When the Truman opened in September, the 1,200-person music venue was welcomed by many in the music community.
A new, mid-sized venue means more concerts in a city that already teems with choices nearly every day of the week. Others, however, were dubious about having another room join a crowded roster of venues in Kansas City and Lawrence.
“We have too many venues and too little dollars to spread around this environment,” said Larry Sells, owner of the Uptown Theater, a 2,000-plus venue just north of Westport. Yet Sells acknowledged that the Uptown was having a “real good year.”
“It’s been terrific,” he said. “We’ll do about the same amount of shows as last year. Attendance has been pretty good. We’re doing well and are real happy about this year. But the bottom line is we have too many venues. You can double the amount of concerts coming through but that doesn’t double the entertainment dollars. Eventually you dilute that.”
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The Truman, located at 601 E. Truman Road in the Crossroads, is owned by the Nashville company JR Facility Management. AEG Live, which also books shows at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, is booking the Truman’s shows.
Mike DuCharme of AEG Live and the Midland said there is a place in this market for a venue like the Truman.
“For the most part, we see it as a step between small clubs like the RecordBar (about 400 capacity) and the Midland (about 3,000) and Uptown,” he said. “It’s kind of a mid-sized room and that’s what we’ll book there: a band that would do OK at the Midland, maybe half-house, but it’s kind of a stretch. And we’re doing a good mix of stuff.”
The Truman will book about 40 shows this year, DuCharme said. It has 30 shows between Oct. 7 and Dec. 16 including country singer Luke Combs on Oct 27 (the show is already sold out); Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on Oct. 29; Slowdive, a shoegazing band from England, on Nov. 3; Our Lady Peace on Nov. 7; rapper Tyler the Creator on Nov. 9 (sold out); and Kansas City hip-hop artist Mac Lethal on Nov. 22.
DuCharme said he doesn’t expect the Truman to cut into the Midland’s bookings.
“We did about 115 shows last year and we are on target to do the same this year,” he said. “January and February are coming together, and the numbers are already better than (this year).”
But are there too many venues and too many shows?
“We’ll see,” he said. “Everybody’s bringing in shows. There seems to be more volume than there has been. For the most part, things seem to be selling. There have been a few occasions where some shows have been stacked, even shows of the same genre in the same week. And all of them have done OK. There have been nights when all of us — Uptown, Midland, Power & Light, Crossroads KC — have a good night.”
Jeff Fortier of Mammoth, a music/event production company in Lawrence, said the market will decide whether it has become saturated.
“The customers and fans will let us know,” he said. “It’s a lot for a market this size. We already have more venues than Minneapolis and St. Louis. I think if anything, it proves Kansas City is a great music town.”
In addition to the Uptown, the Midland and the Truman, that roster of venues includes Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester Ave., which offers five venues that range in capacity from 60 to 1,300; the Madrid, an 800-capacity theater at 3810 Main St.; Crossroads KC, an outdoor venue (2,850) at 18th and Locust streets; the VooDoo at Harrah’s North Kansas City casino (almost 1,200); Starlight Theatre (nearly 8,000) in Swope Park; Providence Medical Center Amphitheater (21,000) in Bonner Springs; and Silverstein Eye Centers Arena (about 5,000) in Independence.
Frank Hicks, who owns Knuckleheads, said he had “mixed emotions” about the Truman, mostly over its exclusive partnership with AEG and the Midland.
“But I don’t think it will affect us,” he said. “For the most part they are booking artists we wouldn’t. I did lose the Wood Brothers to them, but I could have lost them to Mammoth or anybody else, so it’s not a big deal.”
Hicks said 2017 has been a good year for all of his rooms; he just added the Fender stage, a 90-person stage inside the Garage, which has a capacity of 720. On Oct. 18, the Wheeler Walker Jr. show on the outdoor stage (1,300) has already sold out. That same night, Old 97’s will perform in the Garage.
“Attendance is about same,” he said, “but I notice advance sales are down and walk-ups are up. I guess more people aren’t deciding where they’re going until the last minute.”
The Goliath on the scene is the Sprint Center (16,000), which will do more than 45 shows this year, up from 38 in 2016.
