Calvin Arsenia may be the most interesting performer you see all year.

The Kansas City musician is a multi-instrumentalist, but it’s his harp skills that really shot him to fame in the local music scene. We first became acquainted with the angel-voiced songwriter when we stumbled upon him playing inside the entryway to Folk Alliance International earlier this year. We’re pretty sure that if we are lucky enough to arrive in heaven, this is the first thing we’d hear at the Pearly Gates.

His heart belongs with collaboration– and while he’s generally been a solo artist, on Thursday night he got the band together for a unique performance at Mills Record Company in Kansas City.

Calvin stands well over six feet tall, so his harp appears small by comparison. But he leaves an enormous impact on everyone he meets. With his hands feverishly– yet still gracefully– plucking at his strings, he rips into original songs and covers with fascinating vocal ranges. He could be jazz, funk, folk, or pop. It all comes naturally to him and fuses together for a sound that is his own. One of the most memorable moments of the night came when he looped his own voice to cover Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.”

We’ve yet to see him perform in Lawrence, but with a band backing him up there’s a chance we’ll see him at the more traditional venues, rather than just bookstores and coffee houses. Because he thinks outside the box, Calvin has accomplished something fascinating. He’s waltzed right into the local indie rock scene with a harp in tow– and they’ve welcomed him with open arms. We never know quite what he’s going to do next. Our guess is the gears are always turning, and it won’t be long before he moves on to bigger and better things. So it’s up to us to soak up this inventive and adventurous performer while we can.

Words and photos by Fally Afani



Fally Afani is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning more than 20 years in media. She has worked extensively in radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and more.

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