Editor’s note: This post is dedicated in loving memory of Britt Adair, the most badass of them all. The local music scene loves and misses you, RIP.

Last week we went over the Top Ten most badass things we saw from touring acts in 2023. As is tradition, we will now go over the most badass things we saw from the locals in 2023. This was a year where we started to see artists go outside the venues they normally play and reach out for more opportunities on a different kind of stage. We’re also seeing more collaboration between artists because in a post-COVID recession, you can accomplish a lot more together.

Now remember, we didn’t get to every single show. So take it with a grain of salt. But we did see a lot. Here are, in our professional opinion, the most badass things we saw from local acts this year.

10. The Exultant Stag

The Exultant Stag / Photo by Ann Dean

We get fussy when we don’t see artists stepping outside of their comfort zones. That wasn’t a problem this year, as creativity was at a high within the local music scene. Case in point: The Exultant Stag.

When word got out earlier this year that Jeff Stolz, of Frightened Stag and Drakkar Sauna fame, was putting together a musical, the buzz was already strong. At the musical’s debut in September, we could see why. The Exultant Stag is a fun and entertaining romp between dreams, reality, and mythology.

We love listening to Frightened Stag at live shows, but a performance like this gives us a chance to appreciate and experience local music in a new and exciting way. It all hits differently in the theatrical scope of the play, especially one written through the gaze of a longtime local musician (and casting a host of other local musicians). The audience on opening night was heavily engaged, and at one point cheered heartily for the main character’s climax. It was hard not to, as the piece was so well-produced, you couldn’t help but find that connection we yearn for so badly at the theatre.

09. Manor Fest

Pure XTC / Photo by John Knepper

Throwing an all-local music festival is no easy task, but Manor Records always seems up to the challenge. For the fifth year, they assembled an exciting affair featuring bands from Lawrence, Kansas City, and a little beyond.

Like last year, this year’s festival stretched across two weekends in two cities. With a stunning display of talent at Lucia, Replay, Taproom, Gaslight Gardens, and White Schoolhouse, this wasan incredible event not just because Manor Records rallies for artists beyond its own roster, but because it takes on the sometimes impossible task of getting Lawrence and Kansas City groups to come together.

It didn’t matter if you liked hip-hop, experimental music, or punk rock, the festival reached into untapped genres to find the best of new and emerging acts (and a few old favorites as well). Between the two weekends, more than 50 (50!!) local music acts are scheduled for the festival.

08. Radkey crashing the KU basketball game

Radkey at Allen Fieldhouse / Photo by Fally Afani

We do love a surprise cameo every now and then.

If you were watching the KU Men’s Basketball team in January and you’re an avid local music fan, you may have seen some familiar faces. Radkey, the trio of brothers who found world fame but are still local favorites here in Lawrence, stepped in to play with the KU Men’s Basketball Pep Band on Saturday.

The pep band is no stranger to having rockers make guest appearances for tunes. In the past, they’ve had Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, as well as as Tool’s Danny Carey, pop in for one of the band’s signature covers.

Because Radkey happened to be in town for a stop at the Bottleneck, they headed down to the Fieldhouse and joined in on “Seven Nation Army” late in the second half of the game. You can watch below.

Full disclosure of conflict of interest: Editor Fally Afani is an employee of the KU School of Music and therefore connected with the KU Men’s Basketball pep band.

07. Metal having a moment

OxyToxin / Photo by Fally Afani

Man, doom metal had A MOMENT this year. All metal genres, actually. It feels like if you’re really into metal, Lawrence was the place to be.

Now don’t judge us, we can’t always photograph the metal bands and festivals because most of them play in the fucking dark. But trust us, they were there. Every venue in Lawrence hosted badass metal shows. From The Replay to the Bottleneck, everyone was in on the action. There were even a couple of all-day local metal festivals that threw down hard (The Lawrence Metal Massacre), and a “Punk vs. Metal” night at the Bottleneck. OxyToxin, Horned Wolf, Iron Guts Kelly, White Line Nightmares, Pit Hag, and Drifter are just some of the big names leading the charge here. Brush up on reading your metal fonts, we expect the same momentum to carry into next year.

06. Sweeping Promises

Sweeping Promises / Photo by Fally Afani

Back in June with barely a week’s notice, The Lil’ Pig festival (a celebration for The Bourgeois Pig) announced their lineup. Sandwiched right in the middle is our new favorite band and yours, Sweeping Promises.

Four bands brought big energy to the stage that night, but Sweeping Promises were the standouts. The punk rockers tend to tour nonstop, so local appearances are few and far between here in Lawrence (womp womp). But they do pack a wallop when they play, reminiscent of all the sonically pleasing garage outfits of the 90’s and maaaaaybe the early 00’s. If Jack White opted to write songs for The B-52s instead of The White Stripes, you’d come close.

05. Jackoffs

Jackoffs / Photo by Fally Afani

First off, this is one of our favorite band names (named because two of their members are named “Jack”).

