After Eddie Crane sold his ownership in two Kansas City restaurants, one of his goals was to get into music promotion. And one of his plans was to start Kansas City’s own version of the Newport Folk Festival.
“The thing that I thought was coolest about what I knew of Newport is on any given day it’s not locked into one specific genre,” he said. “One year they had Etta James, Bill Monroe and Bob Dylan all playing the same stage. It has been my dream to do something like that in Kansas City. It would be roots-based and real music made by real people, but not hyper-traditional.”
Saturday, he will present the inaugural Westport Roots Festival, a one-day event that he thinks fits that vision. More than two dozen bands and performers are on the bill, and though they all have a common foundation — it’s string-based music, he said — there is plenty of variety and diversity across the lineup.
“We have a country songwriting legend like Billy Joe Shaver,” he said, “but we’ve got bands like the Calamity Cubes essentially doing punk rock and a punkabilly band like County Graves to traditional bluegrass from Kanza Swamp Band and one-man band buskers playing kick drums on suitcases. We have some blues, too. But all of them could unplug and play their music on a street corner. That’s what unifies them all. That’s what roots is.”
Interest in that kind of music has grown, Crane said, evidenced by the popularity of the Westport Saloon, which opened last summer and features live roots music regularly.
And three years ago, Crane started the annual Halfway to Winfield Fest, a one-day festival in March featuring bands who play one of the biggest unofficial stages each September at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan.
“This year, the forecast was for rain, and it did rain,” he said, “but we still had 1,000 people show up for that show.”
The Westport Roots Festival will feature 26 performers, including Crane’s band, Loaded Goat, on three stages: a main stage in the parking lot on Westport Road between Pennsylvania Avenue and Mill Street (outside Buzzard Beach); an indoor stage inside the Westport Saloon; and a smaller, auxiliary stage also in the parking lot. Bands on the main stage will play 45-minute sets, except Shaver, who will play a longer set; acts at the auxiliary stage will fill in the time between main-stage sets.
Crane said he expects his festival will introduce many of its bands to fans of this music.
“The average Billy Joe Shaver fan will say, ‘Billy Joe for $25; that’s … a deal,’” he said. “But I’d say the average fan won’t have any idea who a lot of the other bands are. I think they’ll come away with an appreciation for why they were selected.”
At the heart of this kind of music, he said, is authenticity. For most of the bands on the bill, music is a way of life.
“The music industry is shoving so much plastic down our throats, there’s a demand for music like this,” he said. “It’s genuine. It’s (performers) with unpolished fingernails and holes in jeans not put there by designers and playing homemade instruments held together by glue and duct tape.
“These are bands who sit on street corners, who tour the country, who live in their vans, who are from small towns in Kansas and still tour the country. You can’t fabricate that kind of life experience. Look at Billy Joe Shaver. His Wikipedia entry reads like a novel. But that’s his life. You can’t fake that.”
Don’t miss these acts at the Westport Roots Festival on Saturday
Billy Joe Shaver
His story is mythical in the world of Texas songwriting. After losing most or parts of the fingers on his right hand in a saw-mill accident, he continued to write songs and play guitar without the missing fingers.
He moved to Nashville in the late 1960s and became a sought-after songwriter, composing songs recorded by Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, Elvis Presley and the Allman Brothers. In 1973, Waylon Jennings released “Honky Tonk Heroes,” a collection of songs almost all of which were written or co-written by Shaver. That same year, Shaver released his debut album, “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” which contains, among other well-known songs, the classic “Georgia on a Fast Train.”
Within a span of two years, Shaver lost his wife to cancer and his son, Eddie, to a drug overdose. In 2001, Shaver suffered a severe heart attack and collapsed onstage. After a heart transplant, he returned to music. In 2010, he was acquitted of an aggravated assault charge that resulted from a shooting in Lorena, Texas, in 2007. Shaver, 74, continues to tour and entertain audiences with tales of his life and the dozens of songs that have made him legend among his peers and country music fans.
Joe Buck Yourself
Buck (born James Finklea) is the former guitarist for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. He has also played with Hank Williams III’s Damn Band and Assjack, a punk-metal band. His solo project, Joe Buck Yourself, mixes country and punk. He also plays bass in Viva Le Vox (see below).
Viva Le Vox
This guitar/bass duo, featuring Joe Buck and Tony Bones, plays gritty and swinging boogie blues. Spotify says recommended if you like bands like the Dirt Daubers, but there’s also something in their music for Tom Waits fans.
The Whistle Pigs
A trio from Carbondale, Ill., the Whistle Pigs render old-time music via upright bass, banjo and accordion, giving it a shot of zeal and a twist of derangement.
Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys
Homegrown in Kansas City, Hobart and his band write and play traditional country/honky-tonk anthems and weep-in-your-beer ballads. They’ve also been known to take a rock song, like Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns,” and dress it up in cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat.
The Calamity Cubes
This Kansas trio calls its music “thrashicana,” another way of saying it takes roots and hillbilly music and soaks it in punk and the gutbucket blues.
The inaugural Westport Roots Festival begins at noon Saturday in Westport. The festival will feature more than two dozen bands performing on three stages: the main outdoor stage and an auxiliary stage in the parking lot on Westport Road between Pennsylvania Avenue and Mill Street (outside Buzzard Beach); and in the Westport Saloon, 4112 Pennsylvania Ave. Tickets are $28 and are available via westportroots.com. Tickets will also be available at the gate. Will-call will open at 11 a.m. The Westport Saloon also will open at 11 a.m. Saturday and serve brunch.
WESTPORT SALOON STAGE
Noon: Famous Seamus & the Travel Bongs
1 p.m.: Konza Swamp Band
2 p.m.: Whiskey for the Lady
3 p.m.: The County Graves
4 p.m.: Loaded Goat
5 p.m.: The Kansas City Bear Fighters
6 p.m.: Scratch Track
7 p.m.: Clawhammer
8 p.m.: Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy
9 p.m.: The Calamity Cubes
10 p.m.: The Whistle Pigs
11 p.m.: Viva Le Vox
Midnight: Joe Buck Yourself
1 a.m.: Brutally Frank
MAIN STAGE (outdoors)
2:30 p.m.: The Culprits
3:30 p.m.: The Quivers
4:30 p.m.: Deadman Flats
5:30 p.m.: Cadillac Flambe
6:30 p.m.: The Blue Boot Healers
7:30 p.m.: Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys
8:30 p.m: The Bullhaulers
9:30 p.m: Billy Joe Shaver
11 p.m.: Outlaw Jim & the Whiskey Benders
AUXILIARY STAGE (outdoors)
2 p.m.: The Rural Grit Allstars
3:15 p.m.: Twenty Thousand Strongmen
5:15 p.m.: AJ Gaither OMB
7:15 p.m.: Billy Beale
9:15 p.m.: The Rural Grit Allstars
The Westport Roots Festival pre-party will be Friday night at the Westport Saloon, 4112 Pennsylvania Ave. The lineup: Starhaven Rounders, Phantoms of the Opry, Trashcan Bandits, the Naughty Pines, Cowtown Playboys, Backfat and Tommy Donoho. Showtime is 6 p.m. Admission is $10, or $5 if you show a ticket for the Westport Roots Festival.