A Crossroads concert keeps the urban core alive and swinging, and a party at Jerry's Bait Shop lets suburbanites off the hook.

Crosstown Traffic 

A Crossroads concert keeps the urban core alive and swinging, and a party at Jerry's Bait Shop lets suburbanites off the hook.

In 1998, the Sierra Club reported that Kansas City was number five on a list of the ten cities most threatened by sprawl. That's only one of many studies ringing the doomsday bell against the gas-guzzling, environment-trampling ways of our city's outward expansion. In What's the Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank posits that "Johnson County is a vast suburban empire, a happy, humming confusion of freeways and malls and nonstop construction; of identical cul-de-sacs and pretentious European street names and overachieving school districts and oversized houses constructed to one of four designs."

These words make the hearts of midtown, downtown and Lawrence liberals seethe with disgust. To them, white flight is a cultural death warrant, the draining of a life force from the heart of the city, a plague that turns over historic neighborhoods and architectural landmarks to disrepair and ruin.

So it is with a mixture of jubilance and defiance that the citizens who dwell in and support the Crossroads District come together in an attempt to stem the tide of urban blight by opening art galleries and nightclubs, founding First Fridays and leasing lofts in the Freighthouse District and the River Market.

The first-ever Crossroads Music Festival Saturday, August 27, should have stood as a stiff middle finger to corporate conglomeration and JoCo sensibilities. Held in the lot behind Grinders, where Stretch's sculptures rust boldly in the night, the festival celebrated an area quickly becoming the nerve center of the town's avant-garde.

I lazily rambled down to the all-day festival around 9 p.m., hoping to catch the last few acts on the bill and gauge whether it was (as I had cynically feared) anything more than a meek gathering of grimy art kooks, their dogs and their tony friends. Gladly, there was a mixed crowd, many of whom were refreshingly unhip in a Crossroads sense — such as the middle-aged blonde who danced like it was her last day on Earth to the strains of the band I, an almost spiritually funky ensemble made up of a crack rhythm section led by a charismatic frontman. I (the band, not me) blasted out a merry fusion of funk and rock, playing to the relatively sparse crowd on the back lot as if it were a sold-out audience in a sweaty nightclub.

After I cleared the stage, newcomer group American Catastrophe set up. The singer in this four-piece, Shaun Hamontree, is Kansas City's answer to Nick Cave, a man with a preternatural baritone who sings about death and grief while churning out dissonant chords on his Fender Jazzmaster. My heart is a steel blade/Rustin' with the time, Hamontree sang in a Tom Waitsian growl, causing the audience to sink two inches deeper into the soft, moist earth.

Third up were local favorites the Architects, who, as usual, bashed out selections from their latest album and their still-being-mastered new LP, reminding fans that the skull-and-crossbones tattoos on each Architect's arm still stand for maximum rock and roll. Between each band, a screen hanging on the wall of the MoMo Studio showed offerings from area short-film auteurs, the best of which (after sunset, at least) was a hilarious documentary by Todd Korgan on a heavy-metal bagpiper.

The 18th Street bash was an affirmative experience for those who hope Kansas City can reclaim some of the urban vitality that's been drained by sprawl.

A few nights later, at a debauched bar in Lenexa, JoCo dwellers assembled to party the night away as if southbound Interstate 35 were the Yellow Brick Road to rock.

The owners of Jerry's Bait Shop, a small, vaguely tropical-themed joint on Santa Fe Trail, have been working mighty hard to establish their bar as a balls-out music venue as worthy as any club in KCMO. First, they wrested the Homegrown Buzz (a local-music-spotlight event sponsored by KRBZ 96.5) from the clutches of Jilly's downtown (see the June 2 Wayward Son); now they've expanded their live-music program to embrace the pinnacle of party music: the open-mike cover-band night.

At 9:30 on the Wednesday following the Crossroads fest, when most KC bars were somnolently preparing for their middling hump-day festivities, Jerry's was packed to the rafters with party people. The cover band of the moment was 'ay-oh-ing to "Blitzkrieg Bop." The bar owners had spread the word that they were filming a commercial for local cable carriers to air on VH1 and MTV, and as a result, Jerry's was a scene out of a National Lampoon movie.

Cameramen patrolled the floor, and the waitresses, wearing tight Bacardi tank tops and skirts, squeezed in and out of the crowd, carrying trays of shot glasses. Camera muggers crowded the small stage in the corner, practically sweating onto the rotating cast of long-haired musicians, who took up their guitars and drumsticks to hammer out popular tunes from the '80s and '90s. The first two hours seemed to belong to the Stolen Winnebagos, a truly dedicated cover band whose members, resplendent in wigs and leather pants, played note-for-note versions of such barnburners as Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and the Toadies' "Possum Kingdom," among other nostalgia triggers. The evening gave extraordinary credence to the theory that the best party band is the one that plays the hits of others.

As the evening heated to a feverish mass of depravity, the area's best mimickers took the stage, and it became screechingly clear that the rock doesn't stop at 75th Street in Kansas City. Chicks danced on the bar, and a random assortment of musicians, including a Rastafarian-looking guy, led the audience in a sing-along to the awesomely cheesy Jerry's Bait Shop reggae-rock jingle as a camera on a swing arm floated over the batshit-rabid crowd.

Would Western civilization be better off if all this had been going down at a joint with a zip code starting with 641? Maybe. But it's also comforting to know that, even with modern America spreading outward to destruction like a melting ice cap, at least the people in the outer reaches haven't forgotten the value of having a good time.

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