Around Hear 

As it does every year, fall will bring with it The Kansas City Spirit Festival, an event that celebrates good tidings and proves that the spirit of KC is alive and well. It also occasionally confirms that venerable Rick Springfield, who will play Spirit Fest opening night, Friday, Sept. 1, is alive and well. Not so alive and well, however, is the modern-rock stage, which has for the past decade featured local acts and other national up-and-comers during the entire run of the three-day event.

"We're still going to do a modern rock or an alternative night at this point, but we will not have it all three days," says Executive Director Timothy L. Smith. "That's simply because of the construction that's going on at the Liberty Memorial. They pushed us back basically 500 feet from the memorial, and there's just too many space limitations up there to continue to try to do three stages as we did last year."

Most likely the final night of Spirit Fest, Sunday, Sept. 3, will be the evening when that kind of modern music is given its moment in the spotlight. "It's not our intent at all to leave anybody hanging. We still want to do that because we think it's an important part of the overall musical mix of the festival, and obviously it's going to depend on the type of acts that we can get," Smith explains, also noting that next year the modern rock stage could return. "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't at this point. It was a great stage for us, and it really grew over the years."

A major sponsor of that stage was KLZR 105.9, which isn't quite as into the rock as it used to be. Smith says the station's format "adjustment" didn't specifically contribute to the stage's playing hooky this year. "Certainly we would like to have a station like The Lazer that could get behind it and support it. They helped us out a lot with label support and did some other things for us, but I don't think that that was really a factor. It really came down to the physical limitations of the park," he reiterates. "Hopefully, there will be a Lazer in the future or something similar to The Lazer within the market, because we enjoyed the relationship we had with them when they had that particular format and still enjoy a relationship with them even with their new format."

Sixteen Arms to Hold You
Ruskabank may have titled its newly released sophomore disc I Don't Think You Hear Me Though, but, oh, people do hear it indeed. The eight-piece band has been around for nearly four years, developing quite a reputation for peppy shows that aren't just for the ska disciples -- a fanatical, if not bordering on insanely devoted, bunch.

"I think that we're more like a blend of pop, rock and roll, and ska," says vocalist/guitarist Brian Spiker. "The rock just kind of leaks in. It's been there since the beginning, except we concentrated more on being ska. But now we kind of let things go and write with a rock feel. I tend to like stuff to be slower and danceable, whereas other people like to do stuff that's faster and more energetic. We try to do songs of both natures."

All those myriad interests are reflected on the new record too. "There are songs like 'Lover's Sea,' which is definitely a rock steady tune, and there are songs like 'Give It Up' that have more of an emo-rock feel. Then there are songs like 'All My Fans Are Dead,' which is a straight-up ska-punk song. I'm really starting to enjoy just being able to write whatever we want," Spiker says. "Some people label us as Elvis Costello-flavored, early two-tone, but I look at us more as like rock and roll. People have described us as being like Chicago, but we always draw from local bands. The things I'm really listening to are The Anniversary and Ultimate Fakebook and The Get Up Kids and The Egomaniacs. I find myself listening to them a lot more than I would the bigger ska acts."

With eight people in the band, the members of Ruskabank probably do have a bit of trouble all getting on the same page, and not just musically, either. "That's the biggest challenge, especially since we're all getting older and life is calling, like jobs. Everybody is finishing up college or will be in the next year," Spiker observes. "There are a few of us who are full-on and ready to go. Then there are a few of us who, in spirit, want to keep on doing it but in reality won't be able to within the next year or two. We recognize that, and we're going to try to survive and stay together as long as possible. But there will always be a core of, like, three or four of us who are going to stay with it until the end -- those are changes that all bands go through."

And even though ska isn't the primary element anymore, that name Ruskabank does brand the band with a genre label because of letters three through five, an old ska band tradition of sorts. (Example: The Skamish, members of which later played in The Norman 360, sold T-shirts featuring a skanking Amish man) "Don (Donnyves Laroque, keyboards) wanted to call us Rooster Bank, as in like the animal bank," Spiker recalls. "It was like, 'Uh, that's really cool, but I don't think we want to call us that.' We had a whole list of names and put the word ska in there because it was, like, a trend back then. We drew a logo for Ruskabank and some others, but that looked the coolest. So when it came time to gig, we went with that."

When it comes time to gig again around here, it will probably be a little closer to August. In the meantime, Ruskabank is heading out to California. And while the group is away, show updates can be found at both www. ruskabank.com and www. noisome.com.

