When The Matchsellers’ Julie Bates sent out the word that she was organizing Cover Me, Kansas City Folk, an evening of local roots and acoustic songwriters covering each other’s songs, nearly every songwriter leapt at the chance.
“People were really excited about it,” she says. “If they could make it, they signed up right away.”
Bates was inspired by a similar evening in Springfield organized by songwriter Brett Miller, an effort that eventually led to two compilation CDs. She was happy to recruit people for the show, giving each act a chance to choose (and agonize over) two songs to cover — and giving local music fans a chance to hear their favorite songs arranged in brand new ways.
Known for musically intricate and often hilarious songs, The Matchsellers (an acoustic duo with Bates on violin and Andrew Morris on guitar) plan to cover “Betting on the Right Horse,” by local bluegrass band Loaded Goat, and “The Planet Where We Fell in Love,” by the Kansas City Bear Fighters. Those two bands share a where-are-they-going-to-take-us-next? musical DNA that matches Bates and Morris’, but the cover versions will be a discovery simply because of the duo arrangements.
Another joy of a concert like this is the chance for the artists themselves to hear new, and often vividly different, versions of their own songs.
Local duo Jenna McCarty and Martin Farrell, Jr. (Jenna & Martin) plan to cover Bates’s tune “I Asked You To Leave (But You Ate All My Crackers).”
“I think that’s my favorite Matchsellers song. It’s so funny, but she sings it so seriously,” McCarty says of Bates’ performance.
“This type of event is really cool,” McCarty adds, noting that songwriter and banjo player Kelly Hunt (as opposed to the well-known Kansas City jazz vocalist of the same name) is covering her song “Dreamin’.”
“I’m planning to record her performing my song and have it forever,” McCarty says.
Cover Me also showcases how tightly knit and just plain helpful the Kansas City songwriting scene is right now.
“The Matchsellers are one of our favorite local bands,” says Farrell. “They tour a lot, and they’ve helped us out finding venues and places to play. We’ve been pretty inspired by them.”
Howard Eisberg (stage name: Iceberg), who Bates describes as “a local songwriting legend,” will be covered by several performers, including John Keck (with the Christmas tune “This One’s for the Kids”), Betse and Clarke (“Moonlight on Missouri”), and Scott Hrabko (“Calling Robert Burns”).
“It’s flattering,” Eisberg admits. But, he adds, laughing, “It has occurred to me that if you’re a singer and you have to cover other people’s songs, you might be best off to choose someone who you can sing better than. That might be why my songs got chosen.”
Eisberg attributes this group of performers' closeness to the long-running Rural Grit Happy Hour on Monday nights at the Brick.
“There is a lot of collaboration and cross-fertilization,” he notes. “That just makes everyone’s music stronger.”
Like most participants, he laments the fact that he couldn’t cover four or five artists. Ultimately, he chose “Can’t Take Losin’ You Tonight” by Dan Mesh (of Potter’s Field and Eisberg’s own Titanics) and Mike Penner’s “Once Again.”
“I wanted to cover some people that are off the radar a little bit,” says Eisberg. “Dan played guitar in my band. He’s a great player, and he writes really good songs himself. Mike Penner writes songs with Broken Arrows, and his song sounded great to me when I heard it.”
Even after forty years of performing in Kansas City, Eisberg can’t remember a show quite like this one.
For fans, this cavalcade of local music, a benefit for the Midwest Music Foundation, is a perfect chance to catch up with old favorites and meet some new ones.
“People are picking some songs that everybody knows," Bates says, "but they’re also picking songs by people I’ve never heard of. That’s perfect.”
Cover Me, Kansas City Folk, 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 12, at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108, 816-753-5207. The show features Betse and Clarke, Calvin Arsenia, Chad Brothers, Howard Eisberg, Jenna & Martin, Jessica Paige, John L. Keck, Kelly Hunt, Kelly Werts, Kyle Reid, The Matchsellers, Mikal Shapiro Music, Scott Hrabko & The Rabbits, and Victor & Penny.
KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression. Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.