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In This Kansas City Park, A Community Gathers For Friday-Night Music On 'The Biggest Front Porch'

Julie Denesha
As the sun goes down David Joslyn dances to Ozark tunes performed by the Short Round Stringband at the Colonnade in Kessler Park.

People who live around Kessler Park, just a few blocks from the Kansas City Museum in the Historic Northeast neighborhood, say it's the city's biggest front porch for listening to music in Kansas City.“We have a lovely view of this day after day," said David Joslyn, who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife Elaine for more than 30 years. "The beautiful Concourse, the Esplanade, the wonderful playground and the fountain. We’re very blessed.”

From their third-floor apartment nearby, the Joslyns can see the ornate Colonnade, built in 1908 in the Beaux-Arts architectural style.  It's been the backdrop for free SummerDusk concerts every third Friday from May to September, organized by Northeast Arts KC, since 1997.

People gather here on the grass with snacks and bottles of wine to listen to music and hang out with friends. For Joslyn, the night was the perfect way to experience this neighborhood in the summer.

"The grass under your feet," he said. "The sounds of folks visiting around you. The music the breeze, the trees. So it's just a nice, sensual experience altogether."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Fiddle player Betse Ellis plays 'Get Up John' with members of the Short Round Stringband.

In July, the entertainers were especially well-suited for the setting. The Short Round Stringband specializes in old-time, country and Ozark tunes.

“This kind of music that we play, it continues to live because of people playing it in the yard on a farm, by a lake, by a river," said fiddle player Ellis. "And here we are. The natural setting around us is just perfect.”

Gathering in spaces like this is an American musical tradition that stretches back to before the Civil War, added banjo and guitar player Clarke Wyatt. He likes to explore the songs that were popular before radio, when old-time music was the entertainment in rural America. 

"It’s music that you do to pass the time," Wyatt said. "It’s music that you do when you and your neighbors get together and you want to dance and blow off steam. At its heart, it’s music that you share with the people you love.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
With the cool breeze coming up from the Missouri River, the performance space in Kessler Park is pleasant, even on the warmest evenings.


Ellis and Wyatt have performed together for several years as the folk-music duo Betse and Clarke. More recently, they’ve added players from Kansas City, St. Louis and Lawrence. The Short Round Stringband's new record, "Ain’t No Part of Nothin,’" was released last month.

Kelly Wells, who plays guitar and mandolin, said performing beneath the trees at the Colonnade made them feel right at home.

“This is a beautiful venue and quite inspirational, I would say," Wells said. "You have wildlife and trees and other things that add to the music as we perform.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Kelly Wells, from St. Louis, plays guitar and mandolin. She says performing beneath the trees at the Colonnade made the musicians feel right at home.

Sitting in the front row was Christine Germann, who said she and her husband were "Betse and Clarke groupies.”

It had been awhile since they’d visited the Historic Northeast.

"It’s beautiful," Germann said. "Haven't been in years so it's nice coming back."

Fast Johnny Ricker headlines the next SummerDusk Concert, 7-9 p.m., August 16 at The Colonnade in Kessler Park, 3000 St. John Ave., Kansas City, Missouri 64123.

The Short Round Stringband performs during Rural Grit Happy Hour, which starts at 6:30 p.m. on August 12 at The Brick, 1727 McGee St, Kansas City, Missouri 64108.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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