In a booth inside RecordBar, the venue’s co-owners are reminiscing.
Thursday, Steve Tulipana and Shawn Sherrill will celebrate 10 years in the building. That’s 10 years presenting some of the best live music in Kansas City; 10 years hosting weddings, wakes, fundraisers and other events; 10 years as a haven for food, booze and music; 10 years as cultural hub on the outskirts of Westport.
This weekend, RecordBar will commemorate its 10th birthday with the two-day KC Psych Fest, a celebration of psychedelic or avant-garde music. It will be the venue’s final birthday at 1020 Westport Road. This spring, the owner of the property informed Tulipana and Sherrill he would not be renewing their lease, which expires on Dec. 31.
So as they look back on 10 years of love and toil, both are also busy planning for the venue’s next incarnation.
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“We have one plan, which would be a big deal, a really big deal, if we can make it happen,” Tulipana said. “Plan B is to go smaller. We haven’t looked for a place for that yet.”
They will take with them plenty of memories and a deep sense of accomplishment. Asked to recall some of their favorite moments over the past 10 years, both mentioned a Gary Numan show in August 2006.
“Steve and I have DJ’d his songs since we were kids,” Sherrill said. “We are huge fans.”
Numan had been playing larger venues, like House of Blues, and his crew seemed stressed about RecordBar’s size and facilities, Tulipana said.
“They were not happy,” he said. “They were like, ‘How are we going to do a show here?’ I was worried they might cancel.”
The show went on, and Numan was a charming guest.
“He loved playing here,” Tulipana said. “He had blast. He hung around after and talked and told stories. We met his wife, who was wonderful. His crew told us, ‘He never does this.’ ”
“He played ‘Down in the Park,’ which has a special place in our hearts,” Sherrill said. “I remember looking at Steve and thinking, ‘Gary Numan is in our bar, singing ‘Down in the Park,’ something I’d never imagined.”
Though the two have long been musicians and part of the Kansas City music scene, including the band Roman Numerals, live music was a minor part of the agenda when the two started planning to open a bar and restaurant.
“We’d been coveting the Chez Charlie space,” Sherrill said of the hole-in-the-wall the bar at 3089 Broadway. “We wanted to open a place like that: a place Steve and I could work and be the only staff and we’d hire friends to fill in when we went on tour. And maybe if someone wanted to play music, they could set up in the corner.”
But in the summer of 2005, the Molloy Brothers Irish Pub closed in the shopping center at Westport Road and Southwest Trafficway. Tulipana and Sherrill took over the space on Aug. 1 of that year; on Oct. 1, they changed the name to RecordBar.
“The place kind of fell in our lap,” Sherrill said. “Even then we weren’t planning on a live music venue. We wanted to open a place with good wine and good food.”
But by September 2005, the venue was hosting live shows. One of them was an 18-and-older show headlined by the experimental electronic band Black Dice.
“There weren’t many 18-and-older shows back then,” Sherrill said. “But because we had a restaurant license, we could do them. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We put up that orange plastic netting to keep the underage kids from getting to the bar. We were expecting liquor control to come in at any minute. We were so nervous.”
In late October of that year, Jacki Becker, a promoter with Up To Eleven Productions, enlisted the venue to host the National, a band that now headlines places like Starlight Theater, as it did in 2013.
“This was before anyone knew who they were,” Tulipana said. “They played to about 30 people. We took them to Harry’s (Bar and Tables) afterward and hung out.”
That was one of several shows that featured bands on the verge of breaking big. One of those bands was Phoenix, which played a free MySpace show in June 2009. Coincidentally, Roman Numerals opened for Phoenix when it sold out the Uptown Theater a year later.
But probably the biggest “get” was Mumford and Sons, who filled he venue in June 2010.
“I had no idea who they were when we booked them,” Sherrill said. “But they sold out three months in advance on a Wednesday night. Who does that?”
A year later, they drew about 10,000 to a show at City Market.
Then there was a show by singer/songwriter Howie Day, held on a stormy night.
“It was sold-out crowd, and they were all fanatical,” Sherrill said. “The show had just started when the power went out.”
So candles were lit and set about the room and Day was persuaded to do an acoustic show, completely unplugged.
“He sat in the middle of the floor and we had four flashlights on him and he did an acoustic set,” Tulipana said. “People were crying. Everyone who was there will always remember that show.”
More than just a live-music venue, RecordBar became a hub for the music community. People got married there. Mourners gathered there after funerals and memorial services. It’s where much of “72 Musicians,” a documentary about music in Kansas City, was filmed. It has hosted plenty of benefits, including a Hurricane Katrina benefit not long after RecordBar opened.
“What are we proudest of? That it became a community space, a place where people brought their children or held a wedding ceremony or wedding reception,” Tulipana said. “People got engaged in the photo booth.”
One of the staples of RecordBar’s calender is the weekly Bob Walkenhorst and Friends, featuring the lead singer of the Rainmakers, a session that goes back to the Molloy Brothers days.
“Bob came with the bar,” Tulipana said. “They were kind of nervous at first, like we were going to replace it with something ‘cooler.’ But why cancel something that’s successful? I hope they like where ever we move to because we want them to come with us.”
Jeff Porter, a fellow Rainmaker and one of Walkenhorst’s friends on those Wednesday sessions, said RecordBar has grown near and dear to everyone’s hearts over the past 10 years.
“(RecordBar) has allowed what I can only describe as a community to build around those performances,” Porter said. “Many friendships, several long-term romances and at least two marriages have been spawned from that community. I sure hope we can do it for at least another 10 years. It has really become a huge part of life for us.”
No matter where the next RecordBar ends up, its owners will pursue the same philosophy.
“We just let it become what it wanted to be,” Sherrill said. “We were very aware of what we didn’t want it to be and careful about what we didn’t want to happen. But if someone came to us with an idea that had some integrity and interest, we’d give it a try.”
“A lot of people have an emotional connection to the place,” Tulipana said. “A lot of people have stories about seeing their favorite show here. That’s why we keep doing it.”
The two-day KC Psych Fest will be Friday and Saturday at RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Show time is 7 p.m. each day. Admission is $10 each night. It’s an 18-and-older event.
Friday: Merlin, the Philistines, Crushed Out, Holy Gallows, Via Luna, RLT
Saturday: Slim Twig, Van Allen Belt, Wet Socks, Be/Non, Jorge Arana Trio, El Condor