Travel Guide: Homegrown Hosts for Music Travel

Kansas City performing arts organizations are breaking into the industry of music tours. Linking local with global talent, their trips invite people inside musical traditions and offer reliably fine amenities at moderate prices. Musical Theater Heritage, Quality Hill Playhouse and Ensemble Ibérica welcome travelers at all levels of knowledge and serve a clientele of devoted patrons and newcomers. Many of their success stories are linked to a single connoisseur of music travel: George Harter.

Harter, founder of the Crown Center based theater company, Musical Theater Heritage (MTH), is a catalyst for Kansas City’s budding industry of cultural travel. For 35 years, he celebrated musical theater as the host of the syndicated radio program A Night on the Town, and in 1996, he launched a Broadway Musical trip to New York. Harter has a successful formula for boutique music trips designed to ensure relaxed enjoyment and personal freedom for travelers. His planning skills have earned the trust of local theaters: The Kansas City Ballet, Unicorn Theatre, The New Theatre and Restaurant, and this year, The Carlsen Center, have called on his expertise to bring travel options to their patrons.

With the success of its Broadway trips, MTH added a London theater trip and, recently, a New York jazz excursion led by singer Molly Hammer. While MTH trips offer individualized attention from start to finish, including welcome and goodbye at the airport, ground transportation and guided neighborhood strolls, they also balance free time and planned activities so that travelers enjoy their own sense of adventure.

The trip that Harter hosted years ago for Quality Hill Playhouse grew into a successful series of summertime Broadway tours guided by Playhouse founder and Artistic Director J. Kent Barnhart. Barnhart, a pianist, theater producer and director, has led his five-day Trip to New York City for two decades. With three sessions each summer, the trip focuses on keeping current with Broadway’s best new productions. It attracts colleagues, couples and singles to extended weekends in Manhattan for four premiering Broadway shows.

In 2016, Harter and MTH joined with Kansas City guitarist Beau Bledsoe to create a Fado music trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Bledsoe studies and performs traditional music and has become a nexus for world musical talent in Kansas City. His organization, Ensemble Ibérica, explores the music of the Iberian Peninsula and its musical diaspora, inviting masters in Flamenco, Tango, and other traditions to perform in its concert series. Bledsoe contracts these international talents to lead tours with him in their musical homelands. The Lisbon trip is entering its fifth year, and Bledsoe recently added a Tango expedition in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The musician-hosts arrange intimate settings for listening, fine wine and cuisine, and balance these with visits to concert venues and cultural sites. With local musicians as guides, travelers enjoy real-time contact with and within a musical heritage.

All of these Kansas City cultural explorers value personalized travel experiences in appreciative company, and limit the number of travelers with this in mind. The annual trips sell out early.

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