“(This year) looks to be Sprint Center’s most successful year since opening 10 years ago,” said Shani Tate, the arena’s vice president of marketing, communications and ticket sales. “In 2017, three world tours started in Kansas City: Roger Waters, Ed Sheeran and One Republic. And Sprint Center was one of five arenas selected by Radiohead for their 2017 North American tour.”
As of Sept. 30, attendance at the Sprint Center this year was 482,000 — up from 2016’s total attendance of 400,000. And there are several more shows on the calendar, including Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
Tate said a critical part of the Sprint Center’s success is the market’s small and mid-size venues. She cited several acts who performed at the arena for the first time in 2017, including Gorillaz and the Chainsmokers.
“The pipeline of smaller venues is critical to developing a successful arena act/package,” she said. In January, the Lumineers made their debut at the Sprint Center, nearly five years after their first show in Kansas City, which was at the Riot Room (300-plus) in Westport.
Jacki Becker owns Up to Eleven Productions, which presents shows in venues as large as the Uptown and as small as the Replay Lounge in Lawrence. She said some of the club shows can get lost in the glut of shows at larger venues.
“It can be difficult to convince people to want to go to something small when there are so many amazing things at the larger level,” she said. “In one day you may have five tiny shows going and you put a Weeknd or Kendrick Lamar on top of it and all those big events at the Sprint Center definitely affect club shows on a Monday or Tuesday. So you have to hope you pick the best shows and hope the artists you work with have the right vibe at the right time to get enough people to come out.”
The RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd., is one of the smaller venues that have been a vital part of the city’s music pipeline. At its former location, which held 300-plus, it hosted bands like Mumford and Sons and Phoenix, which have since graduated to large theaters and arenas.
Its new location holds 400-plus fans, and co-owner Steve Tulipana said 2017 has been a good year, though he has been heavily focused on getting the restaurant side of the business back up and running after the move downtown in May 2016. It recently started opening at 11 a.m. and offering lunch daily.
“Overall, attendance is up, despite some of the setbacks with parking compared to the old location,” he said. “We are almost back up to the number of shows we did at the old location — close to 300 shows a year.”
Sometimes taking your lumps on a show is the consequence of operating in a city with a busy, vibrant music scene, he said.
“Compared to other cities our size, I believe the support is very strong,” he said. “Adding different-sized venues to our scene has helped attract tours that might otherwise skip the area. There are always the disappointing turnouts for acts that we believe in, but for a growing city there are many more options.”
Starlight Theatre is a big player in the Kansas City music scene for about six months out of the year. Bill Waugh, the venue’s concert director, said the number of concerts this year fell to 22 from 25 in 2016 but primarily because the theater booked more Broadway shows this year. Attendance, however, was robust.
“Attendance was on par with last year,” he said. “We had the same number of sellouts: Of 22 shows, five were sold out and four were nearly sold out. Next year we’ve booked fewer Broadway shows so we’ll probably do 25 or 26 concerts.”
Rising ticket prices haven’t seemed to affect attendance, Waugh said. “The average ticket price hasn’t risen more than 3 percent over the past five or six years,” he said. “So it hasn’t been significant.”
Fortier said if the demand for the act or artist is high, a higher ticket price doesn’t necessarily stunt sales.
“We’ve been aggressive bringing bands to town that maybe would have skipped the market,” he said, “and because of the support from the community, we’ve been more aggressive and paid bands maybe a little more than we should have. So the ticket price was maybe more than in the past but was what it took to bring the band to town. And those shows were successful.”
So most venues and promoters are having a year as good or better than 2016 but will a new mid-size venue planning to do 80 shows or more in 2018 pop the music bubble in Kansas City? Or are there enough fans and dollars to go around?
“If you look at the volume that’s coming through the market, we’re definitely hopeful that the demand and support of music in Kansas City is growing,” DuCharme said. “Hopefully the market keeps up and sustains it. It’s about being smart and putting bands in the right situations and in the right rooms.”
Becker was more direct: “All the shows are coming to the market. If there’s enough money in the market, we can all make it work.”