Rhythm & Ribs festival has variety, with a purpose

What does the Rhythm Ribs festival really tell us?

For one thing, by putting artists as diverse as rhythm and blues hitmaker Brian McKnight, blues man Joe Louis Walker and trumpet giant Arturo Sandoval on the same bill on Saturday, it’s saying that all the different styles that spring from blues and jazz can come together in one place at one time without a problem.

The similarities, the rhythms at the heart of the music, are stronger than any differences.

And it’s saying that the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, the heart of Kansas City’s jazz heritage, is still a great place to get together and listen to music — any kind of music. You knew that, right? But some people in your vicinity still don’t.

And it’s also saying that 18th and Vine, a place we keep talking about with the word “heritage” close by, isn’t a relic from the past. We’re writing new history there all the time. And you’re a part of that history every time you come down and tap your foot to the rhythm.

Of course, the music isn’t the only thing about the festival, known formally as the Rhythm Ribs 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival. Yes, the American Jazz Museum presents three stages full of music, but don’t miss the food vendors, entertainment for kids, jazz education events, even jazz on film.

But the music is first and foremost, with rhythms from many walks of life. The stages are mainly filled with talent from in and around Kansas City. But the headliners are standouts:


Brian McKnight:

He’s celebrating 20 years of success as an R balladeer, with hits like “One Last Cry,” “Back at One,” “The Love of My Life” and “Anytime” to his credit. What’s he doing on a jazz festival’s bill? Just listen to those tricky melodies he has come up with, and the lush chords behind them — they’re all unthinkable without the jazz tradition. Spoken-word artist F. Stokes opens for McKnight.


Joe Louis Walker:

San Francisco has its reputation as a center of psychedelic rock and folk, but in the heart of much of that music there’s a strong blues element. Walker is a Bay Area bluesman who learned his stuff when the scene was at its peak. Now, with his ringing vocals and stinging guitar, he represents modern blues at its best — the music has Mississippi grit, Chicago energy and a trace of California sun.


Claire Daly:

The big baritone saxophone and the people who play it are often overlooked. But Daly, a creative composer, bandleader and a persuasive soloist on the big horn, won’t be. Her writing and playing add up to something beyond the usual jam-session fare. She’s the festival’s artist in residence. (She’s also headlining at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Blue Room.)


Arturo Sandoval:

A trumpet phenomenon whose music goes from Cuban to bebop to pop to classical.

That’s a generous amount of entertainment for the ticket price. If the music at any given moment doesn’t suit you, walk to one of the other stages and chances are you’ll find something to your liking.

That’s another thing that the inclusive Rhythm Ribs concept tells us — there are many musical pathways through jazz and the blues, and every one of them leads to a good time for all.

Saturday’s Rhythm Ribs schedule Main stage 2 p.m.:

McFadden Brothers

3:15 p.m.:

Claire Daly

5 p.m.:

Joe Louis Walker

7:15 p.m.:

F. Stokes

7:30 p.m.:

Brian McKnight

9:45 p.m.:

Arturo Sandoval

Atrium stage Noon:

Tyree Johnson Quartet

1 p.m.:

Everette DeVan and Chris Hazelton

2:30 p.m.:

John Paul Drum Blues Band

4 p.m.:

Todd Wilkinson and the Goombahles

5:30 p.m.:

Linda Shell and the Blues Thang

7 p.m.:

Book of Gaia

Blue Room stage Noon:

Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz

1:30 p.m.:

Miguel “Mambo” DeLeon and Carte Blanc

3 p.m.:

Gerald Spaits-Charles Perkins Quartet

4:30 p.m.:

Samantha Fish

6 p.m.:

David Basse Orchestra

8 p.m.:

Louis Neal Big Band

10:30 p.m.:

Neo-Soul Lounge with Souls Poem, Lee Langston, Glenn North and others

Schedules are subject to change.