Much like the Middle of the Map Fest, Boulevardia has become an annual reminder that Kansas City has enough local musical talent to match firepower with national acts.
The curators of Boulevardia, a three-day craft beer, food truck and music festival in the West Bottoms, just north of the 12th Street bridge, are savvy enough to host bands playing a similar type of music back-to-back. Two performers on Saturday represented each side of the same coin, in several ways.
Making Movies, a local band formed in 2009, had to compete with the sun and suppertime when their 5 p.m. slot rolled around on the main stage. The four-piece band, led by guitarist, singer and songwriter Enrique Chi, draws from early Santana’s mixture of bilingual, psychedelic rock.
Three hours later, on the same stage, with bellies full and the sun departing, Mariachi el Bronx performed rock songs in a traditional Mexican format. Singer Matt Caughthran was clearly impressed by the large crowd, commenting how the band usually performed for a smaller audience at the Riot Room — about the size draw Making Movies commands. Although Mariachi el Bronx appeared in matching all-black mariachi uniforms, and Making Movies looked like they were about to hop a flight to Woodstock, neither act had any trouble getting the crowd to sing and dance along.
Me Like Bees performed after Making Movies, but on the smaller Native Flavor stage. The audience for the dance-friendly indie rock band had the benefit of shade and seats for their set. The Joplin-based quartet wasn’t so lucky. Frontman Luke Sheafer labored so hard in the sun that a fan offered him a hair tie. Their set included a couple of numbers from a new EP, “There Will Be Time.” One of those songs, “Tundraland,” featured an infectious chorus and sound as expansive as its title.
Alt-country queen-in-waiting Nikki Lane went on next on the main stage. The South Carolina native currently living in Nashville, Tenn., was spoiling for a fight with not only her lover (“Man Up”) but her rivals (“Your Big Mouth”). Caustic relationships are her songwriting bread and butter. Lane introduced “700,000 Rednecks” as a “recruitment song” in hopes of someday having an audience that large. If she keeps it up, Lane might hit the mark. Provided she doesn’t take them all to fist city first.
On the cusp of their second birthday, dance/pop quintet Yes You Are is a relative newcomer to the local music scene. Propelled by energetic singer Kianna Alarid, the band had no problem getting fans to dance all around the Native Flavor stage. When a fan knocked a beach ball onstage, Alarid kicked it back into the crowd midverse without missing a beat. Feel-good anthem “World Without End” sounds ready for Top 40 radio. Set-closer “Miracle” is the natural follow-up single.
The three Phillips brothers were joined by old friend Mike Alexander on guitar for the Architects’ evening-ending set on the Native Flavor stage. Singer/guitarist Brandon Phillips berated the fans who refused to stand up for the family’s aggressive blend of punk and classic rock. The blending of styles was on full display during a ferocious cover of AC/DC’s “Sin City.” Zach Phillips smiled after a buzz-saw version of “Daddy Wore Black.”
Staring over the biggest crowd of the day on the main stage, singer Nate Ruess reminisced about the times he played at the Beaumont Club in Westport. As a member of The Format and Fun, Ruess played at the now-closed venue several times. Those days are long gone. Ruess has the voice and ability to command an audience that recalls Freddie Mercury. Drawing from both of his bands and his solo album, Ruess had fans singing along to every song.
The crowd, reaching clear back to fans watching on the 12th Street bridge, reveled in every note, but no one was enjoying the songs more than Ruess. He was constantly in motion, twirling, dancing and spinning around the stage. During a rare downtempo moment, the audience took over singing “Just Give Me A Reason,” Ruess’ duet with Pink. Impressed, Ruess stopped the number to comment how much airplay the song must have received here.
A cover of “Let’s Go Crazy” pushed the energy up another level. Although it was written before anyone onstage (and many in the audience) were born, a well-received reading of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” opened the encore set.
Ruess’ songs focus on celebrating tonight and forgetting the pain of yesterday and tomorrow. Performances of “We are Young,” “Harsh Light” and the set-closing “Some Nights” perfectly recreated (or created) the euphoria of the perfect night out.