Boulevardia festival draws thousands to West Bottoms for beer, food, music

06/14/2014 3:18 PM

06/15/2014 8:08 AM

For a city that loves summer festivals, a new romance appears to be brewing in the West Bottoms.

The first Boulevardia, a three-day urban street festival, drew thousands Friday evening, organizers said. Gates opened 11 a.m. Saturday, and within a half-hour lines had already formed at each of the seven bar stands inside the festival’s four-block area.

By the time the event is over at 6 p.m. Sunday, organizers said, they expect total attendance to top 20,000.

“I’m loving it,” said Janelle Corbit, who came with her husband, Chris, from Olathe to drink beer and listen to a few of the music groups. Over three days, more than 25 groups are performing on two stages.

“I love where they chose to have it,” she said as she sipped her first KC Pils of the day. “I’d never been to the West Bottoms, and I love all the historic buildings and the shops. Good beer, good music, nice festival.”

That’s exactly the response organizers were going for when they started planning the event several years ago. And it’s why they’re planning to make it an annual event.

The idea for Boulevardia started with Boulevard Brewing Co., which partnered with Full Moon Productions, owner of several haunted houses in the West Bottoms, including The Edge of Hell.

“There is a need in this city for us to utilize our spaces, and there is a real vibe in the West Bottoms right now. It’s a vibe that fits best with this festival,” said Keli O’Neill Wenzel, the event’s executive director.

“It’s eclectic, it’s raw and it has its own energy,” said Jeremy Ragonese, president of Boulevardia’s board.

Food trucks selling corn dogs, burgers, tacos, kebabs and more lined the edges of the festival.

Vendors set up shop inside the gates, and local artists sold their wares — including leather, glass, jewelry and T-shirts — inside an area called Makers Market.

“We wanted to celebrate the talent of Kansas City,” Boulevardia spokeswoman Julie Weeks said. That included a bacon-eating contest Saturday sponsored by Farmland Foods.

A special food- and beer-tasting event, featuring 45 U.S. breweries and 12 local restaurants, cost $75 per person and sold out its 2,000 tickets in 17 minutes.

Organizers said they tried to include a little something for everyone: a climbing wall, a bungee pod, an eco/sustainability tent, a Ferris wheel and other rides for children.

“This is bringing new clientele to the 30 different shops in the West Bottoms and bringing new people into the West Bottoms to discover what they have been missing,” said Amber Arnett Bequeaith, vice president of Full Moon Productions.

“The stores are absolutely so excited about Boulevardia because they just want to show off their home to the rest of Kansas City.”

Jim Burlison, his wife, Jan, and their daughter Jessica of St. Louis were visiting this weekend in Kansas City, where their son James works.

“I think this festival is a great thing,” Burlison said. “I love the music.”

Beckett Allison, who works at Mulberry Antiques, could hear the music drifting into the shops along with the festivalgoers. They weren’t buying much, he said. They were just browsing.

“But still I think it is great to have this type of an event in the West Bottoms,” Allison said. “People have been really well mannered, and everybody’s happy. I hope they keep having it down here.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

The details

Boulevardia continues Saturday through 11 p.m.; Sunday’s hours are noon to 6 p.m. The entrance is at 12th and Hickory streets, under the 12th Street bridge.

Tickets are $15. For more information, go to boulevardia.com.

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