Around Hear

On Tuesday, September 11, music — and entertainment as a whole — suddenly became the last thing on most people’s minds. Almost everyone sat transfixed by repeated images of destruction, tensely awaiting the latest updates and watching as their sense of invulnerability was shattered. The next day, thousands of Kansas Citians stumbled out of bed bleary-eyed and demoralized and headed out to perform their duties at work, which, in many cases, now seemed frivolous or surreal. That night, a sprinkling of musicians across the country also returned to work, haunted by the images of the collapsing World Trade Center towers and the inextinguishable Pentagon fire but determined not to become paralyzed by them.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s attacks, some tough questions arose, all of which had to be dealt with immediately. Do you take the stage Tuesday night if you’re a band with indelicately expressed antimilitary and anticapitalist views? (Propagandhi decided the time wasn’t right for “Stick the Fucking Flag up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch”; it canceled its gig at The Bottleneck and the remaining six dates of its tour.) Do you pull the plug on a feel-good show if you get the feeling that people aren’t in the mood to shake, shake, shake their booties? (Sound the funky horn — K.C. and the Sunshine Band and The Village People‘s frothy double-dip at Starlight Theatre has been postponed indefinitely.) Do you shelf the Guinness Oyster Festival, with all its seafood-slurping, dark-beer-chugging entertainment options? (The City Market tossed this one back into the sea.) Do you abandon plans for a major outdoor show, fearing, as the NFL reportedly did, that packed stadiums might be terrorist targets? (Sandstone Amphitheatre’s last show of the season, Matchbox 20 with Train and Pete Yorn on Monday, September 16, went on as planned. Nationwide, many big-name tours (Backstreet Boys, Madonna) were back up and running by Thursday.) If you’re an overbearing sort with an opinion on everything, do you miss a high-profile opportunity to pontificate? (Apparently not; The Rollins Band played Wednesday night at The Granada. But the lure of the outspoken Henry Rollins offering commentary on the previous morning’s events proved weak — the turnout was reportedly sparse.)

Thinner-than-usual crowds were also the rule at The Hurricane and The Bottleneck, while The Pub drew plenty of patrons — but, owner Sheri Parr notes, they weren’t there for, say, the club’s weekly Kung Fu Wednesday extravaganza. “Nearly everyone was watching TV,” she says. “People just wanted to be together.”

Unfortunately, due to nightmarish transportation scenarios, not everyone who wanted to be together could be. The Count Basie Orchestra, whose members are spread out across the map, called off its collaboration with the Kansas City Symphony after realizing that it would be unable to reassemble in time for the concert. (The Symphony went forward with a solo performance packed with pieces, such as Gould’s “American Salute,” that were specifically selected to address the week’s events.) Tobey Foyeh, who was scheduled to play The Grand Emporium Wednesday night, resides in Washington, D.C.; club owner Roger Naber, speaking to him less than 24 hours before showtime, realized Foyeh would be unable to depart. Still, Naber says he would have nixed the concert regardless, as he had Tuesday night’s Sprague Brothers gig. “Nobody’s going out,” he notes. “Nobody wants to dance.”

But although people might not be in the mood to boogie, singer/songwriter Forrest Whitlow feels they might find his songs soothing. “Music is therapeutic,” he says. “It helps people deal with things.” Whitlow decided to perform as scheduled on Saturday, September 15, at the Westport Coffee House. “I thought about the appropriateness of it, but I never considered canceling,” he explains. “I think it will be good for people.”

With similar consideration given to music’s healing power, several touring bands have decided to complete their current itineraries, undaunted by the prospect of playing to a handful of people keeping one eye on the television in the corner of the bar at all times. The Derailers, fresh off a canceled gig in Chicago and an aborted trip to New York that would have taken place Wednesday, brightened Saturday evening for an impressive number of fans at Davey’s Uptown. At one point, the band announced its pride at having been on the Grand Ole Opry recently. “Seventy-five years of country tradition,” singer/guitarist Tony Villanueva said — adding “American tradition” to shouts of approval. When the group took the stage for its encore, drummer Mark Horn shouted into the mic: “I truly got to say God bless America, ’cause where else could a country fuck like me live like this and just have fun?” The crowd again registered its approval with loud applause.

Playing the same night at Ameristar Casino, Merle Haggard took a much more direct approach with his patriotic message. While the sizable audience filed in, a voice over the loud speaker announced that it was time to “honor the victims of Tuesday’s crashes with a moment of silence followed by our national anthem.” Almost as soon as the show started, a vocal few began shouting for “Fightin’ Side of Me” (when you’re running down my country, man, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me), and when he obliged them two-thirds through his set, chants of “U-S-A” broke out, accompanied by foot-stomping in the bleachers. Haggard was also sure to emphasize this line from “Rainbow Stew”: When the President goes to the White House door and does what he says he’ll do/ we’ll all be drinking that free Bubble Up and eating that rainbow stew. However, for the most part Haggard limited his nonsong commentary to recommending that everyone wear the flag.

Haggard’s most inspired commentary on the recent losses had come with his opening number, “Silver Wings,” which should only increase in poignancy in the weeks to come: Silver wings shining in the sunlight/Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight/They’re taking you away and leaving me lonely/Silver wings slowly fading out of sight/Don’t leave me I cried/don’t take that airplane ride/But you locked me out of your mind/and left me standing here behind.

Faring less well than these acts in terms of crowd support, but delivering a high-energy set nonetheless, was The Roustabouts, who rocked roughly two dozen patrons at El Torreon, generating a trickle of financial support for New York disaster victims.

Even if it made The Roustabouts’ concert an impromptu benefit show, El Torreon’s management wasn’t interested in turning the stage into a forum for discourse on the recent events. “We asked that no politics be brought to the show,” says Alison Saunders, an El Torreon doorperson. “Some people are like, ‘Bomb everyone,’ and then other people say, ‘That’s not going to solve anything.’ This isn’t about that. This is about helping victims.”

Saunders says she never considered canceling Thursday night’s show. “If it was the day of [the tragedies], then definitely,” she says. “But now, we have to get back to normal, or they win.”

David Cantwell contributed to this article.

Categories: News