Middle of the Map Fest Doesn't Disappoint in its Fourth Year

Yoni Wolf of Why? at Kansas City's recordBar - Photo courtesy of Jim Vondruska
Photo courtesy of Jim Vondruska
Yoni Wolf of Why? at Kansas City's recordBar

Four hours west of St. Louis lies a Midwestern city rife with curiosities. Its denizens may seem familiar to the eyes of St. Louisans, but the terrain is alien enough to mask itself in the guise of a pseudo-adventure. This place is called Kansas City, and the reason for the gathering is the Middle of the Map Fest.

Four years old, Middle of the Map boasts a carefully curated lineup full of musicians of all genres and aesthetics. During its three short days, festivals attendees overrun KC's Westport district. Cobbled streets shepherd musicians and fans to multiple venues within easy walking distance of one another. Average shows per night: seven. It is impossible, given the allotted word count, to recount every one I attended (and you don't want to read about the shit ones, anyway). Here are highlights from three puckish nights of endless aural delicacies, Boulevard Tank 7s, and the retrospective sense that something deeply personal happens to every person who attends the inimitable Middle of the Map Fest.

click to enlarge Ings at Kansas City's recordBar - Photo by Blair Stiles
Photo by Blair Stiles
Ings at Kansas City's recordBar

Day One:

Ings: Curated by Inge Chiles of Plaid Dragons, Ings is a diary-to-stage project with an indie rock persuasion. Chiles sings like a farmhouse hen, full of animalistic chortles and yodels amalgamated with a saccharine timbre that suspends itself over her throwback sound. Her compositions tread lightly, with ukulele plucks and Nord keyboard clinks to accent her sound.

Day Two:

Night two is when Middle of the Map's dense schedule really started to get hectic. Har Mar Superstar was scheduled at 10:15 at Ernie Biggs, a four minute haul from Riot Room, where Paige Brubeck of Sleepy Kitty taught a clinic on the loop pedal -- plus, Dots Not Feathers was scheduled at 10:30. Har Mar, with sweat beads that trickled down his face from disco fever, is an egg-shaped man with a pectoral region sporting its own hairstyle. Har Mar Superstar (nee Sean Tillman) sings with a sweet candor and energy to spare. He eventually even took off his shirt and performed in a headstand.

I skated across several streets and parking lots and wound up at the Riot Room right as Dots Not Feathers galloped into "I Was an Eagle." The sextet's new songs are even more ambitious than those featured on Dolphin World. I was pounced on by a new friend who I ordered to watch DNF, and the look on his face said it all. He looked at me and said, "Holy fucking shit, you were right. These guys are fucking amazing." To which I replied, "Duh," and put my sunglasses on at night.

click to enlarge Dots Not Feathers at the Riot Room in Kansas City, MO - Photo by Blair Stiles
Photo by Blair Stiles
Dots Not Feathers at the Riot Room in Kansas City, MO

We arrived a little late to Del the Funky Homosapien. Earlier this month at SXSW, Del joined Gorillaz's Damon Albarn alongside Del La Soul to perform "Clint Eastwood." Nostalgia flips were switched, and after thirty minutes of dexterous freestyles and hundreds of beats from deck maestro Zac Hendrix, Del was asked if he wanted "the capper." "The capper," of course, was "Clint Eastwood." We all wanted it.

The last stop was S. Carey, who performed with the placid loveliness of a day at the lake. The seven count on "In the Dirt" was second nature to Sean Carey's archaic Wurlitzer. After a long day of venue bouncing, to prop oneself on a monitor and just listen was pleasurable enough.

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