Apocalypse Meow draws appreciative crowd, benefits musicians

The sixth annual Apocalypse Meow benefit on Friday and Saturday proved and confirmed several things about this city’s music scene.

One: It is flourishing, nurtured and nourished by dozens of creative types who keep finding ways to express and exercise their diverse music talents and ideas.

Two: It is beloved by a growing legion of fans who show their support in a variety of ways, often beyond buying recorded music and paying cover charges at local nightclubs.

And three, it is populated by fans and musicians who are generous with their time, money and skills.

The benefit is sponsored by the Midwest Music Foundation. Proceeds go toward Abby’s Fund, named in honor of Abigail Henderson, one of its co-founders, who died in August after a long battle with cancer. The fund raises money to help local musicians who need medical care or assistance for issues related to health care.

This year’s event started Friday night, with a free, all-ages show at the downtown Midwestern Musical Co. Two bands performed to a full room and to a small crowd listening from outside the store: the Silver Maggies, a dynamic rock ensemble that gives its cosmic-country vibe a Southwestern accent; and Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds, a guitar-centric soul/rock/roots trio that was celebrating its coming-out party. (Its set included an impressive cover of Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights.”)

It was also Meck’s first performance as the head of a band, after playing guitar beside Henderson, his girlfriend/wife for 10 years, in three bands. (They started the foundation after she became ill in 2008.)

Saturday night’s show was at Knuckleheads, where performances were split between singer/songwriters on the indoor stage and bands on the outdoor stage. In the room between the two stages, tables were filled with dozens of raffle and silent-auction items, all donated by local businesses and friends of the music scene. The grand prizes were an acoustic guitar and a royal blue Fender Telecaster designed, built and painted by Meck, Zach Phillips (bassist in the Guilty Birds and the Architects) and guitar/amp wiz Paul Marchman (of Scarlett Amps).

A crowd of about 300, plus volunteers, watched six bands and four songwriters who donated their time and efforts deliver a wide array of music styles. The opening band was She’s a Keeper, a five-piece that arranges its dynamic roots/folk anthems with keyboards, drums, bass, cello, a mix of acoustic and electric guitars and plenty of multi-part harmonies.

After that: the newly minted Freight Train Rabbit Killer, a costumed duo (Kris Bruders and Mark Smeltzer) who delivered some deep and grimy Delta-style blues via dueling slide guitars.

And so it went. The music styles continued to shift seismically from one band to the next: Not a Planet, a trio that issues a bristling but shimmering mix of pop, glam, rock and blues; the Latenight Callers, who mix electronica and rock into sultry, noirish sounds; the Philistines (another new band), who conjoin a few flavors of classic rock (the Stones are an influence) with gauzy psychedelia; and the rip-roaring Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, who traffic in raunchy, primal punk.

Inside, the singer/songwriters turned the club into a coffeehouse setting. All were solo/acoustic, but even those showcased a diversity of styles among each performer: Anthony Ladesich, Betse Ellis, Gregg Todt and songwriter emeritus Howard Iceberg.

Ellis showed her command of the stage as a solo performer with a barnstorming fiddle tune and a lovely version of the traditional “Better Farther On.” Todt, who fronts the loud, heavy and relentless rock band Federation of Horsepower, showed his milder side, even on his cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down.” And Iceberg showed why Ellis called him the Bob Dylan of Kansas City, though his style also has some John Prine in it.

Before the night was done, the guitars were raffled off from the big stage. The winner of the acoustic guitar immediately returned it so it could be auctioned off. Meck strapped on the Telecaster and showed it off as a prelude to that drawing. The winner of that guitar (a musician and bar owner), strapped it on, played a riff and walked off with it. But minutes later, he, too, returned it for auction. The winning bid was from another musician, a bassist, who has since said he’ll use it to write more songs for one of his bands and let others use it, as well.

More than $700 was raised between those two guitar auctions in addition to money from the many raffles and auctions and admission at the door. Both evenings, you could feel the satisfaction from musicians, volunteers and fans alike, people who knew that their work and generosity were going toward a good cause and a personal passion.