Tourist Trap

“Check out the sounds of a Missouri summer,” reminds the hard-sell voice that pops up during each Royals radio broadcast on KMBZ 980. Blues riffs shuffle in the background as the narrator recites the musical genres native to the Show Me State, foreshadowing the final zinger: “You’ll be singing the blues if you don’t!”

The ad directs listeners to visitmo.com, the Missouri Division of Tourism’s official Web site. Here, Kansas City events dot the calendar, sharing space with a slew of St. Louis events and a smattering of small-town flavor. But KC didn’t make the cut for the Sounds of the Summer’s key promotion, a trip to “Missouri’s favorite destinations.” Selected instead: St. Louis, Springfield, Branson and St. Charles. Ouch.

Regional rivalry aside, St. Louis deserves respect for embracing its musical history. (Its hockey team’s name honors the W.C. Handy classic “St. Louis Blues”; KC let the Jazz name end up in Utah.) So let’s move on to the other thriving metropolises.

Springfield offers the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and a decent zoo but apparently little else, given that its summary emphasizes — with exclamation points! — its proximity to Branson. The prize package includes tickets to such attractions as a show by Yakov Smirnov, whose jokes have gotten colder than the war that spawned his fish-out-of-frozen-Siberian-waters routines.

Branson, which the visitmo site charitably describes as “a unique blend of neon and nature,” might be better encapsulated by Bart Simpson: It’s Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders. Trip goodies include tickets to Country Tonite (rhymes with/replaceable by lite); ’50s at the Hop and alleged comedian Jim Stafford‘s variety show.

Then there’s rustic St. Charles, a quaint community highlighted by restored buildings and an Ameristar Casino. Hell, we’ve got that stuff. Put us on the damn map!

Time was, Missouri wouldn’t dream of doing a music-themed promotion without Kansas City, but then, we used to have a big festival here in July. (The Blues and Heritage Fest, featuring John Mayall, Robert Cray, Otis Rush and other titans, is technically a summer event, falling three weeks before the official dawn of autumn, but summer is typically regarded as the three months before September.) Even Owen Hawkins and Steve Miller‘s small-scale blues and jazz festival won’t be ready until fall (a delay the duo’s Web site tastefully attributes to a “9/11-like attack” by Blues and Heritage organizer SpiritFest). The Blues Society’s shows at Washington Park bring top-notch talent such as W.C. Clark (August 18) to the area on Sundays, but the tourism department folks aren’t hip to that tradition; these gigs aren’t on the calendar. Perhaps KC deserves to be docked a year, but isn’t it cruel to have those commercials airing daily?

“No one has called and complained about those spots,” assures Maxine Nolan, director of public relations with the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Kansas City. And though she admits receiving several calls from people who were disappointed by the event’s cancellation, she maintains that “no one has called to say, ‘I was going to come to KC, but now I’m not because the festival is gone.'”

The impact would be much harsher, Nolan theorizes, if KC were a real music town like New Orleans. “People come to their jazz festival from all over the country, and there’s a tremendous economic impact,” she says. “With the KC festival, a lot of the people who came were within a day’s drive.”

As for the snub, Nolan says such promotions are “rotating and seasonal,” and the death of the Blues and Jazz festival “wouldn’t have any impact” on KC’s eligibility. Still, St. Charles? “Our advertising campaign spotlights the known and the unknown,” explains communications administrator Tracey Berry. “You’ve experienced Missouri’s exciting urban sounds, but have you listened to its quiet nights?”

This summer, quiet nights far outnumber exciting urban sounds at Penn Valley Park, but an empathetic Berry reasons Kansas City still has much to offer. “There’s the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame, the major-league football, baseball and soccer teams, the fountains, the barbecue,” she lists before noting KC’s proximity to Independence and St. Joseph in a distressing echo of the Springfield-to-Branson relationship.

Maybe Kansas City isn’t missing out on much by not being selected for one of these “music-filled getaways.” (The only actual music-related attractions included in the promotion are housed in Branson.) Still, hearing those radio spots celebrate Missouri’s jazzy output undoubtedly gives grieving former festivalgoers the Royal blues.

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