WATCH: 4 Porch And Patio Songs From Musicians Around The Kansas City Metro
With music venues shut down, some Kansas City musicians have been playing impromptu concerts for their neighbors.
Beau Bledsoe and his ten-year-old son Aidan have been sheltering at home for the past few weeks. In between online school lessons, Aidan has been learning old country songs from his dad. In fact, they've been working on a new musical act. With Beau on guitar and Aidan playing acoustic bass, they perform for friends and neighbors.
“We live in the Historic Northeast on a very tranquil block, next to Cliff Drive, next to a whole bunch of other kids of many different ages," says Beau. "They can’t play together now which is kind of sad, but they usually do.”
Most audiences know Beau through musical collaborations that span jazz, classical and folkloric. But he also performs with the Country and Western act Slim Hanson and the Poor Choices.
Aidan has been out of school for the past month. What he misses most is hanging out with his friends. He's able to keep up with them by phone, but staying home all the time has been hard.
“It’s just been really gloomy around here ever since COVID-19 started.”
But learning new songs with his dad makes the long days pass more quickly.
Beau grew up in listening to music with his grandmother in Little Rock, Arkansas. She enjoyed music from the 1950s, artists such as Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Senior and Jimmy Driftwood. Now he's passing these songs to his children.
"I sing those songs to them every night before they go to bed. It’s become kind of a tradition," says Beau. "They learn them eventually and hopefully they’ll pass them on to their kids some day. So that’s kind of how it works.”
Despite the stress of having to put his work on hold, Beau says he's been grateful to spend time with Aidan and daughter Maya, who just turned six.
“It’s been a real gift, says Beau. "All the things that Americans complain about not having time to do. We’re just all of a sudden gifted with this extraordinary length of time to really concentrate on each other."
Growing up in the South, Beau had a lot of time to play music with his family at home, a tradition he continues with Aidan and Maya.
"In my house I want it to be normal," Beau says. "His little sister is learning to sing and is learning to play so I guess it’s mandatory.”
Performing these small concerts has given Beau and Aidan a reason to practice.
“It is actually kind of fun to play with adults, people out of my league," says Aidan. "It makes me feel appreciated and like I fit in.”
Trevor Turla and Mikala Petillo in Troostwood
The lockdown has reduced their musical world to the second floor apartment they share. But it's also meant that they've had a chance to spend more time working on new songs for their duo Miki P and Trevor Turla.
"When we’re doing our individual gigs, it’s only every once in a while that we’ve kind of synced up," says Turla. "It’s really kind of blossomed more since the quarantine."
One recent Saturday they decided to play from their balcony and let the sounds drift into the neighborhood below. It's a new song they've been working on, so Petillo grabbed her guitar and Turla pulled out his trombone.
Petillo says their musical combination can seem a little unusual.
"It’s odd because I play guitar and he plays trombone and both of those instruments are at the forefront," says Petillo. "We each compose our own songs and and lyrics and then we bring it together."
Turla says their original music has a New Orleans vibe.
Being confined at home, he says, has forced him to write more.
"I’ve locked myself in this little office and just started going and going," he says. "I'm trying to get as creative as possible."
Both musicians have been active online performing concerts. Petillo says it's opened up new revenue streams for her. She even set up a Patreon account so fans can subscribe to her work.
"I am definitely more equipped to work from my home than I was before this," says Petillo.
Skeet Hanks in Brookside
Skeet Hanks has been playing on his front porch since moving to Kansas City four years ago. The longtime musician, originally from New Orleans, spent many years touring with the band Beatin Path.
"We had a few records out and we traveled around," Hanks says. "We were doing fine and then Hurricane Katrina hit so we all moved to Nashville, you know, because you couldn’t make music in New Orleans."
Hanks met his wife in Nashville, and it wasn't long before he hit the road again — this time to Kansas City.
"My wife, well, she’s from Lincoln, Nebraska but she’s built most of her life here in Kansas City," says Hanks. "So she got a gig up here and I could work anywhere so I was like let’s do this."
They live in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks away from The John Wornall House Museum.
"Everybody’s friends and everybody knows each other, so a really nice atmosphere and polite. Kansas City is very polite."
During the day Hanks works for an advertising agency. At night he heads out to make music, often with The David George Band. With everything is on hiatus now, the porch is now his stage.
"I wouldn’t necessarily call it a concert," says Hanks with a grin. "I get on the porch and I play. Some neighbors come out and sit on their porches and do their thing while I’m playing and they seem to like it."
On normal weekdays most of his neighbors are away at work, but now that more people are working from home, he's been receiving request for songs — by text.
But Hanks says this has been a hard month for musicians.
"They’re being inventive and figuring out ways to perform online," he says, "but it's a struggle."
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was difficult, Hanks says, but the current crisis is not limited to a small geographic area. It's affecting the entire country.
"It's a struggle and I feel for all of us right now," says Hanks. "I would say that’s the one saving grace is that we’re all together right now in this."
Jill Westra and Kelly Dougherty in Westwood
Jill Westra and Kelly Dougherty are neighbors who live on the same block in Westwood, Kansas. In their free time, they perform together as the duo Distant Cousins.
“When I first moved to Kansas City four years ago, I moved into the house next door to Kelly and we literally met over the back fence,” Westra remembers.
The two became fast friends and quickly discovered that they have a lot in common. They wear the same sized shoe. Westra went to school in Wyoming. Dougherty is originally from Wyoming. They share a love music. And by a strange coincidence they are also related, although distantly.
“One of the first things Kelly told me was that she used to be a musician but that she had sworn off making music and was never going to sing again,” says Westra.
Westra is an environmental scientist by day, but she performs in town with her band Jill Westra & Them KC Boys. It took some convincing, but Westra persuaded Dougherty to join her at a few open mic nights and soon they were playing around town.
Dougherty also has a day job working with musicians for Folk Alliance International, where she's the conference and project manager.
"I love music and I love the community," Dougherty says. "I’ve worked for some fantastic places, but when I got the opportunity to join Folk Alliance that was my dream job and it still is."
Once it was announced that the Folk Alliance conference scheduled for February 2021 would be canceled, Dougherty says their team leapt into action to provide resources for musicians, such as links to emergency funding and webinars on how to livestream performances.
“Everybody keeps saying this is the new norm,” Dougherty says. “This is not the new norm. Not the new norm for anybody. We’re in purgatory right now. That’s what I tell people. I see this as an opportunity to make something new and better and to build a better world.”