For Art, Music and Poetry, Check Out First Friday in the 18th and Vine Jazz District

Reasserting its position as the heart of musical and African-American culture in KC, the 18th and Vine Jazz District offers a lively selection of music and art on First Fridays, and with the warm months upon us, the action once again moves outdoors.

The scene was lively last fall, featuring countless music groups and solo acts with a wide variety of jazz styles. Of course, what is and isn’t jazz is an open discussion, but not particularly contentious, as audiences seemed to appreciate the diverse offerings. Walking down 18th Street, you could hear traditional styles like bebop reminiscent of KC jazz legends like Charlie Parker as well as other expressions of early 20th-century Americana such as blues and bluegrass. There were plenty of jazz fusion bands, blending Latin American styles like salsa, ska and bossa nova, and some of the least traditional acts weren’t afraid of mixing in elements as diverse as prog rock, heavy metal and hip hop.

While the music was certainly the primary focus of Jazz District First Fridays, other kinds of artists were in attendance as well. Painters had booths set up, many showing off portraits of African-American icons like Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. There were a few silversmiths and jewelers as well, selling intricate handmade accessories.

Definitely the most radical acts were the poets. No topic was off limits, as young black poets spoke about love and domestic violence, gun culture, racism, politicians, America in general and Kansas City in particular. And while many of the poets spoke about personal and societal pain, many spoke hopefully of a future of opportunity and love.

Walking down 18th Street, there was a sense of passion for the community. Many activists were out in force, signing people up to vote and handing out fliers about local politicians and upcoming ballot measures. Black Lives Matter activists were also present, some leading chants, encouraging people to stand up against racism. And while most activists had liberal or leftist leanings, one bookseller wasn’t afraid to put autobiographies of Obama next to books by black conservatives like Herman Cain and Ben Carson.

While the event certainly focused on music, art and culture, food was a definite draw, judging from the long lines at food trucks and restaurants eager to get you in the door. You can work off the calories at a “Steppin’ on the Vine” dance class at the Gem Theatre. (Details below)

During the winter months, First Friday events on 18th and Vine head inside and the crowds grow smaller, as also happens in the Crossroads. But as temperatures rise, outdoor music, art and poetry return.

May marks the first anniversary of 18th and Vine Jazz District First Fridays. On May 5, the free community event includes  KC Latin Jazz All-Stars at The Blue Room.

First Fridays also features the “Steppin’ on The Vine” dance program at the Gem Theater. Dance instructor Daron “Dr. Step” Barker will lead a Chicago Style Stepping Class from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on May 5, followed by Dance Party Time  from 8:30 to 10 p.m. The cost for “Steppin’ on The Vine” is $5 for non-members. For tickets, americanjazzmuseum.org

About The Author: Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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