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Westport Roots Festival showcases the many flavors of music

Mikal Shapiro
Mikal Shapiro The Kansas City Star

The weather was ideal for third annual Westport Roots Festival, which was held Saturday on six stages in five Westport venues. More than 60 bands, a mix of local, regional and national bands and solo artists, performed for nearly 14 hours. Here is a look at some of the sets.

Shapiro Brothers, Firefly Lounge

They aren’t a sibling act. But they are a Kansas City duet — Mikal Shapiro and Chad Brothers — who write jazzy songs and sing in the kind of keen harmonies that siblings are famous for. Their guitar interplay is equally impressive. Their set included songs from “The Musical,” Shapiro’s excellent full-length from 2015.

KC Rain Dogs, Westport Saloon

This trio from Kansas City — washboard, guitar and piano — mines various forms of roots music, including jug-band and boogie blues, and distills it into songs that are lively and sound vintage and fresh at the same time.

Urban Pioneers, Westport Saloon

A three-piece string band from Albany, Texas, the Urban Pioneers are a self-proclaimed “hillbilly band” that stirred up a ruckus during its afternoon set. They do it minimally — guitar or banjo, fiddle, upright bass — but with loads of enthusiasm and enough precision to keep their rollicking, high-speed songs on track. Fiddler Liz Sloan is a dynamic performer, vocally and instrumentally.

Scott Hrabko and the Rabbits, Ernie Biggs

Hrabko is gifted songwriter who deserves more exposure. He has a knack for writing clever and trenchant lyrics as well as composing melodic, well-crafted songs. His genre is country, but within its framework, he dabbles in a variety of roots, adding touches of blues, folk and rock. His set also showcased his stellar band, which includes guitar titans Marco Pascolini and Fred Wickham.

The Calamity Cubes, Riot Room patio

The scruffy Wichita trio the Calamity Cubes crafts skewed bluegrass that’s enriched by soulful vocals. The group’s daunting image fails to conceal its sentimental streak. Fans reverently sang along to an effusive reading of “Devil in Her Eyes.” Most selections were performed with acoustic instrumentation, but a feedback-drenched rendition of “Lilly Belle” featured an electric dulcimer.

Carson McHone, Ernie Biggs

Carson McHone’s pleasing outing indicated that Austin continues to produce worthy singer-songwriters. She’s collaborated with country outlaws like Ray Wylie Hubbard, but McHone’s solo work is relatively reserved. The pedal steel guitarist in her three-piece backing band added a gentle whine to the melancholy “Sweet Magnolia.” 

Brody Buster, Riot Room

Before transforming Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” into a convincing Delta blues song, Brody Buster explained his philosophy for solo performances: “I try to take songs you’d think a one-man-band couldn’t do and try to cover it.” The Kansas City musician who appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” as a child prodigy in 1995 also remade the desperate soul classic “The Dark End of the Street” as a ditty that resembled a contemporary pop hit. 

Dusty Rust, Ernie Biggs

Dusty Rust was among the many musicians at the Westport Roots Festival who claim the late Merle Haggard as a primary influence. The traditional country artist from Maryland suggested that “Workin’ Man Blues” was his favorite song. In addition to a brisk version of the Haggard classic, his set included a lament about suffering through a hangover and a truck-driving anthem. 

Pendergast, Firefly

The members of Pendergast sounded slightly rusty during a welcome reunion show. Exceptionally crafted songs like “Main Street 3 A.M.” proved sturdy enough to withstand a few minor miscues. While Pendergast was the best alternative country band to emerge from Kansas City in the previous decade, Tony Ladesich indicated that he and his colleagues are prepared to resume their retirement: “We’re like Batman and we’ll go back into the darkness.” 

J.B. Beverley, Ernie Biggs

J.B. Beverley, a former punk rocker from Virginia, demonstrated his commitment to durable honky tonk at Ernie Biggs.  He suggested that “Memories of You” was inspired by “a losing battle with a bottle of Maker’s Mark” whiskey. He and his three-piece backing band converted Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” into a plaintive shuffle.   

Soda Gardocki, Riot Room patio

The gruff California troubadour Soda Gardocki resembles a healthier and slightly more optimistic Tom Waits. During the entrancing love song “Hang the Moon” he pledged to “pick all the roses in South Pasadena for you” but warned that “I won’t promise to be sober all the time.” Prior to performing a song he co-wrote with his grandmother, Gardocki recalled that she told him, “I like my blues strong and my men weak.” 

Billy Don Burns, Ernie Biggs

One of the festival’s most significant showcases was spoiled by the chatter of inconsiderate customers and staff at Ernie Biggs. Fans of the outlaw country veteran Billy Don Burns had to strain to hear his remarkable stories and harrowing songs like “Dark Side of the Spoon.” Burns’ references to his ties with stars like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and his admission that he “turned 66 in prison” last year following “a small drug bust in Kentucky” failed to alleviate the disrespectful treatment.   

Loaded Goat, Buzzard Beach

After one of several dancers at Loaded Goat’s festive set opted to exhibit his moves on the crowded stage at Buzzard Beach, a member of the band jokingly griped about the intrusion: “Am I mistaken or does the security here suck? Hippies everywhere!” By supplementing traditional bluegrass instrumentation with a drummer, the Kansas City ensemble appeals to fans of jam bands like the Grateful Dead and the String Cheese Incident.

Hickoids, Firefly

Hickoids formed in Texas in 1984, but the country-punk band’s wild set demonstrated that it’s still eager to titillate audiences. Front man Jeff Smith’s banter was deliberately offensive, and he simulated obscene acts with his microphone during absorbing renditions of the Elvis Presley classic “Burning Love” and the Elton John hit “Bennie and the Jets.”

The Goddamn Gallows, Riot Room patio

The Goddamn Gallows incited mayhem on the patio of the Riot Room. As the itinerant troupe, the most popular group at the festival, played a berserk blend of gypsy punk, angry bluegrass and theatrical metal, fans at the front were regularly crushed against the stage by the unruly mob behind them. The audience was also assaulted from the stage. The accordionist and percussionist TV’s Avery hurled sputum into the crowd and dove into the outstretched arms of his admirers. The Calamity Cubes joined the fray for a frightening cover of Venom’s “In League With Satan.”

Sarah Gayle Meech, Ernie Biggs

Sarah Gayle Meech opened her set with the unambiguous statement of purpose “All I Want’s a Honky Tonk.” The Nashville-based vintage country revivalist also performed cheerful material like “Watermelon and Root Beer.”

Elvis Hitler, Riot Room indoors

Three of the four members of Elvis Hitler donned denim overalls for their first appearance in Kansas City since 1992. In his introduction to “Hellbilly,” band leader Jim Leedy noted his trailblazing welding of rockabilly and punk: “I like to think I invented this word back in the ’80s.” The quartet also played a raging version of “Berlin to Memphis.”

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