Down to the Crossroads
You wouldn’t expect someone called Roach to be so efficient. Then again, roaches are hardy, industrious little creatures.
Industrious is an apt description of Bill “Roach” Sundahl. He’s the bassist for busy local band It’s Over and the force behind Spice of Life Productions, the outfit credited for those occasional, eclectic events around town known as Donkey Shows, which bring together belly dancers, dirty limericks, local bands and holiday sweaters — often on the same night.
Roach has a day job, too, but he’s been steadily paring down those hours lately in preparation for the third-annual Crossroads Music Fest, his boldest endeavor yet.
What started in 2005 as a modest, eight-band concert in the dirt-and-gravel backyard of Grinders has blossomed into a real live music festival. CMF3 spans a whole weekend, involves more than 50 bands and three venues (the Crossroads at Grinders, Gorilla Theater and the Brick) and offers hotel discounts for ticket holders.
The fest doesn’t officially kick off until 2 p.m. Saturday, September 8, but there are preparties planned throughout the Crossroads and elsewhere the night before, which is a First Friday.
Sitting in a back booth of one of his favorite Crossroads hangouts, the Brick, Roach says he encouraged the neighborhood galleries to hire musicians for their September 7 openings, though none have confirmed as of this writing. Roach wants the whole district to get in on the party.
“That’s why I called it the Crossroads Music Fest,” he says.
The event has the diverse trappings typical of a Roach production. The musical acts span genres such as rock, punk,country-rock and reggae,
and a marching band will parade through the festival at 6 p.m. Saturday. And because the fest is for all ages (kids 12 and younger get in free), a magician will perform between musical sets and there will be a children’s area with a foam play palace.
Roach has even bigger ideas for next year, including expanding to 18th and Vine and closing down multiple streets.
But first, this year has to succeed.
“I’m a glutton for punishment,” Roach admits half-jokingly.
Well, he is banking on the idea that a bunch of local bands and a few not very well-known acts from other places will draw 2,500 people downtown.
His biggest stage, the recently established Crossroads at Grinders, has lured that many music fans a few times already this year. But they came to see name-brand acts: Lucinda Williams and G. Love and Special Sauce. CMF3’s biggest names — Lucero and Eleni Mandell — don’t really compare on the recognition scale, no matter how good they are.
Nevertheless, Roach maintains his if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality.
In 2005, he booked eight local bands, and about 600 people showed up. In 2006, he booked 15 local bands, and his attendance practically doubled, to 1,100.
“That showed me that people do want to support local music,” Roach says.
It’s hard not to view the success or failure of the fest as a forecast of what’s to come for the Crossroads. Roach moved to Kansas City in 2000. The area was “a wasteland” at the time, he says. “‘Don’t go downtown,’ is what people told me,” he recalls.
But like a roach drawn to garbage, Roach did go downtown. He got chummy with the funky folks there — including the sculptor, Grinders entrepreneur and polarizing personality Stretch — who were helping to turn a trashy part of the city into a treasure trove of art galleries, architecture and design firms, coffee shops and bars with live music.
“It’s been interesting to watch,” he says.
The transformation, of course, has attracted developers and the mixed blessing of government-sanctioned revitalization. Plans for the Power and Light District imply that a city’s arts-and-entertainment district should be full of chain restaurants and be dominated by a giant arena.
Let’s hope that if the festival is a success, the powers that be will take a hint from Roach about buying local.
“Hopefully, this thing will do well,” he says, “and it will prove to Kansas City that this is what people want in their town.”