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Boulevardia showcases Kansas City area’s large, diverse music scene

Making Movies performed Saturday on the Homegrown Stage during Boulevardia in Kansas City’s West Bottoms.
Making Movies performed Saturday on the Homegrown Stage during Boulevardia in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. JTOYOSHIBA@KCSTAR.COM

Shade was as scarce as it was coveted Saturday at the second annual Boulevardia, a three-day food/music/beer festival held in the West Bottoms.

Wicked humidity and burly winds rendered rugged conditions, but thousands of fans endured the swelter and dust to hear more than three dozen bands perform on three stages over three days. Most were local bands who acquitted themselves admirably.

Thousands of Kansas Citians turned out last year for Boulevardia, a three-day festival of beer tastings, food, live music, carnival rides and hand-crafted goods.

More than 12,000 fans attended Friday’s six-hour session. Expecting nearly double that figure on Saturday, organizers suspended ticket sales to avoid overcrowding. But the oppressive heat may have done the job for them. Over the course of 12 hours, the number of people on the festival grounds didn’t appear to exceed by a large margin the crowd that attended Friday.

Friday’s and Saturday’s main stage headliners were a diverse lot. Ms Mr, an atmospheric pop duo from New York, drew a healthy crowd Friday night. Lead singer Lizzy Plapinger has a zesty persona and a flashy sense of fashion. Its music, a blend of pop, rock and electronica, shows more style than substance. Most of the crowd indulged lukewarmly in songs like “Think of You” and “How Does It Feel.” It didn’t help that Ms Mr followed In the Valley Below, another guy-girl band that writes catchy synthetic-pop songs that muster some charm but little resonance.

The Mowgli’s, a seven-piece Southern California band featuring Kansas City native Colin Dieden, drew the biggest crowd to the main stage on Friday. They’re among a herd of bands (Grouplove, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) that rely on bristling melodies, big sing-along choruses with gang vocals and lots of manic energy to arouse their audiences. Their songs deliver a feel-good vibe, which spread to the crowd. Their set list, which exceeded a dozen songs, included “Love Is Easy,” “Love Me Anyway” and “San Francisco.”

Bands from Kansas City and Lawrence filled the other two stages, showing off our diverse music scene. Friday’s lineup on the Homegrown Stage included performances by the Phantastics, a seven-piece orchestra that traffics in funk, rock hip-hop, jazz and a few other genres. They were followed by Hembree, a band that writes groovy, melodic pop songs. The Architects then took things in a completely different direction during their set, which closed the Homegrown Stage on Friday, unleashing an assault of primal, unvarnished bathed-in-sweat rock and roll. “Daddy Wore Black” was one of several highlights of their set.

Saturday’s heat made band-watching tough at all stages, but especially the main stage, where shade was practically nonexistent. At the Homegrown Stage, shade was available but not abundant. Still, crowds there were big and steady all day. The lineup, again, showcased a variety of styles, including Kangaroo Knife Fight, a Kansas City band led by Aussie Anthony Avis that delivers broad-shouldered rock anthems steeped in soul. Next came the star-studded orchestra the Buhs (pronounced Buzz), featuring some of Kansas City’s best singers and musicians, including Hermon Mehari, Tim Braun, Julia Haile, Lee Langston, Brad Williams and rappers Reach and Les Izmore. Their set was a dynamic blend of hip-hop, jazz and old-school soul.

The Buhs are a tough act to follow, but Making Movies can follow anyone and keep the bar high. They continue to be one of our city’s more charismatic live acts. Life on the road has honed them into a major-league band and their music has evolved into its own sound, one that can at once evoke Santana, Radiohead and the Talking Heads. Despite the heat, most in the large crowd of a few hundred danced along, unable to resist the band’s unyielding grooves.

The Republic Tigers closed the set, delivering their trademark haute-pop — songs with unconventional structures but an abundance of melody and appeal.

Boulevardia added a third stage this year, for acoustic music from local singer/songwriters and duos. Saturday’s lineup was diverse and interesting. It included Jason Beers and Teri Quinn, who elevated the banjo’s reputation; David Regnier and Lauren Krum, who sing old-timey country songs and covers as Ruddy Swain; and Lovelorn, an acoustic folk/roots trio featuring Heidi Phillips, formerly of Frogpond.

The sun was in retreat and there was more shade in which to take refuge when Atlas Genius took the main stage at 6:30 p.m., so a large crowd had assembled. The Australian band is led by brothers Keith and Michael Jeffery. The poppy sound of Atlas Genius bears resemblance to several bands, Phoenix and Coldplay among them. While not particularly inventive, it is decidedly catchy.

J. Roddy Walston and the Business followed Atlas Genius, taking the mood in a completely different direction. They’re a raucous bunch, and he’s a lively frontman who engages in fits of head- and piano-banging as he charges full-speed ahead into taproot, old-school, soul-infused rock anthems.

Mayer Hawthorne closed the main stage on Saturday, delivering a set of easy-listening pop-soul tunes that occasionally veered into hip-hop. He incited some dancing and singing-along, but by the time he started, the crowd had thinned and its energy had waned. After so many hours of heat and wind, the dust had settled in more ways than one.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

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