It's Good for What Ales You
The traditional present for a 15th anniversary is crystal. The modern present is a watch. Bucking the system for its 15th anniversary, Grand Emporium is celebrating by debuting its own special brew, Grand Emporium Mojo Ale. "It is a freshly brewed sweet ale that is made especially for us by Flying Monkey," boasts owner Roger Naber. "We actually started selling it as of this last Monday with our 15th anniversary celebration. Our 15th anniversary started June 26, and we're running two weeks, so we're doing a half-price special."

That commemoration culminates this weekend. On Thursday, July 6, Kristie Stremel, The Daybirds, and Fatback will take the stage. The next evening will begin a two-night stay by S.O.B., its initials standing for Same Ole Band with a lineup featuring four former members of War. Opening the show on Friday, July 7, is Brody Buster, and on Saturday, July 8, The Sugadaddies will kick things off. Even more incentive for showing up is that a year's pass for two will be given away at each of the headlining shows, as will two Amtrak roundtrips to St. Louis on S.O.B.'s final night.

But the night owls won't get all the goodies, since season passes for one are being awarded at each of Grand Emporium's Mojo Matinees. And even after the shenanigans are over, the Mojo Ale will still be on special. Those Mojo Matinees go down Mondays with Brother Ike's Rural Grit Happy Hour, Ernie Locke's Unplugged Hump & Bump on Wednesdays, Brody Buster's Rush Hour Rendezvous on Fridays, and Royal Blue Matinee on Saturdays, with Millage Gilbert and Linda Shell alternating weekly.

"Quite a few people come in for Ernie's show, but it's still kind of in a building process. Most people see Ernie as a harder-edged electric kind of guy, but he also can play unplugged guitar and harmonica as well," Naber says. "We're trying to feature premium live music early for people when they get off work, instead of always late nights. We're giving them an option to come out and see some of Kansas City's best homegrown music early." Which is a good thing for the beer-swilling working stiffs.

Had Guitar, Still Traveling
Traveling bluesman Jimmy Thackery was kind enough to grace the Gladstone Blues Festival on Sunday, June 18, with his presence. But for his troubles, he was rewarded with the thieving of his favorite guitar: a 1964 Fender Stratocaster L Series. Its two identifying characteristics are an inlaid mother-of-pearl nighthawk on the first fret, and its finish, which was originally a sunburst one. But after years of Thackery's working his magic, it's now almost worn bare. Stolen as well was a white custom Fender with a tortoiseshell pick guard and a fan message scrawled on the back in black marker, a pedal box, and some other equipment. For more information, visit www.taglines.org, or to report something, give a call to 501-253-5366. A reward is also being offered, though isn't the warm, fuzzy feeling received from helping out compensation enough? Please Enter Through the Turnstyle
"Seeing us live is where it's at," says Turnstyle bassist/vocalist Dan Anderson. "That's when people out in the audience get it, they feel it, and then a lot of the time they start to move to it."

With that in mind, and as is only appropriate, Turnstyle decided to make its debut full-length a live disc, recorded by Scott Evans at Niener's Bar and Grill on May 25, 2000. "It was fairly empty that night -- I think it was a Thursday -- and we had been talking to Scott about burning off a disc. He said he'd record a couple of our shows and see what we liked, and we just jammed, were just on. It was one of those nights where we just were feeling the groove," Anderson recounts. "We knew once we got off stage, 'Dude, that's it.'"

Although Live is Turnstyle's debut full-length, it's not the first time the band has issued a disc. "We actually put out a demo in 1997, but it was just four songs and we were 16 and 17 years old. We didn't have a clue what to do with it, so we went into the studio and spent all this money making this disc that we just kind of gave to our friends and stuff. We still have a few copies, but we don't really brag about it too much," Anderson explains. "We're just lucky because we're young, just turning 20 and 21, being able to get into the bars we're playing at. We're experienced enough to know how to handle ourselves on stage and know what to do, and we're actually getting to the point where we can throw down with anybody out there. We've got our chops up and prove ourselves up there."

Judge for yourself Saturday, July 8, at Platt City Community Center when Turnstyle joins Kao Kyen, Explosion 9, and Dissension. For the directionally impaired, a route can be obtained by calling 816-587-0053. The boys will also return to Niener's on Saturday, July 15, and Saturday, July 29.

Send local music information to Robert Bishop or J.J. Hensley at thenote@excite.com.

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