When the Grand Emporium, one of Kansas City's most historic music venues, reopens its doors under new ownership on Friday, the returning faithful who seek familiarity may find comfort in the sounds of longtime zydeco favorites Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. But contrary to popular speculation, that won't be the only thing old fans recognize.
"It's still going to be the same square room when you walk in the door," co-owner Jon Lunkwicz says of the club's makeover. "The stage is still in the same place, and the bar is still in the same place, but we've removed an accumulation of 18 or 19 years' worth of dirt and grime. Basically we've really just cleaned it up."
Lunkwicz promises that the changes will have no effect on the club's tradition of live music. "If anything, we're going to go back to the way Roger [Naber, the former owner] used to do it," he says. We want to maintain it as a showcase for the blues, but we also want to work on making it more of a true musical emporium."
Lunkwicz, also an owner of the much bigger Beaumont Club, admits that he'll probably move many of the larger acts to that venue, using the Emporium to develop newer bands instead. And Lunkwicz anticipates a reduction of the old Emporium's live-music-every-night approach to more like five nights a week. "Only for a while, though," Lunkwicz says in reference to the club's new hours. "It won't be long before we're back to seven."
Lunkwicz tips the ash from his cigarette, leans back in his chair and says with a smile, "Not all that much is new, but lots of things have improved."