bluegrass/country/folk | KCUR


Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City singer Jim Cosgrove has spent the past two decades performing songs about dancing dinosaurs and other kid-friendly topics all over Kansas City. His youngest fans know him as “Mr. Stinky Feet.”

Which makes him a perfect act for the family stage at this weekend's Kansas City Folk Festival.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: How Missouri schools prepare for an active shooter situation.

In the wake of Wednesday's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the 18th shooting at a school in 2018, we found out what Missouri requires for its schools to be ready to deal with similar situations. We also asked how parents can discuss these tragedies with their children before, during and after they occur.

Olivia Fox

Olivia Fox is the Kansas City-based folk-pop trio of Aubrey Callahan, Lauren Flynn and Tiffany Smith. Formed in 2016, it's one of the most fully realized musical acts in Kansas City. The polished group is radio-ready and eminently marketable.

That's clear on “Play the Game,” the lead track of the group’s self-titled 2017 EP. As synthetic beats contrast with traditional folk harmonies, the hushed song becomes a wondrous combination of tension and tranquility — as enticing as a romantic whisper.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR_89.3

Segment 1: Kansas' Third-Biggest School District Picks A New Leader

After a months-long hiring process, the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education has decided on a new superintendent. We heard about the move, and about the future of one of the largest districts in Kansas and the metro.


Imagine a lamp-lit honky-tonk band weaving those joyfully depressing cheatin’ songs, with round-robin vocalists taking just the right tune for each voice. Imagine an audience whooping and pushing them forward from their seats on wooden benches and random household chairs, or just standing.

Protest Music (R)

Dec 26, 2017

Three musicians discuss the influence of protest music, what makes a song political and how protest songs of times past compare (or differ) to today's.


Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Every once in a while, a Kansas City band releases an original Christmas song. But it’s unusual for area musicians to put out an entire album of holiday standards.

That’s what the bluegrass band Old Sound did this year, but making it happen involved something like a Christmas miracle.

“This is one those instances where the universe starts kind of opening up and giving you signs,” says guitarist Chad Brothers.

Courtesy Loaded Goat / Facebook

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.”

Mathias Kang

Andrew Morris, a guitarist and vocalist from Indiana, and Julie Bates, a fiddler and vocalist with roots in the Kansas City area, have released two albums as The Matchsellers.

They're an old-timey, folk and country duo whose between-song banter is as entertaining as their music. Among their two shows in upcoming days is the “Cover Me, KC” benefit for the Midwest Music Foundation, which Bates organized, with a roster of well-known area musicians covering one another’s compositions.

Courtesy Fred Wickham

Fred Wickham has clearly absorbed the spirit of the Hadacol Caravan.

Back in the early ‘50s, the Caravan, named for an alcohol-laden “medicine” designed to ease good country people through dry county weekends, needed as many as train cars to tour the country. Originally hosted by Hank Williams, the Caravan featured performers as varied as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Milton Berle and Judy Garland.

Courtesy Fred Wickham

Named for an elixir advertised on Hank Williams’ radio broadcasts, Hadacol was once among Kansas City’s most notable bands, attracting national attention in the late 1990s. 

This week, brothers Fred and Greg Wickham (vocals and guitars) and bassist Richard Burgess reunite, with Matt Brahl on drums (the band's original drummer was Scott McCuiston) to celebrate the release of Fred Wickham’s new album "Mariosa Delta."

Mike Tsai / Kansas City Actors Theatre

It was a year ago when the Kansas City Actors Theatre decided to produce Sam Shepard's play “A Lie of the Mind” this season. When Shepard died in July, company members were shocked at first, but then their feelings evolved.

Courtesy Zachary Stevenson

Outside a Small Circle of Friends,” by Phil Ochs, is not a typical protest song.

The song tells the biting, sardonic tale of all-too-normal people walking away from tragedies without helping — because, after all, “outside a small circle of friends,” who would care? The message is simple: just help.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

When the best Irish musicians get together to practice, it might as well be a concert. And some of Kansas City’s most talented players now have a regular place to do that in front of an audience.

On a recent Sunday night at Prospero’s Books, while customers thumbed through used paperbacks and lounged in armchairs, the sound of music drifted down from the second floor, where a couple dozen people were watching flute player Turlach Boylan and guitar player Davey Mathias.

Courtesy Jake Wells / Facebook

Jake Wells' music exemplifies the craze for soulful troubadours. The Kansas City-based Wells, who plays at the Riot Room on Thursday, has released just three songs, but his most popular, "Roll Like Thunder," has been streamed more than 500,000 times on Spotify since its release in 2016.

