Because I knew it was going to be a long, crazy weekend, I decided to begin my Friday night with a little calm before the storm: a couple of ice-cold beers during the sound check at RecordBar. As I sat with the bar's staff and a few of the musicians slated to play later in the night, people chatted about which shows they were most excited to catch over the weekend and their particular strategies for covering four venues. I was determined to catch a front-row view of the Casket Lottery reunion show at Riot Room that night, so I was lucky to catch the El Ten Eleven sound check during my pre-show chill session.
The amount of sound that bassist and guitarist Kristian Dunn (who plays a double-neck bass onstage) and drummer Tim Fogarty can cull out of their instruments is more than impressive. El Ten Eleven sat before us in the empty bar and rocked out handmade electronic beats and lush layered sound. The sound check was so good, I almost felt OK about having to miss the band's performance later in the night.
I stayed at the RecordBar long enough to see the first band in the lineup -- the local group Continents. A collaborative effort between singer-songwriter Jim Button Minden's Casey Burge on bass and Rusty Scott on drums, Continents is a pop-laden indie-rock band anchored by simple but effective chord structures and Button's emotive lyric writing. Though I wasn't able to stay for the entirety of their set, I did witness the almost immediate growing of the crowd as they kicked off their show -- a good sign of the impressive attendance I saw the rest of the weekend.
But now, I was back on my path to the Riot Room, ready to settle in and catch the string of great bands slated to play there the rest of the night. Though I missed the first group, Spirit Is the Spirit, I did make it in time to see Kansas City's newest supergroup, Minden, perform to an impressively packed house for an 8:45 p.m. time slot. It may have been only Minden's sixth show since forming late last year, but I don't think anyone could tell.
Casey Burge -- who, as I noted, had just played the previous time slot across midtown at RecordBar with Continents -- was relaxed and confident behind his checkered bright-green shades. Drummer Ryan Johnson kept the crowd amped with playful banter between songs, and the members of Minden rocked through their set with big smiles on their faces. One thing was definitely clear: They were having a great time and were happy to be a part of the festival. By the time their set ended, the crowd was already larger than many crowds I've seen lately at the Riot Room, and it only continued to grow to full (or maybe past) capacity as the night went on.
Next to climb onto the Riot Room's stage was one of Chicago's current it-bands A Lull. Having just finished a tour with the Cold War Kids, A Lull seemed happy to settle into Kansas City for the night. They hung around town after their show -- which was a pounding wall of sound constructed from multiple drummers and rich vocals -- and chatted up fans and other musicians participating in the festival. I was absolutely mesmerized by the sound of their drums. Two drummers were positioned on kits at the back of the stage (I couldn't even tell where one kit ended and the other began), and more single drums were throughout the front of the stage for members of the band to strike at various times during the show. A Lull crafted a pop-heavy indie march that had the whole bar dancing along.
A Lull finished the set to a lot of hustle and bustle in the Riot Room. Though I thought the group was one of the best acts I saw all weekend, it's fair to say that the growing throngs of people in and around the bar by now were ripe with anticipation for the next act: the long-awaited reunion of former local-rock heroes the Casket Lottery. It had been 15 years since Casket Lottery played a show, and it seemed that a large portion of the festivalgoers were determined to be there to witness it. As they ascended the Riot Room stage, the entire front half of the audience pulled out cameras of varying professional degree. Playing as a five-piece, Casket Lottery rocked out old favorites as the crowd sang along and pumped their fists into the air. As one friend told me later, "It's amazing, because you know they're all dads and husbands now." (That's not to suggest that dads don't rock, of course.) Casket Lottery fired through their set with the energy of a youthful touring band aided by the additional members and with the stage presence of veteran musicians.
I was so sweaty and hot when Casket Lottery ended that I retreated for a cold beer, some food and a cigarette before the Appleseed Cast hit the stage. However, I was apparently poorly mistaken when I thought I could leave my front-row spot for a moment and somehow return to it for the stage closer, because by the time I did return, I couldn't even get into the main stage room. I watched (but really just listened -- I couldn't see anything) the Appleseed Cast from the bar and took in the crowd's energy and enthusiasm for one of our own local mega-groups.
The Lawrence post-rock group is no stranger to large shows and festival appearances, and its place as a headliner at one of the venues was appropriate despite its status as a local band. The band could have easily packed a larger venue, but it was great to see the Riot Room brimming with excitement and energy. When the show ended and people flooded into the streets with cigarettes blazing and sweat dripping from foreheads, it was hard to believe that it was only night one, and that the main events were still to come. And though it was unfortunate that I missed national acts like Dosh and El Ten Eleven, I have no regrets about enjoying such a raucous, rousing showing from some of our greatest local bands.