In March, many of us begin to shake off our winter doldrums, dreaming of the sunny skies that await us. We start packing our summer clothes and sunblock. We start making the 700-mile trek with best friends, bandmates, awkward acquaintances, complete strangers (because somebody’s gonna need a ride at the last minute). The destination of our annual pilgrimage: Shangri-La in Austin, Texas.
Year after year, a rising number of musicians head to South By Southwest for a chance to see and be seen. With so much saturation, you have to work that much harder to be heard. For most bands, the key is to route a tour on the way there and back, and to play a ton of shows in Austin, from official showcases to unaffiliated parties. But this is where it gets tricky; these unaffiliated parties vary in size and scope. For one show, you might be playing on a huge stage, you might have a captive audience, you might even get to play in front of Bill Murray. For another, you might be stuffed into a corner of a tiny bar—let’s hope your bandmates don’t stink—or you might be playing to a room full of chattering and disinterest.
But on 6th Street, just east of I-35, one of the biggest parties in the area is happening. And for much of the four-day showcase, Kansas City-area bands are prominently cast in the spotlight.
“MidCoast Takeover gives up-and-coming artists an opportunity to play on a pro stage with great sound engineers and video projections,” says Rhonda Lyne, executive director at Midwest Music Foundation.
Since 2010 (it has been at Shangri-La since 2012), the MidCoast Takeover showcase has been a home base for KC artists and a destination for a host of others.
“Most nights are usually one-in-one-out, so these bands are guaranteed an audience,” Lyne says.
For many bands, being able to play MidCoast opens the door to other opportunities in Austin.
“Especially with the difficult nature of balancing one’s work with one’s passion, having an organization put together a powerful ticket at a great venue out of town makes that whole odyssey a lot more feasible and worthwhile,” says Travis Arey, frontman of Lawrence punk group Stiff Middle Fingers. “It’s a great foothold to get a leg up on booking elsewhere in the region.”
“It’s cross-cultural pollination,” says Michael Tipton, frontman of Kodascope. Being in the midst of countless musicians exercising their passions can be fatiguing, but fruitful. “KC as a city plays a part in each band’s music. The showcase brings our music culture to others and participates in inspiring people from all over. The musicians from KC get to soak up the sounds and ideas from other places and bring it back with us. It’s an exhaustive exchange because it happens in a short amount of time and music is coming from every corner of Austin. It takes a while to process, but it bleeds into the music we make here.”
MMF advocates for musicians through dispensing health care grants and providing resources for working artists, but a primary part of its mission is giving musicians a platform to showcase their talents.
“MidCoast’s significance seems to grow each year, and it’s become a part of the fabric of Kansas City’s music community,” says Sondra Freeman, MMF’s director of promotions and artist relations. “It’s important for us to be a force at the country’s largest musical gathering because we get to showcase what our region has to offer. We’re not only flyover farmland, we’re an artistic hotbed. Going back to the jazz and blues eras, Kansas City has always had an astounding musical presence.”
Additionally, MidCoast is an opportunity for Kansas Citians to network and build friendships. Barry Kidd plays bass for The Noise FM, a trio that also includes Alex and Austin Ward. The Ward brothers, originally from the Lawrence area, are now based in Chicago.
“MidCoast had essentially become my home base in Austin before I ever moved to KC,” says Kidd, who moved to KC last year and has remained in the band. “I met a lot of musicians from the area through the Noise brothers, so its nice to find familiar faces through the crowds down in Austin. It also makes it fairly easy to catch up with musicians we have played with in the past and hear their set, or see a new project from the area that we might not have noticed all the way back in Chicago. I think it’s easy to get tunnel vision in your own scene and the showcase helps catch some solid bands that might have snuck past you otherwise.”
This weekend, MMF is holding the last of three fundraisers for the Midcoast Takeover, which is otherwise funded solely by sponsorship. These fundraisers offset the costs of top-notch production for the four-day event.
“Even folks that can’t join us in Austin are very engaged and excited about their friends and family representing the Midwest at a gathering of this magnitude,” Freeman says. Saturday’s fundraiser lineup at The Brick includes Amy Farrand and the Like, Kangaroo Knife Fight, The Invisible World, and Kodascope.
More from MidCoast Takeover artists:
Jon Gibbens (The Invisible World): “I think that it’s great that the showcase give bands a chance to play during one of the greatest music events in the country. Without Midcoast Takeover, bands from the area would have a harder chance of making it to Austin during a large festival. It’s also great to see a huge part of the Kansas City music scene band together and play in a town like Austin. It makes the whole experience feel a little more ‘homey’ getting to play with a bunch of your friends.”
Mikal Shapiro: “Kansas City bands draw from a wide variety of styles and influences. I’d be curious to know if throwing KC bands into a national context will reveal more cohesion or regional influence than we realize… maybe even something akin to a ‘Kansas City sound’?”
Clint Ashlock (The Project H and Jessica Paige): “I like that these bands (The Project H, Jessica Paige, and Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle, who are all playing at The Brick on Friday night) have a pretty solid ground in jazz music, which is a big part of the KC mythos, but one that we can show is a part of a newer, non-jazz musical landscape. It would be great if people would realize that music in Kansas City isn’t just old dudes in suits playing Count Basie at a derelict bar for $25 apiece.”
Brandon Phillips (The Architects): “Diverse and vibrant though the KC music scene is (and has been for a long, long while) we are limited in that success in music usually requires tapping in to some opportunity from outside our general geographic region. The small number of musicians and groups who manage to lock in on those opportunities would, I’m sure, love nothing more than to reach back into the KC scene and give a hand up to their talented friends but all too often, the economics of the business are such that it simply isn’t possible for a single group or artist to pull off. Hence, my too-frequently-repeated refrain, ‘We’d love to take you on tour but we can’t afford to.’ MidCoast may not be a package tour, but it is a golden opportunity for a gaggle of duly talented and hardworking bands and musicians to come together and fly our colors somewhere else, for a crowd of new faces.”
David Regnier (Dead Voices): “Connecting the KC music scene to the larger audience of SXSW and its scope of entertainment is great for getting more of a national/international momentum built up for our scene. KC still gets overlooked, and Midcoast ups the stakes by bringing a massive collection of the music happening around here. You’re welcome, Austin.”
Saturday’s fundraiser at The Brick begins at 10 pm. If you’re going to Austin next week, be sure to head to Shangri-La at 1016 E. 6th St. MidCoast Takeover starts next Wednesday, March 16, until Saturday, March 20. The showcase is open to all attendees 21 and over. RSVP at do512.
Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. As editor of The Deli KC and staff member at Midwest Music Foundation, she advocates for and helps spotlight music in the area. She also plays with The Philistines and Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds. Her grandma is 102 years old and by far the coolest person she knows.