"A lot of those bands get comfortable playing to their own people, but there's no ministry involved," Pick says. As an example of true missionary musicians, he points to P.O.D., who brought a brief ray of positivity to the spiritually (and creatively) bankrupt 2000 Ozzfest. "We'd like to play a lot of mainstream venues, to go at it where people don't already know."
Most people don't know much about Gametime, even in its hometown. True, the group drew nearly 300 people to its mid-May farewell show at the New Earth Coffeehouse before embarking on its first West Coast tour, but that venue's community is fairly insular, with little advertising or promotion for its shows in the secular media. As for how a group with a modest following earned a spot on one of the summer's big-deal festivals, well, let's just say Gametime wasn't exactly invited to the party.
"We'll be playing in a booth, which isn't exactly glamorous," Pick says. "But lots of bands just set up and go. We actually got clearance from the organizers, so we'll have backstage passes and everything."
One of Gametime's members, guitarist Kyle Devlin, has big-stage experience, having spent one song as an honorary Green Day member. "We all wet ourselves when he got the chance to go up," Pick says, remembering Devlin's stint in Green Day's trademark ensemble of plucked-from-the-audience players. "[Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong] kissed [Devlin] on the mouth after the song was done, and then Kyle got to keep the guitar."
Though Gametime doesn't yet entrust its instruments to random fans, its live show does offer a number of crowd-pleasing elements, including a rather reckless maneuver with a Biblically inspired title. "We'll tell people to line up on two sides, and as soon as we kick it, they slam into each other as hard as they can, and the mosh ensues," Pick says. "We call it the parting of the sea." Drummer Gabe Asterd stands and even jumps while he's playing, and Devlin "actually frolics," Pick reveals. "He skips around on stage. We all make fun of him."
Gametime's debut disc is music to frolic by, a fast-moving blend of barbershop-quartet-caliber harmonies (the group has three capable singers) and complex breakdowns. The band's sound has simplified somewhat since Pick replaced Gametime's previous bassist, a more technically proficient player, and because the album features four songs with each lineup, the evolution is obvious. But even in its latest incarnation, Gametime makes room for some tight stop-and-start transitions and precise countermelodies, eschewing bubblegum punk. "I like the dirtier side of pop," Pick says. But its squeaky-clean "ah, heck" lyrics and amiable stage, er, booth presence stand out in a genre that often uses gratuitous profanity as a lure for rebellious teens.
Gametime rolls with Warped Tour for nine dates after its Kansas City stop, but several area groups will be part of the circus for one day only. Three local bands won spots on the bill through Ernie Ball's online Battle of the Bands; one of them, hardcore heavyweight Salt the Earth, was exiled to the St. Louis show on Friday, June 28. The other KC delegates are Jade Raven, providing the only estrogen of the entire event save female-fronted Tsunami Bomb, and Kingpin, which seems to have a way with battles of the band, having topped Jim Kilroy's inaugural Club Wars.
"I don't know what made us stand out to the judges," admits guitarist James Watkins, who compares his group's sound to the funk/punk/reggae hybrid favored by 2001 Warped attractions 311. "All we try to do is make music that we would listen to in the car or at home, and hopefully someone else will enjoy it too."
Currently working on a demo with free studio time that it received as part of its Club Wars prize package, Kingpin is hoping to score some gigs at large (albeit not Verizon-size) venues such as the Uptown Theater later this summer. It's also planning to play some more multiband affairs, such as a Club Wars "preseason" gig with Bent and Trip Hazzard on July 13 at Just Another Dive. "Festivals and battles are great because they put you in front of a lot of people that would normally not be at your show," Watkins says. "Battles create a lot of tension between bands, but I think that's because some people can't handle losing. Believe me, I hate losing as much as anybody, but you can't win every time, and even if you could, would you really want to? It would just take away from the whole point of the thing."
King for Two Days
While some major local blues events are facing dark days (see this week's cover story), the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival has experienced an impressive growth spurt. A stellar showcase for homegrown talent, the Street Blues Fest has featured memorable sets from the late Sonny Kenner as well as D.C. Bellamy, Ida McBeth, Millage Gilbert, Myra Taylor, Duck Warner and at least a dozen other local standouts in its first two years. For 2002, the free two-day event maintains its regional flavor -- Taylor and Bellamy return, along with Little Hatch, who celebrates his eightieth birthday with a "living heritage" tribute show -- but adds an amazing out-of-town talent, Willie King. King and his group The Liberators play an exceptionally smooth-grooving soulful brand of blues, but it's his lyrics that really separate him from his peers. Whereas bemoaning bleak conditions is standard blues practice, holding an oppressive state responsible for poverty-caused misery is an unusual political statement. On "Terrorized," a track from his latest album, Living in a New World, he sings, They wouldn't let me got to school/You know I didn't know how to read and write/... And they called me a fool/You know they laughed at me and I didn't even make a sound/You know they drug me around and hung me from the tallest oak tree/Talk about terror, I've been terrorized all my days/You know I wish it would change.
King hosts his own annual event, the Freedom Creek Festival, in Aliceville, Alabama, at which he presents unheralded blues elders and humbly displays his own wide-ranging talents: carpentry (he builds the stage), making preserves, quilting and other "survival skills" passed down through his family. This year's Freedom Creek celebration took place on June 15, so King should have plenty of freshly made goods to display on Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29, in front of Club Paradox at the corner of Garfield and Parallel.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state line and the other end of the blues-and-jazz equation lies the annual Jazz Lover's Pub Crawl on Thursday, June 27, at a variety of locations. Among the highlights: Duck Warner at Blayney's; Ice Cold at Kelly's; Greg Meise at McCoy's; Mama Ray at Harling's; Dave Stephens at Danny's; and plenty of other worthy artists playing at venues and restaurants with nonpossessive names (The Hurricane, Grand Emporium, Blue Room, New Point Grille). For a full list of participating clubs and performers, call 816-753-5277. The buses start rolling at 8 p.m.
Last but Not Least
Ashanti is a veritable superstar, with more singles on the chart simultaneously than any artist since the Beatles, but you wouldn't know it by her placement at Red, White and Boom, which detonates Saturday, June 29. Taking the stage at 3:25 p.m. and wrapping up at 3:45 without the benefit of a backing band, Ashanti will barely have enough time for even a hits medley before clearing the way for the infinitely less estimable Course of Nature. (O-Town, which is already so O-ver, gets to play at 5:20.) But Red, White and Boom has always been a great place to catch up-and-coming talent (Pink, Destiny's Child) suffering midafternoon indignities before ascending to headlining glory, so come feel Ashanti's pain before experiencing a supremely non-threatening bill that's equal parts Nickelodeon-friendly girl power (Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton) and VH-1 heavy rotation (Train) or Behind the Music fodder (Def Leppard). For grittier concertgoers who prefer much messier music, the Pretty Girls Make Graves (featuring ex-Murder City Devils) and Blood Brothers double-header at The Brick on Friday, June 28, makes for a gruesome twin killing.