For a city that remained culturally stagnant for so many years, change is undoubtedly good. But rapid change, like the one the Kansas City has experienced in its Downtown, Crossroads, and Westport districts over the last decade, can sometimes come at the cost of a city’s identity.
Last Saturday night, in front of a sold out, Tech N9ne-helmed crowd, Kansas City bid a hearty welcome to the newest fruit of that change, The Truman — a 1,200-person music venue located in the East Crossroads. The venue, which aims to host 80 shows a year, further bolsters the city’s midsize concert lineup – joining the established stages at The Uptown and The VooDoo Lounge at Harrah’s.
Aside from being the city’s shiny new music toy, what will likely set the Truman apart from its venue peers is the freshly remodeled urban chic offered by its warehouse location – which served as the base of operations for locally-owned auto engine parts manufacturer Sterling Bearing until it was purchased by Kansas City developer Matt Abbott in 2015.
Abbott told the Kansas City Star last January that he purchased the building with the specific intent of partnering on a music venue with JR Facility Management — a company that made a name for itself operating Marathon Music Works and the historic Exit/In in Nashville, Tennessee. JR’s owners, Chris Cobb and Josh Billue, renovated both venues and turned them into resounding successes in the absurdly crowded Nashville music scene.
Cobb said the Kansas City venue was a good fit for the company’s first expansion foray outside of Nashville because the city and the Crossroads neighborhood are so vibrant. And Cobb said it didn’t hurt that KC has been well-regarded nationally as a heavy ticket-selling market.
Matt Phillips, venue manager for the Truman and recent transplant from Nashville, said JR’s Tennessee experience positioned it well for the Kansas City opportunity.
“Kansas City is a lot like Nashville, in that both cities have changed a lot in the last ten years. Nashville is sort of an ‘it’ city now. It didn’t used to be like that,” Phillips said. “And now, Kansas City is kind of seeing the same thing. People are coming here to see the city, the food, and the great music scene — which is incredible. So we saw that as a really good trait of the city that would mesh well with what we do in Nashville.”
Yes, but if you’re native to these parts, you’ve likely grown to be protective of the city’s cultural renaissance. The Truman will be managed by an out-of-town company and booked by AEG Live, a subsidiary of an international entertainment behemoth. And the success of the venue will have the effect of enlarging the already dominant shadow AEG casts over the city’s entertainment market (AEG also operates both The Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland and Sprint Center).
All of this may leave you asking if Kansas City really needs another music venue at all – particularly one that has the unflattering stench of outsiders cashing in on the city’s upward trending panache.
Cobb thinks Kansas Citians are right to have those concerns, because he saw a lot of the same change happen in Nashville.
“Believe me, I get it. Maybe as much or more than anyone else. I’m living in a place where I had to move last year because it was taking me 45 minutes to get four miles from my house to the venue that I bootstrapped the hell out of to get off the ground,” Cobb said, “You have a really good place to live here and your city has gained attention, but you’re right to be protective. I’ve lived through that in Nashville, and I’ve seen how that can go wrong. I don’t want that for Kansas City.”
And, for what it’s worth, Cobb described JR Facility Management as “two guys in their mid-thirties who have worked really hard,” making it seem less like the fat cat out-of-town check-casher than honest facility managers dedicated to addressing what they see as an underserved group of events. And they may be right.
While KC has plenty of small count venues like the recordBar and Riot Room, and enough larger venues like the Sprint Center, The Midland and Starlight to handle bigger tours, the closing of the Beaumont Club left a hole for mid-sized venues that are capable of housing a very specific set of touring acts. The Truman is looking to fill that gap.
Time will tell whether the market can support the new venue and just how dedicated the operators are to promoting and maintaining Kansas City’s culture. But what’s certain is that Abbott and JR Facility have a beauty of a new venue, and AEG has already booked an excellent slate of shows to fill it.
And, given Cobb’s experiences with outside interests in his own hometown, at least he gets where we’re coming from. So, it appears KC’s fiery culture guard can stand down — at least for now.
— Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney, and contributor to Flatland. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @dansascity.