It’s an ever-expanding, atypical tradition, five years in the making.
It might seem difficult to grasp the concept of traveling over 700 miles to see several bands you could normally see at a venue a couple miles away from home. But there’s much more to it than that.
Each year, thousands of people from around the globe descend upon Austin, Texas, for an annual music fest that—with each growing year—features bigger names and flashier advertisements. Fortunately, unofficial, free showcases are literally wall-to-wall along 6th Street. For the mere price of navigating through a sea of people and eating at a few taco trucks along the way [oh, and transportation and boarding], you can see hundreds of bands of varying genres and qualities. You might randomly stumble into a dive bar to hear a band you’ve been digging for a couple years, you might discover a band barely anyone else knows about. That’s all an important part of the experience. But for a couple hundred folks from the Kansas City/Lawrence area, the Austin experience holds a deeper meaning.
In its fifth year, last week’s MidCoast Takeover was bigger than ever, with over 100 bands on a giant outdoor stage and an indoor acoustic stage at Shangri-La on East 6th Street, an area just on the other side of the I-35 divide that has increased in foot traffic and event volume over the past couple of years. The bar itself is typically a popular haunt for Austin natives, with a huge outdoor patio that reached its 230-person capacity during the four-day showcase.
MidCoast Takeover is organized by Midwest Music Foundation, an organization that helps musicians with emergency health care, but also aims to be a voice for the music community. One way of doing this is with MidCoast, which places local/regional musicians on a national stage in front of hundreds, be it a random passerby, the drummer in your band, or Exene Cervenka (yeah, she stopped by).
A few of the MidCoast bands from the KC area were official showcase acts (including Radkey, Beautiful Bodies, Josh Berwanger Band, Pedaljets), stacked up with other notable-as-of-late locals (Shy Boys, Me Like Bees, Not A Planet, Katy Guillen & the Girls) and national bands (Not In The Face, Two Cow Garage, Sphynx), on one of the largest stages with one of the most impressive productions in all of downtown Austin. At any given time between Wednesday and Saturday, quality music emanated from Shangri-La, ranging from The Noise FM’s indie-rock dance party to Heartfelt Anarchy’s smooth hip-hop/jazz mashup to Jorge Arana Trio’s calculated noise-rock grooves. Let’s also not forget the acoustic stage, which featured poetic songs from Vi Tran; bluesy, emotionally weighted tunes from Gregg Todt (Federation of Horsepower); quirky dance numbers from Nan Turner (Schwervon!); driving but delicate harmonies from Clairaudients, among dozens of other artists who injected a special type of heart and personality into their deconstructed songs.
Still, this begs the question: Why would you go all that way to watch a bunch of bands, primarily from your hometown?
Perhaps it’s that notion of community that has been established in KC music and has found a resurgence over the past 5 years, due to MMF’s efforts. As MMF’s late co-founder Abigail Henderson pointed out to me in a 2012 interview, there is a strongly held belief that KC musicians do not simply make up a scene, but “a community that fosters itself—a thinking, doing community of people practicing an art.” So what comes out of this annual pilgrimage for the musicians and organizers is not typically a huge record deal or overnight worldwide success. Statistically for a band, it can result in nothing more than a few new Facebook likes, some t-shirt/album sales, and a whole bunch of poles and trash cans with your stickers attached to them. But in addition, it can be a nourishing, satisfying, proud experience to observe and participate in.
The sense of pride comes from witnessing the breadth and depth of music on each stage, in many cases being created by people you know personally. Watching the dedication of MMF/MidCoast staff—from sound engineers to promoters to stage managers—who work on this effort throughout the year and tirelessly run nonstop for a week to throw a party that has made several best unofficial showcase lists. Spending hours, even days with respected acquaintances that quickly develop into friendships, jam partnerships, and/or artistic inspiration. Watching each night close with a stronger fervency than the previous one. David Hasselhoff on Acid ended the first evening by melting eardrums and grey matter with its instrumental prog-rock onslaught. Not ones to be upstaged, The Architects rounded out night two with a raucous, tight set that one would come to expect and desire from a professional but unapologetic rock ‘n roll band. By Friday night, the majority of the KC contingent [and other festgoers] had arrived, poised and ready to celebrate a vacation weekend with several dozen friends. Of course, Hearts of Darkness was the ideal band for the task of charging an eager, over-capacity crowd with even more energy and jubilation. And on Saturday, in spite of a couple hours of inclement weather and resulting schedule changes, the showcase ended with a euphoric sonic inundation. Drop A Grand had the audience dancing and grinning along to its wacky brand of garage punk, and left them spellbound by ending the set with “Baba O’Riley,” featuring the fiddle-brandishing badassery of Betse Ellis. Maps For Travelers followed up in fine fashion, with the drive, the emotion, and the post-hardcore intensity that naturally led into the final act, Federation of Horsepower. The heavy-hitting rock machine punched that first power chord around 11:28 p.m., kicking the commencement into high gear. A raging crowd shook fists and banged heads, while others hugged, shook hands, and shed celebratory tears for a job well done.
That 700-mile trip teaches many of us that we co-exist in this microcosm with other like-minded individuals, some of whom we can forge genuine connections with, and some of whom can inspire us to delve deeper into our artistic passions. Whether it’s the veteran who’s played in dozens of bands since the ‘90s or the doe-eyed 19-year-old playing his first time out of town, there’s something to be learned and celebrated about each piece that fits into that puzzle.
Thank you to everyone who participated by playing, organizing, or just stopping in. We’ll see you next year. Same time, same place.