Two years ago, Courtney and Alex Perry purchased an abandoned Baptist church at Ninth and Harrison. Two months ago, after extensive renovations, the local couple opened the doors as the Arts Asylum. They've reimagined the building as a sort of full-service home base for local artists: a place where you can rent work space, teach classes and display art.
In addition to the studios and two galleries, there is a large event hall on the main floor that the Perrys have been renting out for weddings and special events. It still kind of looks like a church in there: Rows of old, wooden pews flank an elevated stage sprouting out of the northern end of the room. Opposite the stage, there's even an old choir loft perched up above.
Saturday, at what its organizers are calling the KC Summer Phreak Out, the Arts Asylum reconnects with its roots as a house of worship, though it's unlikely there will be much mention of, say, the New Testament. The praise will instead be directed toward Phish — an act with Jesus-like status in the jam-band scene (its forefathers the Grateful Dead being God). Presiding over the service is the local Phish cover band the Wolfmanz Brothers.
"The idea was, since Phish is coming through town in the middle of the week, on a Wednesday" — see Music Forecast — "let's do a party the weekend before, when people are starting to get excited for it," says Wolfmanz bassist Eric Gould.
Gould plays in a handful of bands, including Free Band Radio and Particle, the latter a mainstay on the national jam-band circuit. The Wolfmanz Brothers, which also includes Lucas Bingham, Ben Hutchinson and Patrick Suckiel, is a relatively new project that came together at the Canoe Club in Lake Lotawana, where Gould lives. "The owner there holds a series called Pickin' On, where musicians come in and do acoustic interpretations of various acts," Gould says. "We did a Phish night and had a bunch of fun, and so we did it again, and then we started playing out there a lot, and it's kind of spiraled out from there. It's become this fun little passion project."
The group (named, naturally, after a Phish song) has ditched its Canoe Club acoustic arrangements and built up a repertoire of about 75 Phish songs, which it performs using the proper Phish primary instruments: electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. The KC Summer Phreak Out grew out of Gould and fellow local bassist Alexis Barclay's long-running desire to create something together.
"Alexis and I have always said, if we could ever figure out a way to be in the same band, we could do something really great," Gould says. "But it's tough to squeeze two bass players into the same band unless you're doing a P-Funk thing or something. So we finally decided to start putting some events together. And this is the first one."
To make the KC Summer Phreak Out more of an event, Barclay and Gould (they're calling their production company Electric England Productions) enlisted the Cody Wyoming Deal, a versatile local tribute band that has staged shows honoring the music of such acts as the Rolling Stones and Alejandro Escovedo. On Saturday, they'll perform the Velvet Underground's Loaded in its entirety, something Phish did at its 1998 Halloween show in Las Vegas. Those two facts are not unrelated.
"I was at that show," Gould says. "And I'm a huge Velvet Underground fan. I just thought having the Cody Wyoming Deal do Loaded would be a cool way to tie it in to the Phish theme, but also be a separate draw for people who just like the Velvet Underground but don't care about the Phish folklore stuff."
Saturday's show (which also includes a performance from bluegrass act the Rural Grit All-Stars) is free. "We wanted it to be an easy introduction to live music at the Arts Asylum," says Blair Cave, who is promoting the show via his company, Next Level Promotions. And Gould says he and Barclay are hoping to put together another event at the Arts Asylum, possibly around Halloween.
"Maybe bring in a national act and pair it with a local act," Gould says. "I think those are the types of shows that excite people in Kansas City, rather than just booking your band at a club once a month at a bar. If you can create something that's more of an event, something more meaningful and fun that has more of a positive impact on the city — that's the focus, that's our goal with this."