There's been some grumbling among scenesters about the slate of nominees, concerning who got what and who didn't this year, and that's really just as disappointing. Most of the picks I made on the initial voting ballot didn't make it to the finals, but it doesn't come down to any conspiracy. I just got outvoted. Only the top five vote-getters in each category go on to secure a space in the finals, and there is no complicated discussion process in which PitchWeekly staffers determine the merits of each band and throw out potential winners based on their own tastes. It's doubtful that even if such a meeting took place anything productive would happen -- our tastes are just as varied as anybody else's.
You've got hip-hop/gospel guru Shawn Edwards; self-described "card-carrying member of the punk-rock club" Andrew Miller; and Jon Niccum, who has stated in no uncertain terms his belief that Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans and Fugazi's End Hits are underrated records, all working there. Tellingly, even some of the PitchWeekly critics' picks for last year's Best Local Album didn't make the cut. But what an amazing ballot it is, representing the diversity in the scene that we do have.
For the first time in the event's history, some rappers are up for Band of the Year: 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains alongside the indie-rock of The Get Up Kids and alt-country stalwarts Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys. The Musician of the Year is even more eclectic, with harmonica-wielding frontman Ernie Locke, legendary jazz pianist Jay McShann, and omnipresent rapper Tech N9ne side by side. Bands that didn't get nominations can take some solace in knowing that for some categories there are dozens more contenders than slots available -- especially in the rock categories.
And, yes, there are some repeat winners and two- and three-time nominees in there, which isn't a slight on the acts who didn't get nominated, but a testament to the continuing popularity and quality of such bands as Frogpond, Ultimate Fakebook, and Reflector. That they're still around is a vindication of the Kansas City and Lawrence scenes' longevity too and that it can support this much talent. That's something I won't ever be disappointed in.
A lesson learned I have seen the future of rock, and it is Envy, three 15-year-olds from Turner, Kan. And the band got robbed.
On Saturday, March 4, for reasons still unknown, I was asked to be one of the judges at Mars Music's Talent Showcase 2000, where kids in three age groups competed in instrumental and vocal categories, along with two bands that would be pitted against each other. There was actually quite a bit of talent on display there. In the under-10 bracket, violinist Carol Wang (age 6) and vocalist Whitney Pearce (age 9), who was also celebrating her birthday, took home trophies. Twelve-year-old pianist Jessie Habluetzel got the honor for the 10-to-12-year-old contestants, while Lauren Gershon (also 12) won that category's vocal award. Another fine violinist, 15-year-old Amanda Rist, was recognized, and Cassie Fernandez (also 15) took home a trophy for her vocal performance.
All of these were fine young kids, and I know that Fernandez was especially good, because it didn't even faze me that she was singing "Hands" by Jewel. I've zero concept of what that song is about. (Though they didn't get to take anything home, I'd like to give personal kudos to 14-year-old guitarist Mindi Schwartz, who played an Ennio Morricone-informed medley of Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos," and the alto-sax stylings of Jesse Bechtold Jr. (age 15), who was dressed the part in a newsboy cap, tie, and vest.)
Then it was time for the bands, first of which was Envy. Upon hitting the stage, frontman Mo introduced bassist Squirrel and drummer Kris before adding, "We just recently lost our guitarist, so we'll try to do the best we can." And the trio did well, punk-rocking with reckless abandon, much harder than any 15-year-olds I ever knew. Envy's competition turned out to be its antithesis, three girls named Jessica Hainje, Merritt Lee, and Lyndsey Orpin, all age 12, who sang a lovely choral number consisting solely of the
And the ladies were very good, even though they did not rock like Envy did. It's really a matter of taste, I guess, and I did not let my own personal penchant affect my decision, as I honestly judged both performances on the criteria given to me.
The same can be said of my esteemed colleagues on the judging panel, Chad Coughlin, assistant director of bands at Olathe South High School, and Jeffrey Bishop (no relation), director of orchestras and division coordinator of fine arts at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. They have music degrees (as opposed to, say, me), so I think our interpretation of the criteria probably was vastly different.
With nervous trepidation, Mars general manager Eric Schatz announced, "It's so close we have to do a recount." It was then that I started to feel a little awkward. After a few more minutes, the results of the competition were announced. The three girls won, which was probably best for all involved parties. Still, I can't help thinking that in a perfect world, the award would have gone to Envy, who almost certainly had no idea what it was getting into when entering the showcase but was still brave enough to get up in front of that stoic crowd and truly, triumphantly bring the rock to those who sorely needed it after a day in which there was none. Maybe in the end though, it was better for Envy to learn at an early age, everything is politics.
Something to Holler about When Mike Ireland and Holler take the stage for an early show at Grand Emporium on March 13, it'll be one of the first with the band's new lineup, following the departure of Mike and Paul Lemon from the fold. Ireland was already familiar with one of the new guys in the group, John Horton, who's taking over lead guitar duties, though, from days long gone.
