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New Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival goes big so it can become big

A grand vision for a grand jazz festival

The American Jazz Museum kicks off the ambitious three-day Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival. Museum executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner describes her vision for a world-class destination event.
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The American Jazz Museum kicks off the ambitious three-day Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival. Museum executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner describes her vision for a world-class destination event.

Assembling this year’s reimagined Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival has been understandably complicated.

“The kind of lighting that is needed, the amount of people that are onstage, the sound equipment — it’s been complex,” said American Jazz Museum executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner. “It’s taken a lot of logistics, coordinating everything the right way to make sure that we get everything correct.”

This weekend, we will see the result: a three-day music and culture festival that museum officials hope one day will be a huge ping on the national festival radar. The fest is one of the biggest events of a busy weekend — and an even busier summer for Kansas City.

The journey of the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival has not been without missteps. Earlier this year, the fest announced that singer/actress Janelle Monae would return to her home area to headline the festival, an announcement that turned out to be false and that the museum had to retract because “Janelle was not confirmed for the event.”

But organizers pressed on, and even without Monae the lineup is impressive. The fest kicked off Friday with Grammy-winning pop and R&B singer/songwriter Brandy, soul singer Lalah Hathaway and jazz master guitarist John Scofield. Performances continue through Sunday.

In addition, there will be many performers who currently make or once made their homes here: Angela Hagenbach, Bobby Watson, Kevin Mahogany, Queen Bey, Logan Richardson, Oleta Adams and Ida McBeth among them.

It’s a festival that was too big to be contained in the 18th and Vine District. The city is closing down part of the Paseo near 18th and Vine to help make room for dozens of performances over five stages, cultural celebrations, food trucks and more.

It’s also an ambitious reboot of the event that once was known as the Rhythm & Ribs Festival and the 18th and Vine Festival. The fest’s rebrand is aiming to get the city’s name out front, along with its cultural legacy.

“We have to do it because we are a jazz city,” Kositany-Buckner said. “People know 18th and Vine all over the world. We’re hoping this festival becomes not only something for us in Kansas City to be proud of but that it becomes a destination.”

To make the kind of party that people will travel from all corners of the globe to attend, officials felt it needed to be more than just one day.

“When I look out five years from now I would want it to be a solid festival recognized all over the world,” she said. “But it takes time to build it.”

This year, the museum is focused on infrastructure: Is the event in the right place on the right weekend? Are they hiring the right artists? Is five stages enough or too many?

Kositany-Buckner says regardless of the answers, the museum is committed to making the fest work.

“The vision I have is that it will succeed and that we will be very proud of it and it will be a legacy for generations to come,” she said. “I want people to know that on Memorial Day weekend we are going to celebrate our heritage at 18th and Vine.”

More summer fun

Don’t miss these new and iconic summer Kansas City-area events and festivals:

▪ Kansas City’s Juneteenth celebrations get bigger and better this year. On June 10, the parade in the 18th and Vine District returns and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art joins in with live music, craft and art demonstrations. Things really get going on June 17 with a big party in the jazz district. More at Juneteenth-kc.com.

▪ KC PrideFest brings music, food and more to Berkley Riverfront Park June 2-4 in a celebration of humanity in all its shades. Passes range from $7.50 to $18 through GayPrideKC.org.

▪ Days after Tom Cruise’s reboot of “The Mummy” arrives in theaters (June 9), Union Station brings “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” to KC on June 20. Preservation methods of the dead from Europe, South America and ancient Egypt will be on display, some more than four millennia old. For admission prices and more, go to UnionStation.org. (And don’t miss Union Station’s Maker Faire KC June 24-25: KansasCity.MakerFaire.com.)

▪ Eric Stonestreet, Paul Rudd, Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis and David Koechner bring their Hollywood pals to KC for Big Slick Weekend June 23-24 to raise funds for Children’s Mercy Hospital. New this year: the Big Slick Block Party at Prairiefire and a raffle for a chance to play softball with the boys at the K. More at BigSlickKC.org.

▪ Boulevardia in KC’s Stockyard District bills itself as an urban street fair. The fest features great food, music, art and, of course, beer. June 16-17. Tickets range from $20 to $900 (VIP weekender) at Boulevardia.com.

Kansas City culture

Kansas City celebrates its cultural heritage in innumerable ways in the summer. Some of the mainstays include:

▪ Festa Italiana: June 2-4, Zona Rosa. Unicokc.org.

▪ Serb Fest: June 2-3, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church. St-George-Church.org.

▪ Latino Arts Festival: June 3, downtown Kansas City, Kan. LatinoArtsFestival.com.

▪ Greek Festival: June 9-11, St. Dionysios Greek Orthodox Christian Church. StDionyssios.org.

▪ Sugar Creek Slavic Festival: June 9-10, Mike Onka Memorial Building. SlavicFest.com.

▪ Dragon Boat Festival & Races: June 10, Brush Creek. KCParks.org.

▪ Fiesta Filipina: June 17-18, Filipino Cultural Center. Filipino-Association.org.

▪ Ethnic Enrichment Festival: Aug. 18-20, Swope Park. KCParks.org.

The fair!

▪ The two-state area will feature more county fairs than you can shake a smoked turkey leg at. Here are just a few:

Missouri

Cass County Fair: July 11-16, Pleasant Hill. casscountyfairmo.com.

Platte County Fair: July 19-22, Platte County Fairgrounds, Tracy. plattecountyfair.com.

Missouri State Fair: Aug. 10-20, Sedalia. mostatefair.com.

Kansas

Wyandotte County Fair: July 11-15, Wyandotte County Fairgrounds. wycofair.com.

Miami County Fair: July 22-29, Paola.

Leavenworth County Fair: July 25-29, Tonganoxie. leavenworthcountyfair.com.

Johnson County Fair: July 31-Aug. 5, Gardner. jocokansasfair.com.

Atchison County Fair: Aug. 8-12, Atchison. visitatchison.com

Kansas State Fair: Sept. 8-17, Hutchinson. Kansasstatefair.com.

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese

This weekend

The Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival runs Friday, May 26, through Sunday, May 28, in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, along the Paseo from Truman Road to 19th Street and along 18th Street from the Paseo to Highland Avenue.

Tickets to the main stage begin at $25 per day, and prices vary from stage to stage. A weekend pass is also available. The Community Stage at 18th and Highland and vendor areas are free and open to the public.

Tickets and passes are at kcjazzfest.com, at 816-474-8463 and at the American Jazz Museum box office. The rain-or-shine event is presented by the American Jazz Museum and its partners.

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