Jackoffs are easily Lawrence’s most exciting band at the moment, and they prove it with every show. They’ve got that young, punk energy we so desperately crave. Equal parts doting on the audience and getting lost in their own thrashing, our favorite moments come when they are the most relatable in their lyrics. “This next song’s called ‘Landlord’ because I FUCKING HATE MY LANDLORD.” Bam. Instant applause and compatibility with the crowd.

04. Cat Fight

Cat Fight / Photo by Fally Afani

Bands like Cat Fight are why we need programs like Amplify Lawrence. When you train ’em young, they come out the gate running.

If you are feeling old and your knees hurt, it’s always a good idea to go down to the Replay and soak up some of that young people energy. Cat Fight is nothing but young people energy. Despite being a new and upcoming band, they are technically skilled and absolutely destroy on their instruments. With song titles like “Pervert” and “Shut Up,” you know exactly where they stand. This is a band not to be trifled with. They will walk all over you in their studded boots and white patent leather heels.

With a dedicated fan base already out supporting them at live shows (and a fantastic showing at Farmer’s Ball), we expect nothing but grand things from the young punks. Somebody get them on a Skating Polly show stat!

03. The (continued) rise of Latin music in Lawrence

Mundo Nouvo / Photo by Fally Afani

You should have seen the place back in February. A sea of people as far as the eye could see, dancing cheek to cheek. Some had partners, some didn’t, but all were moving to the same beat. Lucia is not a very large venue, but it took a good five minutes to get from the door to the stage because that’s just how many people were there.

Carnival Latino En Lawrence was the cause for celebration on this night (but Lucia regularly hosts Latin music every month). At one point in the evening, it felt like the front door never shut as line after line of revelers kept forming and waiting to get in. The merriment was still flowing as Kansas City salsa orchestra Mundo Nouvo took to the stage. We cannot believe they all fit on that stage, there were so many of them! The horn section scrunched up into the corner, and if you looked hard enough you could even see a flute crouching somewhere in there. The percussion instruments were plentiful and helped keep booties shaking all night. This is the place to go dancing in Lawrence on many Friday nights.

In fact, most weeks you’ll find some sort of Latin presence at Lucia. Sundays are reserved for early honky–tonk shows, but weekends are otherwise for musical genres you don’t get to see in Lawrence too often (reggae, salsa, afrobeat). At this point, Lucia is practically a second home for Son Venezuela (we can pretty much guarantee they’ll play there every month). In short, Lucia’s trajectory towards becoming the place for Latin music is getting stronger by the day.

02. The Cosmic Country Ball

Patti Steel with Weda Skirts / Photo by Fally Afani

Honky-tonk in this town is fun as fuck– and if you’re not into it, we feel sorry for you. Because the women are running the honky-tonk show in Lawrence, and The Cosmic Country Ball was a hoot and a holler.

Unfit Wives always know how to throw a party and bring along a powerhouse of all-women performers. They brought along a host of local honky-tonk royalty (Carol Spears and Lori Mead, anyone??), but Patti Steel absolutely stole the show and was the life of the party. First of all, this gal plays everything–  Kazoos, spoons, slide whistles (two at a time!), clarinet… you name it (what CAN’T she do?!). She joined every ensemble onstage (also stepping in for Unfit Wives’ fiddler Shannon O’Shea), proving to be the hardest working woman of the night.

The Cosmic Country Ball / Photo by Fally Afani

With a lineup this unapologetically feminine, it’s no wonder we heard all sorts of fun shit flying out of everyone’s mouths. They sang about smoking weed, getting DUIs, fighting, being bad moms, all while bringing the crowd to standing ovations, bringing babies up onstage, and shouting out their grandmas.

When the dance floor filled with people, it was (you guessed it) all women in sequined skirts and cowgirl boots dancing with each other. The men were happy to stay silent and take a back seat the entire night, proving more of a supporting band role than anything else. But the spotlight belonged to the women– tall women, short women, young women, old women, trans women, Native women. Women, man. They’re going to rule the world.

01. The Beautiful Music Violin Shop fiddler takes on Kansas weather

Back in July, we had what we here in Kansas refer to as some “mild weather” and what everyone else refers to as “WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

But when the big storm pummeled Lawrence over the Summer, one musician who works at Beautiful Music Violin Shop took it in absolute stride.

Avery the Luthier, we salute you. We knew exactly what you were the moment this video popped up in everyone’s Facebook feeds. When fear sees Avery Parkhurst in the road, it takes a detour. When life gives Avery lemons, he makes diamonds. Avery once learned a song in under 20 seconds (no really, here’s the link). You see, Avery doesn’t just climb mountains, he turns them into stepping stones. For this reason, oh fantastic fiddler of the flat plains, you have landed at our top spot of the most badass things we saw in the entire local music scene this year. What can’t Avery do? We’d be willing to bet good money that Avery can unscramble an egg. He could bring Chuck Norris to tears, begging for mercy. Avery doesn’t use a watch, he just decides what time it is and we all roll with it. Avery doesn’t lift weights, he lifts the expectations of everyone around him.

Congratulations Avery.

Now please don’t do that again, we’ll get nervous.




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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