by Nicholas Stahl
During my high school years, every local show was an event. Growing up in the suburbs is not conducive to being a fan of local music. Friends who played in bands had the hardest time practicing and writing without pissing off parents and neighbors. Even if they survived the initial stages of creativity, playing shows became the next obstacle. Sure, the school has a talent show once a year. If they were lucky enough, they would receive a four minute slot in front of a bunch of kids who really didn’t care to listen. The talent show was never a suitable option for creative musicians. Unless you were singing that same Evanescence song that had been performed three other times that night, the mass of teenage suburbanites were rather disenchanted.
Those bands that managed to infiltrate the “city scene” had to drive thirty minutes or more to an 18+ show, or even 21+ venue that would most likely make them wait outside until it was their turn to set up and play. This is terrible to network and meet other musicians and music fans. Fortunately, those years only last so long. Once emancipated from the prison of high school, many musicians choose to move towards more music friendly areas; towns like Lawrence. We live in a melting pot of incredible creative force and these forces have spots to express that brilliance, for the most part.
Any musician in town will tell you how great this town is if you like to go to awesome shows. However, Lawrence has had an up and down history of how musicians are treated. When I moved to Lawrence in 2005, the house show circuit seemed to be on its last leg. I hear all the stories from so many musicians who were around when Lawrence thrived on house shows. Slowly, new ordinance laws began to push the music scene into downtown. Now, there are a few stragglers; but most house venues have disappeared. The musicians do their best to not think about it. Every once in a while I get to see a show where the stage disappears and the performers are swallowed into the crowd of peers and fans alike. Local hip hop performer Sean Hunt, a.k.a. Approach, continually makes everyone feel at home.
“And they say nobody goes to hip hop shows in Lawrence anymore!” exclaimed Approach, as the rather impressive crowed roared in response. Hip hop is at even more of a disadvantage, not being the most popular form of music in this town. Honestly, most of the local hip hop shows I have been to as of recent have been way more packed than the average indie rock show. This influx of attendance is most likely a result of the community-type element that is pushed by so many local hip hop performers. Approach is one of the biggest advocates for a strong, integrated music community that I have had the privilege of meeting in nearly all of my time here in Lawrence.
Fearless both on and off the stage, Approach will state his mind, making sure he lets everyone know just how proud he is of being part of the Lawrence music community. Friday night at the Bottleneck was no different. Approach is notorious for building overwhelmingly awesome bills. The night was the second installment of “Dat Jam,” an evening consisting of more than 10 different hip hop acts from Topeka, Kansas City, and Lawrence. Working closely with DJ G-Train, Approach assembles an elite group of performers, young and old, which results in a wide array of audience members. Even if you get all of those people in one spot, it is difficult to get them to listen; unless you go by the name of Approach.
When Mr. Hunt takes the stage, there is a general respect that is expressed by all who know him. Every time he performs I see more and more familiar faces. His reach knows no bounds. Beyond his incredible networking skills, Approach absolutely kills the microphone like a puppy chasing down rabbits. He doesn’t mean to be causing all sorts of death, but it is just the nature of the beast. In the hip hop game, speed and endurance are necessities. I think he knows all the cheat codes. Aggressive, yet welcoming, Approach transforms into an intimidating salesman who has so much charm that you forget he is persuading you to buy into his agenda. Fortunately his agenda only consists of having a really freaking awesome time, together.
Approach bounces around the stage as if he were in a punk rock project; which makes a bit more sense if you know that he is also a part of a punk/hip hop hybrid called Swanson. Nevertheless, it seems a bit more intimidating to be insane on stage when it is just you, a DJ and a microphone. Calling Approach’s onstage persona expressive would be a disgusting understatement. The forward shuffle seems to be his go to move. Any time his mouth is getting ready to hit warp speed, his feet clasp together and with each syllable he alternates feet, taking a tiny step forward. Meanwhile, his upper body rotates side to side; perhaps this is just a more evolved version of “the sprinkler” dance move. Just when you thought the performance could not integrate any more of the stage, Approach tells the venue to kill all the lights and performs a song behind the stacks of speakers, once again demonstrating what exactly was important to him: the music.
Without warning, Approach reappeared onstage for a split second before leaping into the crowd. He was quickly engulfed in a horde of dancing. The Bottleneck has now been transformed into a house show with a really killer sound system and liquor cabinet. With charisma that rivals that epic speech in Braveheart, Approach influences the motion of all who surround him. I had set my water down on the stage to take photos of Sean in the crowd. Before I knew it, the entire group on the floor was jumping up and down on command. As I peered down towards my glass, I noticed ripples forming as if Spielberg had just released the T-rex. Luckily, the set ended without any casualties. Sean jumped back onstage, reminded everyone to support local music, thanked everyone in the building before introducing the next artist.
Regardless of what is taken away from this scene, there is no shortage of incredible musicians. It would be really great if more people could understand that. Lawrence is not like the rest of the world. I fear for a day when it becomes another mundane town with no creative pulse. Thankfully, that probably won’t ever happen, but that does not mean everyone should sit idly by, waiting for great things to happen. Get out in your scene. Even if you only like to play music, but don’t play, go to local shows. There are people in this town that love the same things you do. Without going to shows, I would not be even close to where I am in life right now. Who’s to say what existence is the best, but the local music scene is really cool. Without support from people like you, playing music in this town will get much harder. Fight the lingering apathy, show the musicians you care and they will return the gesture. If you know who Approach is, you have probably seen him around… pretty much everywhere. To me he is one of those people who represents the hard working, independent musician. Next time you see him, or anyone who works their ass off, tell them how much you appreciate the hard work and dedication they put into their passion; or better yet, show them by attending a local show. I will see you all there.
by Nicholas Stahl
by Nicholas Stahl