About a month ago, Simpson began working for Beaumont Inc., the company that operates Karma, the Westport Beach Club and the Beaumont Club. It's also the company that took flack for buying the Grand Emporium, ripping down its nicotine-stained memorabilia and turning the storied blues bar into a sleek discotheque where the biggest crowds come out for the gay dance nights.
Simpson is the new, pretty face for Beaumont Inc. something the company badly needed. And she's a perfect fit.
First of all, at heart, Simpson's a metal girl, so we don't have to worry about yuppie shit when it comes to her tastes. She's a rocker, not a saleswoman. Her all-time favorite band is Metallica. She got to party with Pantera at James Hatfield's 39th birthday party in Dallas. Far from being a groupie, however, for the past eight years, Simpson has worked as a promoter rep (i.e., runner and hospitality agent) for outfits such as ClearChannel, UptoEleven Productions, Renegade and Hunt Industries, and she has seen things in tour buses that make the famous Led Zeppelin mud-shark incident look tame. She's been searching for a full-time job in music for a long time while working on a psychology degree from UMKC.
"Everyone tells me that my ideal job would be a life coach or shrink for rock stars," she says. "I'm very maternal and hospitable."
Like I said: hot.
But can Simpson save Westport or at least parts of it from encroaching lameness?
For starters, the plugged-in 26-year-old does everything that her middle-aged-white-dude employers couldn't do because, well, they're middle-aged white dudes. Her toughest task at the moment is promoting Karma, the company's newborn baby. It's smack in the middle of Westport, where Stanford & Sons and Johnny Dare's used to be (a controversial location in recent years). I've dropped by the joint the past couple of Saturdays, and it draws a unique crowd. One night, white women and black women were dancing on the tables; one even gave a guy a pseudo lap dance. Bartender Jonas, with his ponytail and his ability to mix drinks Cocktail-style, with flashy behind-the-back movies, is a complete badass. So far, so good for Karma.
Meanwhile, Simpson's other duties include booking bands at the Emporium, making sure that concerts run smoothly at the Beaumont, and regulating volleyball tournaments at the Beach Club. She's everywhere, and it's not an easy job.
"It's kind of a sad, difficult time to be entering this position," she says. "I do care so much about the local music scene, and it seems like that's what's getting pushed out of Westport."
At this point in history, as we're all aware, the Hurricane has just closed, ostensibly to reopen soon as a bitchy, Plaza-style club. And with the new One80 opening its doors to classy clientele, it's just not the grimy, rockin' Westport of yore. There was even a rumor that the famously dingy Buzzard Beach was going to close and become a health-food store, but that's simply too hilarious an idea to be true (I hope).
Realistically, there's not much Simpson can do to revive Westport's music scene. She can't bring back the Hurricane or convince the owners of Blayney's to book local bands that aren't just blues or jam acts (how about it, guys?). But at least she can bring the rock back to 39th and Main.
"The Grand Emporium isn't the type of club that people from the local music scene want to hang out at.... It's like a brand new club without a history with local bands," she says.
Many in-town bands shy away from the Emporium, complaining about its sound quality (which is probably hurt by the room's slate floors) and the fact that shows there must finish early to make way for the dance crowd. Simpson wants to establish it as a local music venue that can coexist with the Record Bar, the Brick and Davey's. Though she'll have to book early shows on the weekends, she hopes those gigs will give music fans more to do at night: You go see a show at the Emporium, crawl over to a later show somewhere else, then end the night at your favorite 3 a.m. bar. (Who says there's nothing to do in Kansas City?)
"The most fun I have when I go out is when I can bounce around," she says.
But her work doesn't stop with bands.
To encourage people to land at Karma and the Beach Club at the end of the night, she has started booking some of her favorite DJs. At the Beach Club, soul-funk-Afrobeat specialist Oz McGuire, punk-rock king Rico and the charismatic Brodie Rush (who's never had a regular DJ gig before) are the new additions. They hold down the weeknights; live salsa flares up on weekends. At Karma, Robert Moore, host of KCUR's Sonic Spectrum free-form radio show, rocks Wednesday nights. A recent Friday brought electronic-dance-music maestro Steve Thorell, and Saturdays belong to Simpson's favorite DJ, Mike Just. (Just, by the way, was in command those Saturday nights when the chicks got on the tables.)
In the end, there's only so much that one person can do to keep a Midwestern city's nightlife from going down the shiny-shirt, velvet-rope and bottle-service drain. But luckily, our music scene is young, and with Cat Simpson on its side, we may not have to go out strangling beautiful people with guitar strings anytime soon.