’Tis the season for reflection— and when you give a long, hard, angry stare back at 2018, it’s easy to gloss over the parts that made life worth living. I Heart Local Music is here for you, dear reader, with a fond and aggressive analysis of what makes Lawrence the best damn music town on the planet. Here is, according to I Heart Local Music, the Top Ten most badass things we saw from local acts in 2018.
It was late Summer when the temperatures had already been unbearable for weeks. That didn’t stop a batch of fans from squeezing into the sweltering basement of White Schoolhouse for what ended up being an incredible delight. Everyone loves a good secret— and on this night, it was only the locals who were in on it. The Get Up Kids were recording a music video at the legendary North Lawrence DIY venue, and had invited fans out for a small performance as well. This meant that fans not only were treated to their own private show (from a band that had filled the street with thousands of people just a year earlier at Live on Mass), but they also got to be a part of the video. It ended with mayhem— toilet paper, glitter, and silly string just covered everyone (but especially the band) by the end of the set.
Believe it or not, Samantha Fish is a local artist. Though she’s received high praise from national outlets like the New York Times, the blues guitarist is actually from Kansas City. Her fast fingers and ease on the frets lands her at #9 on our list. Her show at the Bottleneck back in May brought a sold-out crowd in, all vibrating with excitement over her stunning live show. This woman breathes and exudes rock and roll, it pours out of every bit of her body. It’s nearly impossible to look away from the stage when she’s on, she rocks like no other, and she does it all in kitten heels and a winged-tip eyeliner sharp enough to stab you.
When we asked Calvin Arsenia to play Pride Fest back in June, he hesitantly confided that this was his first appearance as a queer musician. But with the, uh, secret (but not so secret) out, a couple of months later he went full Calvin Arsenia with what has to be the most extravagant album release show we’d ever seen.
In September, Calvin accomplished one of the most impossible tasks on the planet. He got a lot of wealthy white people out to The Paseo. The harpist had multiple costume changes, a captivating orchestra to back him up, and a host of dancers who, at times, made it pretty steamy in there. If the shirtless lumberjacks didn’t get ya, the tango dancers most certainly did.
The saying in Kansas City goes that Calvin Arsenia doesn’t play gigs, he makes events. The theatrics and dramatics were just a small piece of this flamboyant affair. It was a treat for all the senses (his album is titled Cantaloupe, and you could smell cantaloupe everywhere as soon as you walked into the Gem Theatre). It looked like New York Fashion Week in there, everyone was dressed to the nines because that’s what everyone’s come to expect at events from Calvin.
By the end of the night, he lead everyone in a parade down the street outside, complete with a full marching band, while he coasted down the road in his exaggerated tulle skirt. Calvin, and only Calvin, can get away with a year where he went from being shy about playing a Pride event to marching down the Paseo in a big tulle skirt and feathered headpiece, with an entourage of squealing fans following behind.
Oh Jesus Christ. Where do we even begin with this maniac. Well, for starters, we’re quite fond of this fella’s disposition. As the vocalist for local metal band Horned Wolf, Frederick Foul has everything you could ask for— a killer voice, an absolutely terrifying stage presence, and spikes (soooo many spikes). Horned Wolf’s set with Typewriter Tim at the Bottleneck in late September was a memorable one.
’Twas a barrage of emotion and terror strewn upon the audience with reckless abandon… and that’s just the way they like it. You want solid metal songs to headbang along with? Horned Wolf is your band. You want to thrash in the audience with the vocalist? Horned Wolf is your band. You want to wonder if that complete-psycho-of-an-edgelord-vocalist is going to knock you over with his spikes? Horned wolf is your band. We just adore performers that terrify the living hell out of you, and Frederick Fucking Foul is really good at that.
When Truckstop Honeymoon played their farewell show at the Bottleneck earlier this month, no one was sad. Rather, every single person was grinning as hard as they could… because Truckstop Honeymoon is a band that just makes you feel GOOD. The longtime bluegrass legends are responsible for bringing the most joyous event of the year, the Mardi Gras parade, to our fair town. They’re also known for making their shows all-ages affairs, which welcomes music lovers and their children to the shows. In short, this was the most accessible band. Nothing could have kept anyone away. So at their farewell show, the town turned up. Hard.
We’re told that they asked some of the musicians from the parade’s Brass Mob Band to join them for the show, but the musicians turned it down. Not because they didn’t want to, but because alas! They were planning a surprise appearance at the farewell show. So imagine Mike and Katie West’s reactions when they saw the parade barge through the entrance and make their way through the crowd. Even their 11 year-old son threw on his drum and played along. The best shows are the ones with a good commotion, and this was an incredible one. It was a loud, unapologetically joyous affair and a perfect sendoff for a band that has give so much to the community.
Speaking of farewell shows, there’s no way this list is getting away without a Gnarly Davidson appearance. In early June, the hard rockers absolutely blew the roof off with not one, but two farewell shows.
