The following is one piece in a four-part series that highlights everything Missouri has to offer in the areas of food, art, music, and adventure. Missouri – or “Mo” as we call it – has no shortage of places to explore, so there’s a Mo for every MO.
Seasoned travelers know that the Kansas City music scene offers a not-so-hidden plethora of travel destinations worth visiting. The grill-loving metropolis in the middle of the map has developed into a pulsating live music hotspot, which is also known worldwide for its legendary place in jazz history.
Below you will get to know some of the people and places that make the “City of Fountains” a prime travel destination for any music fan looking for an unforgettable live show.
Photo courtesy Visit KC
The story of how Knuckleheads came about reads like a folk tale. It all started when owner Frank Hicks moved his collision workshop from Columbus Park to the East Bottoms in 1969. Eventually, Hicks bought more land in the area and converted an old railroad inn into a motorcycle shop. While the neighbors weren’t upset by the noise of the helicopters (they were already used to all the trains passing by), Hicks had a hard time luring customers into his digs in the industrial district. Back in 2001, he set up a small bar for beer and tacos and invited blues musicians and bikers to street parties. After a few years, the bar brought in more business than the motorcycle shop, and the knuckleheads we know and love sprang up.
The venue is now a real entertainment complex with the original indoor saloon stage, the smaller gospel lounge (where Pastor Carl Butler calls his honky-tonk church every week for beer, blues and Bible readings), a large outdoor stage and the latest addition a garage platform (former accident workshop). Since Knuckleheads started booking tour acts in 2004, they have hosted Johnny Winter, Ray Price, Kinky Friedman, Sly & Robbie, and Billy Joe Shaver. Often more than one stage work at the same time.
“It’s like a mom and pop shop,” says Hicks. “We have a special interest in all artists. We treat them as if they came to our home. “
Photos courtesy of Visit KC
American Jazz Museum / The Blue Room / Gem Theater
Once home to over 50 jazz clubs at their peak in the early to mid-20th centuries, the 18th & Vine District is a must see for tourists of all ages. “There’s some of this Kansas City narrative that sometimes gets trapped here in town that doesn’t make it nationally as it should,” said Rashida Phillips, executive director of the American Jazz Museum. “When I came here, I realized there was a whole load of jazz history that most people, except maybe Charlie Parker, don’t know.”
Founded in 1997, the American Jazz Museum houses exhibits, programs, and countless artifacts that go back over a century in the tradition of the genre. These treasures include a grafton saxophone from Charlie Parker, handwritten correspondence from John Coltrane, a dress worn by Ella Fitzgerald, and more. A series of rare photographs by Billie Holiday will be on display in the museum’s Changing Gallery from May to July. There’s also the John H. Baker Jazz Film Collection, which features video and still images of early jazz history.
In addition to the main museum, the AJM also operates the Blue Room, a 150-seat jazz club in the same building, and the Gem Theater, a historic 500-seat venue across the street. The museum’s first major post-Covid-19 event will celebrate Charlie Parker’s 101st birthday in August, including a parade, two-day film festival and a series of live tributes to the legendary saxophonist.
And if that’s not enough cultural history, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is right next door.
Lemonade (e) Park
Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on our country’s live music business, and the brunt of that impact has been felt by small, independent venues. For this reason, in the months after the first closings, the employees of the long-standing bar and restaurant in Kansas City Voltaire and recordBar joined forces to found Lemonad (e) Park. The venue operates on land purchased from Voltaire owner Wes Gartner, adjacent to the West Bottoms restaurant location, which was originally intended as a parking lot.
Named for the age-old phrase, “When life gives you lemons,” and Gartner’s interest in Greek philosophy (monad, which means “singularity”), Lemonad (e) Park had no problem finding audiences hungry for live music , and musicians who played itchy last summer. ” [The sound guys] attach great importance to the fact that every band sounds as good as possible, ”says recordBar owner Steve Tulipana of his team.
In addition to pandemic-proof performances of regional favorites such as Freedom Affair and Fritz Hutchison, food and drinks from Voltaire (bistro dishes and an extensive selection of cocktails, spirits, wine and beer) can be ordered for your picnic enjoyment. The park is returning for its second season this spring / summer, which means an expanded movie night series, some bar upgrades, and most importantly, more live music.