Letter from the Editor: Michael Coggins’ Banner Year Party allowed us to reclaim what we lost

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How does one pick a winner? // Courtesy Michael Coggins

As we look back at Missouri’s 200-year checkered past and share our hopes for the future, there is a vague sensation that a fraction of our celebration is absent. Out of these two centuries, one full year was robbed from us.

How do we reclaim even a small personal shard of the year denied us? One of my friends here in KC took a gigantic, wacky stab at it. And, by jove, he cracked it.

Michael Coggins co-founded a mail-order steak business called Holy Grail Steak Co. back in 2018. Outta the gate, it was a rough ride. Shipping high-end beef around the country while maintaining supply lines was a logistical nightmare. Then, a global pandemic hit. And a two man beef-by-mail local business did juuust fine.

To give back to friends and family, and to have an excuse to see everyone he missed in the last year, Coggins decided to throw a Banner Year Party. What does that mean? Well. It’s a type of party that I’ve never attended before, and will [hopefully] never attend again.

While 2020 was stripped from us, that did not stop the world from turning. Major life events happened. Holidays passed by. Plans were abandoned. The Banner Year Party was a way to take a sliver of that back, and to celebrate what was stolen with a crowd of enthusiastic friends and strangers. To that end, each attendee was invited to make a physical banner to hang on a wall at the party, with the event closest to their heart displayed for all to share in. Coggins enlisted a friend to help make gigantic banners for those who wanted them. (Joe Ianelli of PlugYourHoles. If you have banner needs, I highly endorse his work.)

Coggins wasn’t stopping at a simple themed party. Nay, dearest reader, he went all out. He rented out the entirety of The Truman—a music venue that comfortably fits 1400 people, and where I’ve seen some of my favorite rock bands in the world. This was not a party just for his immediate social circle, but a celebration for all of KC.

At 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, the doors to the Truman opened for anyone in KC. Inside, free beer, DJs and bands—including KC’s jazz-funk group Satori (who, for the record, can rip a sax solo). The Urban Cafe food truck pulled up to a loading dock. All of this, free to all, in celebration of having made it this far. Not as individuals, but as a powerhouse collective.

Michael’s wife Tricia, a nurse who worked in a KC hospital through pandemic while pregnant, met us when we arrived. We thanked her for putting on this shindig. She offered the bemused response: “No. This is all Michael. This is all… a Michael thing.” My wife and I were dressed as cats and carrying pumpkin bowls filled to the brim with candy. Our banner was hung in the corner for Halloween—the event from 2020 we hated missing the most. We spent the rest of the party walking around and trick’r’treating the guests. We made friends with the crew who had come to reclaim their St. Patrick’s Day. A pal I hadn’t seen in forever didn’t recognize me with ears and a cat tail. [Kim, you’re fine.] 

The room was decked out with banners ranging from missed birthdays, to the birth of children, to the adoption of pets to… the very weird. A non-sequitur Kim Jong-un Spring Break(?) banner was a highlight. As was a corner that combined a banner for comedian Bo Burnham’s 30th birthday (as highlighted in his recent special) and an opulent set-up based on The Office’s “It is your birthday.”, featuring mood lighting and a table filled with birthday cakes for guests to self-serve from. One sign simply celebrated the return of Boba Fett and Baby Yoda.

A few hundred people filled the space that night. Looking around the room, I barely knew anyone… for the first time at a party since February of the year previous. I made new friends?? At the end, we picked a winner via a round of cheers. Amid the noise, spontaneously, two different couples got engaged. No one knows who one of the couples is even though Coggins tried to give them the grand prize of $500 of prime steak for a banner they spent 20 hours hand-making. [If you got engaged at a stranger’s banner party, get in touch with me. They have meat for you. You must know who you are.]

It was chaos. It was unpredictable. It was strangers and wild and it was the first night in forever where I had no idea what would happen next. In that moment, I felt that KC was finally back. And I took something back for myself. I got my Halloween. Find a way to grab what was stolen from you, and let’s move forward to the heavenly sounds of drunken cheers and sax solos.

Pitch in, and we’ll make it through,

Brock Wilbur

Categories: Culture