Day one of the sixth annual Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest was a stem-winder, a rousing introduction to what will ensue over the following three days.
Wednesday night, more than two dozen bands performed in five venues in Westport, and over the course of nearly seven hours, they collectively reiterated the founding purpose of this festival: to showcase an array of music styles and build a lineup that mixes international, national and regional bands with bands from around Kansas City.
The evening opened in Mills Record Co., which hosted Be/Non, one of Kansas City’s more ambitious and creative rock bands. Before a crowd that packed a room furnished with racks filled with vinyl records and CDs, Be/Non, performing as a guitar-heavy five-piece, played an invigorating set of spacey, progressive/psychedelic rock songs, most from the splendid “Mystic Sunrise/Sunset Magic” album, released in March.
After Be/Non’s set, the music grew even more diverse, starting with the Jorge Arana Trio, the free-form instrumental jazz trio that performed in the adjacent room at Mills. Down at the Westport Saloon after the Be/Non set, the Overies-eez were holding court. Despite their novel name, they have a serious tack.
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The trio of women from Lawrence perform a down-tempo style of jazzy, old-fashioned pop that shimmers and glistens with lockstep harmonies, all accompanied by the sparse strumming of a lone electric guitar. It can sound as somber as it does pretty. (Imagine the Andrews Sisters covering Leonard Cohen.) They get extra credit for the ode to Patrick Swayze.
Kansas City singer/songwriter Jessica Paige opened the main stage at Californos. Paige has a strong, soulful voice, and she writes songs that suit its agility and power, like the lovely ballad “If You Fall.” Her four-piece band included Kansas City Jazz Orchestra artistic director Clint Ashlock on trumpet, who came in handy during the cover of “Kansas City,” the Marcus Mumford/Bob Dylan version.
Baskery, a trio of sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, followed Paige on the Californos stage. Their previous performance in Kansas City was at the 2014 Folk Alliance International. The trio took a soft, friendly poke at the folk genre and, after citing the mockumentary about folk music, “A Mighty Wind,” the sisters unleashed a set of rock songs that evoked a variety of comparisons, sounding like a mix of the Bangles, Haim and the Blackhearts.
Their instrumentation screamed folk — guitar, banjo and standup bass — but they fortified that with kick drums and floor toms and some charming but half-hearted David Lee Roth leg kicks that said otherwise.
There was a two-for-one set at Ernie Biggs Piano Bar during the performance by the electro-pop band Saharan Gazelle Boy, a solo project from Darin Seal. They forged through some minor technical issues while presenting some of their own songs, which blend sprite melodies and harmonies, guitars, keyboards and synths. The set also included material from Capybara, a band co-founded by Seal, which backed him on Saharan Gazelle Boy with assistance from Katlyn Conroy of La Guerre.
After the set, a large crowd gathered at the Westport Saloon, where Julian Davis, a teenager from Pittsburg, Kan., and a Kansas youth flatpicking champion, held court. Backed by a pianist and a standup-bassist with some Rev. Horton Heat in his britches, Davis stormed through a set of old-time country, bluegrass and Western swing songs, originals and covers, including Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus,” showcasing his old-soul voice and his prowess on guitar. Davis is a contestant on “America’s Got Talent,” something he has in abundance.
In July, Kansas City native Krystle Warren put on one of the year’s most memorable shows at Californos. Wednesday night she returned to the venue from her home in Paris, where she has lived since 2008, and showcased songs from a new album.
Backed by three vocalists and a band featuring virtuosos Beau Bledsoe on guitar and Brad Cox on keyboards, Warren, who played electric bass throughout the set, issued a series of stripped-down, jazzy and soulful, midtempo ballads that showcased her captivating voice, which arouses comparisons to legends like Nina Simone. She knows her way around a guitar, too, which she demonstrated during a brief solo-acoustic interlude.
Big Black Delta closed the evening at Ernie Biggs. The band is a solo project of Jonathan Bates of the Los Angeles band Mellowdrone. The set got off to a rousing start. Bates was backed by a live rhythm section (drummer and bassist) and the various sounds he had programmed on his laptop.
The music is spacey industrial/electronic-rock, heavy but melodic and set to engaging dance rhythms. About midway through the set, however, Bates started having trouble with the laptop. After a few reboots and restarts, the problem arose again in the middle of a song and he tossed his microphone at his computer in frustration. By then it was early Thursday morning and time to savor what was a satisfying evening of music and prepare for Day Two of this four-day festival.
Performances continue through Saturday at venues in Westport, the Crossroads Arts District and downtown. Tickets information at middleofthemapfest.com.