It used to be that hip-hop festivals were a game only the big boys could play: Essence Fest in New Orleans, Summer Jam in New York.
Then the big boys with established names joined in: Coachella, Bonnaroo, South by Southwest, Lollapalooza — all multi-day events attracting the biggest rap and pop acts in the world.
Thousands will journey to Bonner Springs on Saturday for an event unlike anything we’ve seen before: a stand-alone summer music festival centering on hip-hop created for and by the KC area.
The Flyover Festival will mix internationally known rap acts — Gucci Mane, Rae Sremmurd, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti — underground, up-and-coming stars (Smokepurpp) and rising figures from KC’s rap scene for hours of performances at the Providence Medical Center Amphitheater.
The event is produced by Mammoth Live, the Lawrence- and Kansas City-based company responsible for some of the area’s most popular small-venue concerts and tours across an array of genres.
“Kansas City is definitely an underserved market in the hip-hop festival world, for sure,” says Josh Hunt, Mammoth’s co-owner and director of operations. “That’s part of the reason we’re doing this. We wanted to create a community-driven event and provide a platform for our local acts that they don’t get otherwise.”
Hunt and his colleague Pat Fielder, a talent buyer for Mammoth, are spearheading Flyover.
“When you go to Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, all anyone is talking about is the Midwest being such a hotbed for hip-hop right now,” Fielder says. “It just felt right,” he continues. “Like now is the time. Let’s do something.”
As Kansas City’s national profile as an on-trend, upwardly mobile, millennial-friendly city has grown, so has our dedication to providing music and arts festivals aimed at that generation. Boulevardia and Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest have steadily grown in attendance, local cognizance and ability to attract bigger acts (with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and Talib Kweli/De La Soul respectively this year).
But those festivals, while including elements of hip-hop, have never operated with hip-hop music as their heartbeat.
Any hip-hop included in these festivals has skewed toward older and more sophisticated sections of the genre not in step with typical high school and college age festival crowds that have just recently, according to Forbes, made hip-hop the most consumed music genre in the country (supplanting rock).
Flyover’s A-list performers will be joined by local acts defining KC’s latest wave of hip-hop: Rory Fresco, Gee Watts, Ay El, Super Shaq Gonzo, Duncan Burnett and Staxx.
“We’re a hip-hop town for sure,” Fielder says.
For more than two decades Mammoth has been the driving force in bringing hip-hop acts to the area. The company produces or contributes to more than 100 shows around the region annually — from Kansas and Missouri to Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and South Dakota. The majority deal in genres other than rap (rock, folk, etc.), but Mammoth has never shied away from hip-hop.
“We’ve always been a multifaceted company dealing with all genres of music,” Hunt says. “We were the ones doing all the hip-hop shows back in the day; it’s just been an evolution. We try to build community events.”
Hunt founded Mammoth in 2006 with Jeff Fortier. For more than a decade before that, they partnered with Bill Pile in Avalanche Productions, bringing some of the biggest hip-hop shows of the ’90s to the area.
For Hunt, trying to remember those early shows can be a bit hazy, but he has a decent highlight reel: There was the Killing Me Softly tour with the Fugees, the Roots and Goodie Mob that Mammoth brought to the Granada in 1995. And the time they brought the Wu Tang Clan to Liberty Hall in 1997. Mammoth produced Eminem’s first local show at Liberty Hall in 1999 on his Slim Shady tour (and again when he came to the Kansas Speedway in 2011).
Last year, it was Mammoth that brought Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa to the Providence Amphitheater, G-Eazy to the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland and Lil Uzi Vert to the Uptown. This year, it has brought three capacity crowds to the Uptown for Logic and Rae Sremmurd.
“We were doing a lot of hip-hop shows that were selling out and going great,” Hunt says. “Pat was cultivating great relationships with these artists that continue to get bigger and bigger. It was sort of a natural progression that we just sat down and said we need to do something a little bigger and build something that we can do annually.”
So last fall Hunt and Fielder began having the conversation to bring Kansas City its own hip-hop festival. “And around like November we were just like ‘let’s just do it,’ ” Fielder says. Hunt and Fielder both say local support has been “solid” from the onset: “We’ve got like 15 street teams working with us helping to put this together and get the word out,” Fielder says.
The festival hasn’t sold out, but Hunt says tickets are selling well: “I just hope people embrace it. … But if where we are right now from a ticket sales perspective is any indication, we feel like people want this. Like it’s going to be good.”
Fielder continues: “The support we’ve received from the city has been tremendous. We want this to be something we can grow to greater levels and into something we can continue to do every year. We’re just trying to give the kids what they want.”
Flyover Fest, featuring Gucci Mane, Rae Sremmurd, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert and others, comes to Providence Medical Center Amphitheater in Bonner Springs on Saturday, July 22. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets, $39.50-$69.50, are available through Ticketmaster.