"I had crossed paths with his band (New Patrons of Husbandry) in the past when I was playing with The Starkweathers," Ireland recounts. "When he had heard that we had lost a guitar player, he mentioned that once I started looking he'd be interested, and that actually came to pass."
Getting someone to fill the vacant space behind the drum kit proved to be a much more arduous process. "Finding Spencer (Marquart) was the end of a months and months, kind of an off-and-on search. We'd start and talk to people, have a few people audition, and then something would come up and we'd go play shows," he says. "We saw tons of people, and I was really beginning to despair that I wasn't going to find anybody from around here."
Ireland didn't. Horton makes his home in Nashville, and Marquart is a little closer over in Columbia, though Ireland decided that's okay with him. "It creates more of an event out of practice," he says. "It's not like, 'Gee, come by after work.' It's 'Everyone needs to arrive in Kansas City on this weekend, and we'll do a day and a half of practicing.' The practice weekends are fairly intense." At the upcoming show, the band will also be joined on piano by Michael Deming, who co-produced the 1998 Klammy-nominated disc Learning How To Live. Another change for the band is that it no longer has ties to Sub Pop, the label that released that record.
"I'm the first guy in line to shoot myself in the foot about things, and without getting into a lot of details, I joined them because I felt like the people I was dealing with were people I could trust. And like the rest of the people I deal with, my manager and my booking agent, I feel like I can trust them," Ireland explains. "If that changed, I wouldn't deal with them anymore. So it got to a point where I just didn't feel like I could believe what they said. For me that was it."
No immediate plans have been made to record a follow-up. "I'd be happy to go in tomorrow if I was put in a position where that was going to happen, but I guess I don't feel like that's life and death," he says. "I'm sure it will happen when it needs to."
And yes, they still rock Mike Ireland and Holler isn't the only local band that's undergone a 50 percent lineup change recently. Last year's Klammy winner for Best New Band, Lushbox, also has some new faces in its ranks, following the departure of Brad Huhmann and Heather Grimmer from the group. "Brad got married, and my sister moved to Portland," explains Brianne Grimmer, who still occupies her spot in the middle of Lushbox's three guitarist-vocalists along with maniacal, somewhat scary drummer Wil Plunkett.
One of the two new faces in the band should be very familiar to those who have followed the almost incestuous family tree of Kansas City bands. Rob O'Toole, formerly of TV Fifty, is lending his power-pop talents to the four-piece. "I've known Rob since before I moved to Kansas City, and I don't know how he ended up playing with us now. He was playing in Fifteen Minutes Fast, and Brad actually talked me into finding him. He said, 'You have to talk to Rob O'Toole. You have to make him play guitar when I leave,' so we did," Grimmer says, noting she was also already familiar with new bass player Britt Smith.
"When I first moved here, I played in a really bad band with her. I don't even want to say the name." But that was then, and what is now Lushbox is something Grimmer doesn't mind acknowledging. "This is my dream lineup," she says.
Lushbox has wasted no time in getting back into the studio with new members in tow and is near completing a new EP for release on Urinine Records. "It's almost done. March 18th we go in and finish some stuff, and then there's a full-length that's going to come out in late fall," she says. "All of a sudden, writing songs is a lot of fun. We have bits and pieces all over the place and input from different people." The insanely catchy results can be heard when Lushbox plays River Market Brewing Company with Onward Crispin Glover on March 11.
Feed me, Seymour Slanted Plant may have been around only for a short time in its current incarnation, but the guys in the band have known one another for significantly longer. "Me and the bass player, Rick, and our guitar player, Todd, we all live on the same street, and we all grew up together as kids. We've been playing music together for years now," says frontman Brian Isbell. "When we started Slanted Plant a long time ago, I was playing drums, and then when I joined Six Percent, they got a drummer, Giuliano, who's our drummer now. I came back and joined the band last November, and then we started working out stuff."
There weren't any fights over what Isbell would do, because until then, Slanted Plant had no vocalist. "When I was actually out of the band, before I came back in, they just pretty much played all instrumentals."
Since Isbell's return, Slanted Plant has recorded a CD, Where the Funk Grows, which was made possible by a hefty bounty it received from Yahweh Coffeehouse's Battle of the Bands. "It's like a six-month competition that they have for a $1,000 grand prize. We ended up beating out 62 other local Kansas City bands for the grand prize, which we were pretty happy about," he says.
That disc will be the cause for celebration at the American Legion Hall on March 11, with Large, Two Gallon Red, and Six Percent, with whom Isbell is still on good terms, also in attendance. "We just had some creative differences as far as that goes. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don't. I'm pretty happy with where I'm at now," he says. "These guys I'm with, I've known them for a really long time. We used to build Legos together." Slanted Plant long since traded those Legos in for instruments, though, and will play those instruments at Gee 2000 on March 25 and at The Bottleneck on March 31.
Send local music information to Robert Bishop or J.J. Hensley at firstname.lastname@example.org.