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Kansas City's 2014 music scene was a tribute to legends and longevity

A 72-year-old Paul McCartney packed the Sprint Center last July in a three-hour concert.
A 72-year-old Paul McCartney packed the Sprint Center last July in a three-hour concert. The Kansas City Star

This year in music was a tribute to legends and longevity.

A list of the top 20 shows in Kansas City in 2014 would include several performers in their 60s, 70s and even 80s: Paul McCartney, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, ZZ Top, Steely Dan, Chrissie Hynde.

The year was also a success for several local bands and performers who have broken into the mainstream and attracted national and international attention, either by signing label deals or appearing on or in national media.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights of the year in music for Kansas City.

Live shows

▪ Paul McCartney at the Sprint Center: His sold-out show in 2010, his first since 1993, was a once-in-a-lifetime event and, it seemed, the last chance to see the legendary former Beatle. It was the best show of that year. He returned last July, four years later and older — 72 — and somehow put on a show that equaled the previous one: three hours of nonstop hits from his Beatles and solo catalogs, delivered with boundless energy and enthusiasm. If he comes back four years from now, I’ll be there again.

▪ George Strait at the Sprint Center: In January, the classiest man in country music brought his farewell tour to Kansas City, which has always treated him hospitably and adoringly. He drew another sold-out crowd, and he gave them the usual: 31 songs, many of them No. 1 hits, including his swan song, “The Cowboy Rides Away.” He will be missed.

▪ Willie Nelson at Starlight Theater: He turned 81 in April, but at his July show at Starlight, Willie performed like a man half his age. He was jovial, funny, energetic and in the mood to trot through two dozen songs in 80 minutes, which put a sold-out crowd in a good mood, too. He brought some stellar entertainers with him: co-headliner Alison Krauss and Union Station and opener Jason Isbell.

▪ Loretta Lynn at the Uptown Theater: This show was a tribute to the long, illustrious career of Loretta Lynn, 82, and to her enduring talent and keen personalty, both of which were on display for 80-plus minutes. They don’t make ’em like Loretta anymore.

▪ Chrissie Hynde at the Uptown Theater: She’s 63, but her 90-minute set, which included several Pretenders classics, was filled with plenty of punk defiance.

Top local news

The Folk Alliance International hosted its first Kansas City conference in February. More than 3,000 people attended the four-day event at the Westin Crown Center.

In January, public radio station KTBG, known as the Bridge (90.9 FM), broadcast from its new home in midtown Kansas City. The station was bought from the University of Central Missouri by public television station KCPT in 2013.

Three area bands sign label deals

The Beautiful Bodies signed with Epitaph Records, home of Bad Religion and Social Distortion.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear signed with Glassnote Records, home of Mumford & Sons and Chvrches.

And Your Friend, a solo project from Lawrence resident Taryn Blake Miller, signed with Domino Records, home of Animal Collective and the Arctic Monkeys.

Local bands make national media

Rapper Tech N9ne made Forbes magazine’s list of the top 20 earners in hip-hop for 2014, placing in a tie for 16th (with Swizz Beats, Ludacris and 50 Cent) with $8 million in earnings. In June he performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” dedicating “He’s a Mental Giant” to his mother, who had recently died.

Rapper Mac Lethal was invited on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” after she saw his “Alphabet Insanity” video on YouTube. He performed a rap he’d written exclusively for DeGeneres and which he composed on his flight to Los Angeles.

After their performance at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in September, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, a son-mother duo from Kansas City, received rave reviews in Rolling Stone magazine and from Bob Bolen of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, who called them the festival’s “biggest surprise so far.”

Kansas City jazz trumpeter Hermon Mehari was one of 13 semifinalists in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in Los Angeles in November. He and the other semifinalists performed for 15 minutes before a panel of judges including Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval. Marquis Hill of Chicago finished in first place.

Latino-rock band Making Movies performed a Tiny Desk Concert on National Public Radio. The segment was taped in October and broadcast in early November.

Betse Ellis appeared on “PBS NewsHour” in a segment about her 98-year-old mentor, fiddle player and fiddle builder Violet Hensley. The segment first aired on KCPT’s “Arts Upload” program.

Top national stories

Downloads plummet; streaming and vinyl go up: The Recording Industry Association of America reported in July that streaming revenue jumped 28 percent in the first half of 2014. Nielsen Music reported that album downloads were down 15 percent and that singles downloads were down 13 percent in the first half of the year. At the end of November, Nielsen reported that sales of vinyl records in 2014 had already exceeded 7.5 million, up 25 percent from 2013.

Taylor Swift quits Spotify: She removed her entire catalog from the streaming service, framing it as a protest against paltry royalty rates, which prompted a heated debate and a back-and-forth between her label and Spotify. However, it looks more like a move to sell more CDs and fatten up the worth of her label, Big Machine Records, which is reportedly hoping to get acquired.

Country singers come out: On the same day in November, two male country singers came out as gay: Ty Herndon, 52, who had seven Top 10 country hits in the mid-1990s, and Billy Gilman, 26, who had two Top 40 country hits in 2000, when he was 11 years old.

At this year’s Country Music Association Awards show, “Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves won song of the year. The song includes the lyrics: “Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that’s what you’re into.”

Musgraves co-wrote the song with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, two award-winning and openly gay songwriters from Nashville. Clark’s album “12 Stories,” released in October 2013, is up for best country album at the 2015 Grammy Awards. She is also a nominee for best new artist.

In memoriam

The music world suffered scores of losses in 2014. Here are some of them:

Jack Bruce, Bob Casale of Devo, Scott Asheton of the Stooges, Tommy Ramone, Isiah “Ikey” Owens, Paul Revere, Paco de Lucia, Jesse Winchester, Bobby Womack, Gerry Goffin, Wayne Static, Jimmy Ruffin, Pete Seeger, Phil Everly, Johnny Winter, Ian McLagan, Bobby Keys, Joe Sample, Joe Cocker, John Fry.

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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