Local acts give Boulevardia festival a strong Kansas City flavor

06/15/2014 7:51 AM

Although it fell on this year’s only Friday the 13th, the first day of the inaugural Boulevardia street festival seemed to go about as well as anyone could have hoped. The weather was idyllic (though the streetscape obscured all views of the honey moon), both music stages ran on time, and though a few thousand people attended, lines to vendors and bathrooms were not inconveniently long.

Boulevardia is set up in the West Bottoms, north of the 12th Street viaduct, home to several haunted houses. The main music stage is at the north end of a wide-open area that is surrounded by beer, food and other vendors and furnished with tables and chairs. It also features a Ferris wheel, which was loaded and running all night. As the sun set, it lit up the clear night sky.

The music bill featured a mix of national acts on the main stage and local acts on the “homegrown” stage, set up in an alleyway amid a nest of large buildings that made for a nice industrial, urban setting. At 6 p.m., the Grisly Hand started its set on that stage, the band’s first show after a long hiatus and its first with Dan Loftus, its new bassist/keyboardist/vocalist.

They played tracks from their “Western Avenue” EP, including the title track and “Black Coffee,” from their stellar full-length, “Country Singles,” including the title track, “That’s Not Affection” (issuing an f-bomb warning beforehand) and “Any Other Way” plus a new song, “Baby Talk,” which took their sound in a different and interesting direction. As will be the case for all the local bands playing this festival, they made a lot of new fans and sold a chunk of merchandise.

At the main stage, Blondfire started its set right after the Grisly Hand’s ended. An electro-pop band from Los Angeles (via Michigan and New York), Blondfire’s sound at times bears some strong resemblances to a few other bands (the Cardigans, Metric). Much of the crowd (me included) was hearing the band for the first time; and it got a warm response throughout the set. Erica Driscoll is Blondfire’s lead singer and her porcelain voice is ideal for the band’s best tunes, which are odysseys in dreamy, jangly indie-pop, songs like “Kites” and “We Are One,” which was familiar to many in the crowd.

After Blondfire’s set, Hearts of Darkness turned the homegrown stage into a dance fest. The band has undergone several substantial personnel changes over the past couple of years. It’s now a 13-piece ensemble, but it’s still led by Les Izmore and still includes singers Rachel Christia and Erica Townsend and its dynamic blend of funk, soul, R&B, rock and hip-hop still arouses a feverish party mood. Hearts of Darkness, too, made a lot of new fans.

The Wild Feathers were the next main stage band. Their music bears a variety of influences as it shifts from country to rock to folk: the Eagles, the Band, Crosby Stills & Nash, Tom Petty, the Black Crowes and a few modern country acts. The Wild Feathers mixed several of their own songs, like “I’m Alive” and “Happy,” with covers: Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and the Band’s “The Weight.”

The sun had set long before the Latenight Callers started their set, which closed the homegrown stage. They brew a noirish, sultry mix of rock and electronica that sounds of another era. Whether through a microphone or megaphone, lead vocalist Julie Bernsden has an arresting voice that equal parts jazz and soul. They’ve called themselves “the soundtrack to a David Lynch pool party” for a good reason.

Kansas City’s own Quixotic closed both the main stage and the evening’s entertainment. To the sounds of Shane Borth (electric violin), Anthony Magliano (percussion) and Hermon Mehari (trumpet), the troupe’s dancers performed a variety of stunts and dance numbers, many featuring fire.

Nothing topped the stunt by a guy on stilts: Lying on his back, in a sit-up position, the stilts perpendicular to the ground, he hoisted himself into an upright position. Yeah, he needed a step or two to catch his balance, but he stuck the landing. And the crowd roared.

As was the case all night, many in the crowd were catching this stellar local act for the first time. And like the local beer-maker that is sponsoring this festival, our local entertainers proved that there is plenty of good brewing in Kansas City.

Boulevardia continues from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15. For more information, visit boulevardia.com.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com.

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