Folly Theater and Bill Shapiro’s Cyprus Avenue Live presents Kelley Hunt.
Radio host Bill Shapiro will present a musical valentine to the city with singer/songwriter/pianist Kelley Hunt. Hunt, a native Kansas Citian, will make her first Folly appearance on Feb. 14 as part of Cyprus Avenue Live, the stage presentation of his 36-year-old public radio show.
The Folly contacted Shapiro nine years ago when he was asked to join the board of directors. “I had never served on a non-profit before. The good people of Kansas City saved the theater from the wrecking ball, but the leadership and the board had never set up an endowment. For the Folly to survive, an endowment is paramount. The theater gains its resources from the rental of the theater to groups such as the Heartland Men’s Chorus, Harriman-Jewell and others. They also have the Jazz Series and the Children’s Series. The Jazz Series is good to help buoy the continuation that Kansas City was the home of jazz. Then there is the Children’s Series that has some underwriting to keep it alive. It’s there as a service to the community,” Shapiro says.
To bring a different light to the Folly, Shapiro created Cyprus Avenue Live with the intent to shed light on the Folly, as well as, inventive music and musicians. That’s where Hunt fits … “I have known of Kelley Hunt’s music for many years through promotional CDs sent to the radio station, but when I got her latest CD, The Beautiful Bones, I knew I had to bring her to the Folly.” Hunt marks the first local musician he has put on the stage.
“I heard a depth with her recent recording and I was taken aback by what I heard,” Shapiro explains. “There’s a gospel quality and I am sucker for that sound.” Shapiro has been a music fan for more than half a century. His home is wired for the best sound and as a serious listener, he dispatches his expertise weekly, plus he has penned two books on music. “And I have done everything as a volunteer,” he says. “Music is a true passion and is essential to my life. With the Folly, I share the music as well as my hope to see the Folly as a viable venue into the future. I have loved the Folly forever.”
As a teen, Shapiro saw burlesque at the Folly. The Folly Theater, built in 1900 and designed by renowned architect Louis Curtiss, has had a rich and storied history. “We need to draw people in. There is no better room to hear live music. As an audience, you are so close to the artist. When I was offered the chance to put the acts on the stage, I said, ‘Hell, yes!’ I brought in a whole new audience to the Folly because of the radio program and its wide listenership. The room brings out the best in the artist; they appreciate the history of the place and the beauty of the room, plus the intimacy of the room. Randy Newman told me that there is magic that happens in that room and live performances are at the heart of this.”
Hunt says she is thrilled to perform at the Folly on Valentine’s Day. “I have played places all over, but this one just speaks to me a bit more. I have 20 years under my belt, writing music, performing and touring. It’s not just the culmination of my experiences. I am astonished how time has flown by and in other ways, I am still looking forward to my next adventure. With The Beautiful Bones, I know I have done my best work so far and it is great to share it. I feel that on a visceral level because to do my best, I have to be vulnerable and put a lot of trust in my own intuition. There is a level of trust in yourself and the others around you, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a golden outcome. However, it allows you to take that leap.”
Hunt agrees with Shapiro’s assessment of her latest recording. “I have grown and changed. Everyone’s timing is different in life as to when they hit the mountain top. It’s not perfect, but there is meat and soul served up. I know I appreciate when I hear a catch in an artist’s voice … again there is that vulnerability.”
And don’t try to pigeonhole Hunt. Her music is a mix of blues, soul, rock, boogie with a bit of swing and honky tonk thrown in for good measure. “The main thing is to listen and enjoy. I am a song writer and the piano player. I want to tell a story so I stopped looking at labels years ago.”
Notwithstanding, she does like the label of Kansas Citian. “Living in the area provides me roots. I am kept grounded. Even though I treasure traveling to Europe, I’m always ready to come home to my anchor. I love this area and the deep, rich history of music. I am tethered in a positive way. In some ways, I am a citizen of the world, but I love my sense of home. There is something delicious about the pride of home. It’s a terrific garment to wear,” Hunt says.