At some point last fall, the art punks started playing shows at a place called FOKL. Apart from being an extremely fun word to say, FOKL turned out to be a new art space, located right off the 12th Street Bridge, on Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. In November, FOKL hit its stride when a large crowd turned up for the first anniversary celebration of local vintage-clothes enterprise We Are Tribe. Since then, the space has earnestly hosted yoga nights, clothes swaps, and an art show for students of Wyandotte High School.
FOKL is operated jointly by Craig DeMoss, Rachel Helling, Leslie Kinsman, Allie Mason and Martin Swank — in their spare time — and this weekend, it graduates to another level when it welcomes the inaugural KC Psychfest, a three-day gathering of the weirdest bands in Lawrence and Kansas City. Dedric Moore, who plays in psychedelic-electronic act Monta At Odds, conceived of KC Psychfest with Expo 70's Justin Wright.
"We wanted to have a little day fest of bands," Moore explains over lunch at Breit's Stein and Deli, in Strawberry Hill. "And the idea was to have it at our practice space/art gallery, which is down at 13th and Central. Then we realized there were like 30 bands around town that would fit into the type of fest we were imagining, and that it wouldn't work in our space. And I was very partial to the idea of having a big art event in KCK, which isn't always thought of as having that kind of cultural aspect."
"I feel like a lot of people don't really even know where Strawberry Hill is," Wright adds, "even though it's basically a stone's throw from downtown. So it seemed cool to try to bring attention to this side of town, rather than hold it in the Crossroads or the West Bottoms or something like that."
Moore had seen shows at FOKL and liked the energy of the place. "I think FOKL's approach has been about having bands express themselves in a different way than they would in a club or a bar," he says. "The space kind of encourages this freedom to explore. The crowds there I've witnessed have been excited about the unexpected. It's like, 'This could be good, this could be bad, but it's probably going to be memorable.' "
"Justin and Dedric came to us with the idea," FOKL's Helling says, "and we were just like, 'Yeah, of course.' "
Not every band on the bill fits cozily into the "psych" tag — most don't, actually — but that's not really the point of the fest. (A few acts are tailoring their sets to the theme. "Be/Non is writing an entire psychedelic set for it," Moore says. "They usually keep things structured live, but in practice they go off on these kind of psych tangents, so they're going to do that at the fest.") It's more about herding obscure local talent into one place and giving outsiders a chance to have a listen.
"Our bands end up playing galleries or private shows or hole in the walls, and this seemed like a way to get everybody together," Moore says. "Lots of times, I don't even hear about the shows these bands play. It's like, 'Oh, that show happened? That sounds really cool. Nobody told me it was happening.' "
FOKL is not huge — it was previously home to a small grocery market, among other things — but the space is being maximized for the event. Bands play staggered 30-minute sets on both the main and the lower floors, and DJs spin out on the combination courtyard-driveway-parking area out back. Video projections serve as backdrops on both stages. "Many of the bands playing are instrumental, and having the addition of video goes hand in hand with that type of music experience," Wright says.
Local businesses have gotten involved: Boulevard is providing beer. Midwestern Musical Co. and C&C Custom Drums are helping out with gear. You can purchase tickets at Love Garden or Zebedee's. (Zebedee's also is staffing the merch booth, which will be stocked with the performing bands' wares as well as old comps and reissues of psych music.) "We wanted to partner with sponsors and have them contribute what they specialize in, rather than just ask everybody to throw money in a hat," Moore says.
The fest has kept the FOKL folks busy. "We've finally become a licensed gallery, so we're legit now," Helling says. "This is by far the biggest thing we've ever done. Usually we have a show, and it's like, 'OK, this is happening if you want to come.' This has required a lot more thought and planning."
Turnout is anybody's guess. Advance tickets have been slow to sell, but that's not a strong indicator. "I don't think the crowd that's interested in what we're doing here is necessarily the type of crowd that reserves things in advance," Moore says. "It's more like they show up and say, 'I got paid today, I want to see this show.' "