Page 4 of 7
By '08, he had convinced the elderly black Masons running the lodge hall at 13th and State to let him throw his festival on their grounds.
The lodge's elevated, covered carport would serve as the stage; its parking lot and an adjacent vacant lot would be the festival grounds.
More than 5,000 people showed up. Last year, it was up to 7,000.
Myra Taylor was crowned Queen of the Festival in 2008; last year, the honor went to Diane "Mama" Ray. The two Kansas City blues matriarchs were bedecked in costumes donated by Have Guns Will Rent Costumes and Props, across the street at 1313 State Avenue.
People took their lawn chairs and coolers and partied peacefully and on their own terms.
Gilley's festival has been breaking the law since its inception.
When he found this out at the end of April, Gilley was stunned.
Every year, he says, police have been at his festival — some even request to work it so they can enjoy the music.
"These guys tell me, 'Can't you do this more often?'" Gilley says of the cops, who have told him that crime tends to go down during the weekend of the festival.
On March 23, 2010, George Sooter, Right-of-Way manager in the Unified Government's Public Works Department, e-mailed Gilley requesting the dates and location for the upcoming Street Blues Festival. Sooter added that he was planning to have a meeting "to discuss the mandatory laws, rules and requirements for the event."
Gilley had scheduled this year's festival June 25–June 26.
Gilley had dealt with Sooter in previous years but never had conflict. In the months after the 2009 fest, when he heard rumors about some kind of alcohol violation, Gilley says he tried numerous times to reach Sooter by phone and failed.
Now, a meeting was set for April 29.
Walking into City Hall that afternoon, Gilley had no idea what, if any, alcohol laws the festival had broken. One thing he did know: If he needed to make significant changes, he would have little time. The festival was less than two months away.
He took the elevator to the seventh floor and walked into a small conference room. Waiting there were Sooter, Deputy Chief Counsel Delia York, Director Tom Groneman of the Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, a representative from the Downtown Shareholders organization, Maj. Kevin Steele and a few other officers from the police department, and a few other city officials.
Also there was Brandi Severson, marketing director for the 7th Street Casino.
Owned by the Wyandotte Nation, the metro's smallest casino occupies a red-brick former Scottish Rite Temple located practically next door to City Hall.
The purpose of the meeting was to address changes to the Kansas alcohol law that went into effect July 1, 2009, just days after last year's festival. The new rules might affect Gilley's blues festival and the Downtown Shareholders' second annual June Fest, set for June 11.
Severson's presence on behalf of the casino was intriguing.
The casino had been a savior of the Street Blues Festival for the past two years, donating $3,000 and giving away free soft drinks in 2008, then doubling down last year with a $6,000 contribution — and a twist: Casino officials apparently thought that they could make a little money by getting a temporary permit to sell 3.2 percent beer and setting up their own tent to the right of the stage.