Above image: Freight Train Rabbit Killer and the Legion of Ghosts at The Westport Saloon | Photo: Angie Rayfield
What happens when you put a roots music venue in the middle of one of Kansas City’s main party districts?
Some nights, it’s pandemonium. Other nights, pure magic.
The Westport Saloon opened up in the heart of the district in August 2013. Its intention has always been to bring some of the best bluegrass, folk, Americana, honky-tonk, outlaw country and roots-based music to Midtown patrons.
This week, the Saloon commemorates four years, with two touring acts — Abraham and the Old Gods from Spokane, Washington, and Cloudship from Fresno, California — along with a headlining set from KC’s own Freight Train Rabbit Killer, a long-time Saloon favorite.
“The first time Freight Train Rabbit Killer summoned the Legion of Ghosts and the Hammer of Judgment was an absolute riot,” said owner Travis Fields. “It was on a Monday night with the Goddamn Gallows headlining, and I hired Rick Groom to video the event. He was doubtful that the room would be packed at 1 a.m. on a Monday, but I remember looking over at him from the soundboard over a sea of people moshing and seeing Avery [from the Gallows] dangling from the rafters. There was equal parts fear and awe in his eyes.”
Because of its prime location and — unlike most other music spots in the city — free admission, nights like this at the Saloon are not hard to come by. The venue pulls in crowds with tasty treats from Eat Me Gourmet, happy hour drink specials, and its specialty — live music.
“We’ve had the pleasure of turning many patrons onto local and live music with our location and through having free shows,” Fields said. “We often have groups of younger kids stumble in who sometimes don’t get what the place is about. But when you see one or two of them stop in their tracks and fall in love with what’s happening on stage, it makes it all worthwhile.”
In addition to opening its talent up to a new audience, the Saloon is a place for artists of all levels to sharpen their skills. From local and national headliner shows to blues and songwriter jams, the Saloon offers music seven nights a week. The venue also heads up the annual Westport Roots Festival and provides onsite quarters for out-of-town bands, making KC a frequent stop on many tour routes.
“I remember staring at an empty room and having no idea what the future had for us,” said Kaylee Reeder, general manager. “Now, it’s become a really awesome little hub for traveling bands. They know they can rest their heads here and always get greeted with open arms and treated with love.”
The Saloon continues to evolve, having added an upgraded sound system and opening itself up to allow a larger variety of genres and artists. But to Fields, the venue will continue to succeed by supporting and being bolstered by the local community.
“If you want to keep the music community alive, eat and drink at venues that support that community,” he said. “Follow up with touring bands. Thank them for coming to our town and welcome them back. Skip Applebee’s for dinner and go to The Brick for Rural Grit Happy Hour. Skip the corporate sports bar and head to Davey’s for a show. That’s how the community stays strong and grows.”
Photo: Angie Rayfield
More information on Westport Saloon’s four-year anniversary party is available here.
—Michelle Bacon might be the Hammer of Judgment, sometimes. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter at michelleobacon.