To the band’s credit, it began as a respectable affair, withe the band requesting formal attire and a venue full of fashionable threads. But at some point, a giant inflatable poop emoji appeared, and then it was time for a face full of rock and roll. Gnarly Davidson delivered two sets comprised of songs played in the order in which they were written. Let me tell you, the band went out about as hot as they came in… by setting asses on fire. There were bassist Sam Gunnerson’s signature high kicks, guitarist Mitch Jones’ snarls and growls, and a crowd that lost their absolute shit. There was also the matter of Gunnerson’s spitting, a trademark that had become tradition at their shows. On this night, his spit trajectory was in fine form, and the crowd eagerly basked in it as though they were purifying themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
But the “hot shit” really hit the fan when, at the end of their Bottleneck show, the band announced a surprise set at the Replay (we all know everyone was going to end up there anyway). As soon as the band fired up their set there, the volcano of emotions erupted and the bodies went flying. Hot shit quickly turned into a hot mess as a sense of disorient took over the crowd. An overzealous fog machine from a previous band’s set was still enveloping the crowd, and every scenester descended into anarchy. Everyone wanted in on this goodbye, and gave the band a proper rock and roll sendoff. Fists were punching the air so hard that the microphone got endlessly knocked around. Glasses fell apart, phones got smashed, our cameras overheated, fans humped each other… it was an absolute shit show, and we can’t think of a better way to send off the gnarliest band of the last five years.
Back in February, we witnessed what was just the start of something beautiful. Black excellence was in full display as several legendary musicians in Kansas City teamed up for a new project. Black and Boujee brought an 18-piece brass band together under the direction of Marcus Lewis. Rappers Kemet the Phantom and Kadesh Flow provided the vocals and what resulted was a fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and an unbreakable love for the power of music.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Brass and Boujee would eventually grow to be the strongest local music force in Kansas City. They charted with Billboard, and eventually got to open for Janelle Monáe when she played the Starlight for a special hometown show in Kansas City. Kemet has grown to become one of the most recognizable faces in local hip-hop thanks to his cool demeanor and impressive hustle, while Kadesh Flow is an absolute force onstage, effortlessly interchanging his jazz trombone solos (WHAT!!) with his rapping. Behind the scenes, Kadesh is also a champion for making sure there’s a place in “nerd spaces” for people of color.
If this is what Brass and Boujee can accomplish in just a few months, imagine what they’re going to do in 2019. We are sooooo ready for it.
3. Pride Fest
In all the years we’ve lived in Lawrence, this is the image we’ve been waiting our whole lives for. A bombardment of color and explosion of horns parading down Mass Street, celebrating Pride Culture. At the front of the parade, a young black trans woman stomping down the sidewalk in her heels, leading the celebrating chorus. At the end of their promenade, they crossed under a rainbow arch and into one of the most exciting and gleeful events of the year.
The two-day festival celebrating queer musicians and the queer community brought an intense, overwhelming joy to Lawrence. The two-night celebration saw an array of musical performances suited to a wide palette, dotted with drag performances from local entertainers as well. Rappers like Cuee and The Supa Flowa kept the energy high, while rockers like Vibralux and Wick and the Tricks absolutely destroyed that stage (and catwalk). Since the event was free, it garnered a large audience comprised of every type of person. They danced, they reveled, and— from what we’ve been told— felt free.
Just two months into the year, Young Mvchetes made their LFK debut and, in a heartbeat, changed the hip-hop landscape.
The Topeka duo was the most exciting thing in hip-hop in 2018. Every single thing they do and say onstage (and off the stage) feels so calculated and thought out, and it prompts every listener and spectator at their shows to face a reality head-on. They tackle controversial, violent issues in a confrontational manner. Their performers are a loose cannon, and you can’t help but remain fixated on their set. Our first impression was that it took all the passion of Ebony Tusks and combined it with the anger of Bummer, resulting an absolute fury and emotion.
Eventually, they began to work more members into their set, adding to the calamity. They can turn a place upside-down, they can put new ideas in your head about art and politics, and they can make racists afraid again. After 2016, it felt like the string had been pulled out of everyone’s backs in the scenes. They became downtrodden, and shows didn’t quite have that kick in the ass that it used to. Young Mvchetes is the answer to all these tribulations, it’s just now up to the scene to wake up and pay attention.
If you build it, they will come. But if you build a metal cage, they will get rowdy AS FUCK.
Back in March, a group of musicians came up with an idea so batshit crazy, it had to work. Young Bull and Gnarly Davidson built a cage inside the Replay. A big one. Inside that cage, they threw down wrestling-style with dueling sets. Many musicians dressed the part, which meant some of them were in itty bitty booty shorts and flexing hard in muscle shirts.
There were heavily scripted feuds and back-to-back songs, with the bands squaring off, holding up signs, and egging each other on. It was a constant quarrel and squabble inspired by the exciting world of wrestling, with barely any room to breathe or move (even the massive windows at the venue fogged up). It’s been nine months, and we’re STILL sore from this show.
We’ve never seen anything quite like it, and likely never will again. Young Bull don’t always make appearances. But when they do, they make sure it’s a memorable. They’re suckers for theatrics— and theatrics, performance, wrestling, and music all go hand-in-hand. All the world’s a stage, and Young Bull is grabbing it by the fuckin’ nards. Throwing a grand idea together in an unbelievably small space is what landed these bands at the #1 spot on our list for 2018.