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Crossroads Fest showcases Kansas City’s diverse and growing music scene

Drop a Grand performed at the Brick for Saturday night’s Crossroads Music Fest.
Drop a Grand performed at the Brick for Saturday night’s Crossroads Music Fest. Special to The Star

Like its predecessors, the 11th annual Crossroads Music Fest was a showcase of predominantly local music talent. Saturday night, at six venues (and seven stages) in the Crossroads Arts District, a diverse lineup of 35 bands performed for more than eight hours. Here’s a look at several performances.

The Rural Grit All-Stars at the Brick: They have performed at all 11 Crossroads fests, opening the stage at the Brick, home of their longstanding Monday night happy-hour jubilees. Around a single microphone, a group of musicians performed a variety of old-timey country and bluegrass tunes.

The lineup included Betse Ellis, Clarke Wyatt, Mark Smeltzer, Brett Hodges and David Regnier. The set included classics like “Why Baby Why,” “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” and “Give the Fiddler a Dram,” which featured dazzling fiddle runs by Ellis.

Julian Davis at the Living Room: Laughter rippled through the audience when Davis covered Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” during his stunning set. While Davis looks and sounds like a grown man, the massively talented artist is just 15. An award-winning flat-picking prodigy from Pittsburg, Kan., he possesses a breathtaking combination of virtuosity and youthful exuberance.

Although Seth Campbell occasionally climbed on his upright bass as he accompanied Davis, not a single performer at the festival may have been capable of upstaging the teenager on Saturday.

Drop a Grand at the Brick: Call it what you want — a novelty act, a parody or tongue-in-cheek performance art gone awry — Drop a Grand stirs up a loud, joyous ruckus every time it takes the stage. Costumed in ski masks, wigs and fake giant beards, the members unleash a bracing blend of punk, glam and rock ’n’ roll with a fury, keeping a sturdy groove amid the turmoil.

GaV7d at the Brick: GaV7d (pronounced “Gawd”), a shape-shifting project overseen by bandleader Johnny Hamil, showcased material from its new album, “Thanks for Everything.” Hamil and several of Kansas City’s most accomplished musicians, including saxophonist Mark Southerland and guitarist Mike Stover, performed a staggering breadth of styles.

Material ranged from free jazz to eccentric funk. The damaged art song “For Those Who Breathe” featured guest vocalists Anna Cole and Steve Tulipana.

Connor Leimer at the Tank Room: Leimer is an ambitious singer/songwriter in the vein of John Mayer and Gavin DeGraw. The outstanding support of bassist Blair Bryant and drummer Brandon Thomas added heft to Leimer’s breezy pop songs.

Sara Morgan at the Main Stage: Covers of songs by the iconic Dolly Parton and current country upstart Kacey Musgraves revealed the range of Morgan’s influences during a performance at a makeshift performance space in a gravel parking lot. Backed by the quartet that played on her new EP, “Easy to Dream,” Morgan also made a strong case for powerful original material like “Already Wrecked.”

Instant Karma at the Brick: A quartet of upstarts from Holden, Mo., Instant Karma’s primary sound is a mix of garage-rock and sludgy punk blues (think of a more melodic version of the Black Keys). On a couple of occasions, it veered into dance/funk territory, like the track that included a verse from the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.”

Dark Satellites at the Mod Gallery: Visuals that combined live images with disorienting footage accentuated the performances of all of the bands that played at Mod Gallery. Partly because its waves of psychedelic sound ricocheted off the four walls of the art gallery with alarming ferocity, aggressive trio Dark Satellites may have benefited most from the optical stimulation.

The Kemps at the Living Room: The vocal duo of Mark Stevenson and Archie Gobber sound like a combination of the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers. Their set included originals and covers of old-time country standards, including a riveting version of “Wreck on the Highway,” rendering pinpoint harmonies in each.

Janet the Planet at the Mod Gallery: It sounded like a jazz ensemble that was forged around a campfire at a jam band festival. The quintet’s set was simultaneously danceable and intellectually stimulating.

Pink Royal at the Tank Room: This Lawrence band delivered an impressive set of melodic and groovy electro-pop/soul tunes that sounded in the middle of the spectrum between Style Council and Maroon 5.

Riala at the Mod Gallery: An intriguing set by angular math-rock trio Riala was cut short when the band’s bassist became ill.

Jessica Paige at the Living Room: Paige and her three-piece band dealt with sound issues during their set but managed to get across her strengths as an expressive vocalist and writer of instantly accessible pop/soul songs.

Ruddy Swain at the Living Room: Ruddy Swain, comprising Lauren Krum (the Grisly Hand) and David Regnier (Dead Voices) is highly recommended for fans of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or any male-female duo that issues sublime, lockstep harmonies. Its cover of the Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine” transcended the original, which is no modest feat.

OJT at the Green Lady Lounge: Unlike many most of the performers at the festival, OJT was completely in its element. The unofficial house band of the Green Lady Lounge, the ebullient organ trio of keyboardist Ken Lovern, guitarist Brian Baggett and drummer Kevin Frazee entertained regulars and curious festival newcomers at the jazz nightclub.

Not a Planet at the Main Stage: Not a Planet is one of the more diverse bands in Kansas City. It plumbs a variety of genres — blues, pop, indie rock, classic rock among them — to develop a sound that is both particular and familiar. Its energetic set included guest appearances by rapper Duncan Burnett and members of the Marching Cobras drill team.

Duncan Burnett and the Ministry at the Brick: Burnett, who played drums in Sara Morgan’s band earlier in the evening, is a commanding and charismatic live performer. His late-night set in front of a near full house at the Brick turned evangelical at times as Burnett preached about the virtues like hope and perseverance. Backed by the Ministry, Burnett delivered a set worthy of comparisons to Kanye West and the Roots.

Katy Guillen & the Girls at the Brick: They closed the festival with a set that started early Sunday morning but still drew a big crowd. Thanks to their crafty songwriting, strong vocals and keen instrumental skills, Guillen and her band (Claire Adams on bass and Stephanie Williams on drums) take the blues into dynamic and appealing places that separate them from standard, bar-band blues trios.

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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