings.
The most striking thing about a fado performance is, everyone (in the audience) is quiet. They will perform about four pieces in complete silence — you can’t make a peep — and then the lights come back on and everyone can socialize and 20 or 30 minutes later, they do it again.
Q: Wow, that’s really different than here.
A: Yeah, in Kansas City jazz clubs, guys might play for four hours and be talked over the whole time. That’s just how we are.
Q: Maybe you could import that etiquette to your concerts here.
A: There’s talk of that. Peter Grunauer (managing owner of Grunauer restaurant in the Freight House District) was on the trip — he’s our vice president — and he said, “I want to do this in my restaurant, just like this.”
Because you get all the socialization and the food and then you have to behave yourself and take in something.
Q: Did anything surprise you on the trip?
A: Yeah. It’s kind of lawless, they don’t have laws about when bars close, and people stayed up really, really late. Everyone made it to 3 a.m. and some of them made it to 5 a.m.
Q: How much did the trip cost?
A: Just under $3,000 per person, not including airfare. That included a really nice hotel, all the admissions to the fado houses, a lot of great meals and viewing a regatta on the Douro River aboard a luxury yacht.
We were able to raise money in a synergistic way: People were able to see musicians and singers in Portugal that we hope to bring to Kansas City as guest performers, so that will build audience for our shows here.
Ensemble Iberica performs with fado singer Nathalie Pires and Brazilian vocalist and percussionist Nanny Assis at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15-16. Tickets are $20-$25. Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center. ensembleiberica.org.