Rachel Arato-Hrabko

It takes a special kind of mid-life Midwestern songwriter to transform the tale of Ann Boleyn, Henry VIII’s famous second wife, and Thomas Cromwell, the king’s lesser-known chief minister, into a cheatin’ song.

Marla Keown

Twenty-two years is a long time for any band, even a bluegrass band, to stay together.

Split Lip Rayfield has made it that far.

To put their career in perspective, Bill Monroe and the most famous versions of his Bluegrass Boys only made it about half that long, and not without several important line-up changes along the way.

Jason Gonulsen

For a few years, it was an autumn tradition: Wrap up the turkey and pumpkin pie, wash up the dishes, then head down to the Record Bar for a Ha Ha Tonka show.

But it’s been awhile since Ha Ha Tonka came to town — long enough that a whole new RecordBar awaits their return. The band, with Springfield, Missouri, origins and a name borrowed from a state park at the Lake of the Ozarks, has gone through a few changes.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The artist: Calvin Arsenia

The song: "Kansas City, Baby"

The album: Catastrophe

The accompaniment: Jessica Paige (vocals), Coleen Dieker (violin), Joe Donley (upright bass)

The story: Calvin Arsenia calls his music neo-classical urban folk. His signature instrument is pretty unusual – it's a harp.

Courtesy Sky Smeed

An 11 a.m. Sunday slot at any festival, especially the Kansas City Folk Festival, is a dicey gig, and Lawrence singer-songwriter Sky Smeed admits his morning show last month made him anxious. Turned out that anxiety was unnecessary: The room filled up with people who weren't just awake — they were enthusiastic.

Courtesy Victor & Penny

The delightful vocalist Erin McGrane and the accomplished guitarist Jeff Freling lead the Kansas City ensemble Victor & Penny.

They once described their music as “antique pop,” but now they say it's "swing-infused folk-jazz" — based on the gypsy jazz tradition, it's a nostalgic sound more closely rooted in styles associated with Paris and New Orleans than Kansas City.

courtesy B Trump Photography

For more than three decades, musician Bob Reeder has played weekly gigs — singing Irish folk songs and bawdy limericks — in an underground pub in Weston, Missouri. O'Malley's is roughly 50 feet underneath the ground in a limestone brewery cellar built in 1842. 

Wikimedia Commons

The Vietnam War didn't end silently, it went out to the loud riffs of rock n' roll. Revisit the songs that shaped the 1960s and '70s, and captured the moods of soldiers overseas and civilians at home. We also find out how the electric guitar became the international symbol of freedom, danger and rebellion.

Courtesy Poor Bishop Hooper

Poor Bishop Hooper, the husband-and-wife duo of Jesse Braswell Roberts and Leah Brace Roberts, celebrates the release their fourth album Gold at the Tank Room on Friday.

3 reasons we're listening to Poor Bishop Hooper this week:

1. The duo performs a Christian-informed variation of the energetic folk music associated with bands like the Old Crow Medicine Show and the Lumineers.

Courtesy Ramy Essam

What’s the future of protest music?

That was a reasonable question for the hundreds of musicians who came to Kansas City in mid-February for the Folk Alliance International Conference, the theme of which was "Forbidden Folk." Given political developments over the last year, plenty of “old guys with banjos” — as one musician put it — were fired up, but I wanted to see what younger musicians thought about one staple of their genre.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

On Sunday, shortly before 11 a.m., British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg declared he was "itching to do a gig." It was day five of the Folk Alliance International Conference, and, as of that morning, Bragg had yet to play. 

Ed Boulter Photography

At first blush, Olathe doesn’t immediately come to mind as one of the primary refuges for folk music in the region.

But starting about two years ago, the Olathe Public Library became a surprisingly frequent go-to place for folk, bluegrass and roots music.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Kansas City musician Julian Davis is known for his championship flatpicking on the guitar. Young Davis and his bluegrass trio the Hay-Burners have regular gigs in Kansas City, and they recently competed on a national stage on "America's Got Talent."

Over the summer, Davis started playing mandolin.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

When Folk Alliance International decided last spring on "a clenched fist of resistance against the struggle," as executive director Aengus Finnan described the poster art for its 2017 conference, organizers couldn't have predicted how relevant the theme Forbidden Folk, "celebrating activism in art," would resonate almost a year later. 

Three musicians discuss the influence of protest music — the theme of this weekend's annual Folk Alliance International conference in KC.