10 Kansas City concerts you really must see this May
Planted between spring's biggest temperature swings and the summer sauna, May marks the beginning of Kansas City's outdoor concert season. To help prune the abundance of options, KCUR has pinpointed the most promising acts in May 2023.
Outdoor concert season has arrived, and half the concerts featured in this month’s recommendations happen under the stars. The mix of established legends and aspiring young talent reflects the auspicious variety of sounds gracing stages every night in the Kansas City area.
Al fresco selections include an appearance by the Methuselah of country music in Bonner Springs, an innovative Texas DJ in the Stockyards District and an outlandish bassist leading an all-star band in the Crossroads District.
Perhaps most propitious, one of the oddest couples in popular music returns to Kansas City’s most venerable theater.
Here’s hoping the weather cooperates.
Our indoor concert recommendations include concerts by a legendary master of pop and R&B, a trendy indie-rock band, and one of the world’s most renowned classical pianists who just happens to be based in nearby Parkville, Missouri.
Janet Jackson: May 2
- When: 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2
- Where: T-Mobile Center, 1407 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri 64106
- Tickets: Starting at $39.95 in advance
When “Rhythm Nation” was released in 1989, the Janet Jackson hit seemed like just another jubilant dance track. With its call to “join voices in protest to social injustice,” the song now resonates like a prophetic social manifesto.
“Rhythm Nation” was also a prescient forecast of the forthcoming domination of beat-oriented music. Most of Jackson’s catalog has aged just as well.
Perfect pop songs like “Escapade” and “When I Think of You” have lost none of their fizziness. “Nasty” and “Miss You Much,” club bangers from the 1980s, are as funky as ever. The rapper Ludacris is the opening act on the Together Again tour.
Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: May 5
- When: 8 p.m. on Friday, May 5
- Where: Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64132
- Tickets: Starting at $35 in advance
Opposites attract. Alison Krauss rose to fame as a sublime bluegrass fiddler with a voice like a gentle whisper. Robert Plant was the most renowned shrieker in the history of hard rock as the front man of Led Zeppelin.
The unlikely duo make beautiful music together, finding common ground in a gothic form of roots-rock on the 2007 album “Raising Sand” and the 2021 release “Raise the Roof.”
The pair’s last appearance at Starlight Theatre, in 2008, was extraordinarily memorable. JD McPherson opens the show for the odd couple.
Vanessa Thomas: May 5
- When: 7:35 p.m. on Friday, May 5
- Where: Lied Center of Kansas, 1600 Stewart Drive, Lawrence, Kansas 66045
- Tickets: $25 in advance
Vanessa Thomas refutes the nostalgic notion that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. The vocalist based in Lawrence, Kansas, dusts off the exuberant sound of the swing era.
Doc Severinsen, the venerable bandleader of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” raves about Thomas in the liner notes to her new album, “Life Is Like a Song.”
Backed by a jazz band consisting of Kansas City ringers, Thomas will interpret time-tested standards like “Cheek to Cheek” and “Summertime” at the Lied Center.
Behzod Abduraimov: May 11
- When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 11
- Where: Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Missouri 64105
- Tickets: Starting at $20 in advance
Parkville, Missouri, is an unlikely hotspot for chamber music. Yet the charming Kansas City suburb is known throughout the world of classical music as the home of Behzod Abduraimov.
A graduate of Park University’s International Center for Music, the profoundly sensitive pianist now serves as the institution’s artist-in-residence.
In addition to renditions of compositions by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokokiev, his recital at the Folly Theater will include an interpretation of “The Walls of Ancient Bukhara” by Dilorom Saidaminova, a composer from Abduraimov’s native Uzbekistan.
El Dusty: May 12
- When: 6 p.m. on Friday, May 12
- Where: Lemonade Park, 1628 Wyoming St., Kansas City, Missouri 64102
- Tickets: $19.83 in advance
El Dusty is a DJ with a difference. Rather than relying on club hits or electronic dance music, the man born Horacio Oliveira has developed a singular sound.
Blending music from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Corpus Christi, Texas, native fuses cumbias and Norteño music with hip-hop and pop.
El Dusty’s appearance is among the first in a new season of concerts at Lemonade Park, an outdoor stage situated on a flatbed truck on a picturesque block of the West Bottoms.
Wednesday: May 17
- When: 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17
- Where: recordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri 64108
- Tickets: $15 in advance
Catching an impossibly stylish band in a small venue is one of the most gratifying experiences in popular music. Wednesday just might be the trendiest band of the moment.
The North Carolina group’s blend of cathartic noise and rootsy twang is captured on “Rat Saw God.” The new album has been hailed by critics and fans as a potential album of the year.
People squeezed into recordBar on — yes — a Wednesday night will be the envy of indie-rock fans around the world. Los Angeles’ Cryogeyser and the Kansas band Flooding open the show.
Manor Fest: May 19-20 and May 25-28
- When and where: Six venues in Lawrence on May 19 and May 20. Eleven venues in Kansas City from May 25 to May 28
- Tickets: Multi-night pass packages start at $30. Door charges for individual shows vary.
Homegrown events like Manor Fest are ideal opportunities to catch up with under-the-radar acts in regional music scenes. Dozens of predominantly rock and hip-hop acts will vie for attention at showcases organized by Manor Records.
The set times at 17 venues are staggered, making it possible for ambitious music-lovers to catch every set by more than 50 participating acts.
Paris Williams, an area rapper with a smooth flow, enjoys top billing at the festival. Flooding, an up-and-coming rock band that toured the East Coast in April, and the garage-rock masters The Creepy Jingles are among the other notable participants.
Willie Nelson: May 20
- When: 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 20
- Where: Azura Amphitheater, 633 N. 130th St., Bonner Springs, Kansas 66012
- Tickets: Starting at $34.50 in advance
The ongoing vitality of Willie Nelson defies the natural order of things. The country legend will be 90 years old when he entertains dumbfounded admirers in Bonner Springs.
Not only does Nelson continue to issue new music at a pace that shames many musicians a third his age, his artistry is still potent. A new album interpreting the songs of Harlan Howard shows him in fine form.
Even so, don’t take Nelson’s longevity for granted. Who knows how many more chances fans will have to sing along to “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again”? Gary Allan, Tracy Lawrence and Payton Smith will open for the icon.
KC Folk Fest: May 20
- When: noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 20
- Where: Washington Square Park, 100 E. Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64108
- Tickets: Free
The 2023 edition of KC Folk Fest casts a wide net. Krystle Warren, the Kansas City-raised and Paris-based singer-songwriter, tops a remarkably eclectic bill.
Warren’s homecomings are always momentous occasions. Joined by the accomplished bassist Solomon Dorsey, another Kansas City export, Warren will apply her lustrous voice to a remarkable repertoire of artful songs.
Poetry recitations will balance performances of old-timey folk, jazz fusion and blues-rock. Festival organizers encourage attendees to bring reusable water bottles, blankets and lawn chairs.
Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade: May 26
- When: 7 p.m. on Friday, May 26
- Where: Grinders KC, 417 E. 18th St., Kansas City, Missouri 64108
- Tickets: Starting at $45 in advance
An appropriately freaky band is featured in the first concert of 2023 at Grinder’s, the offbeat amphitheater in the Crossroads District. Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade has reconvened following a 20-year hiatus.
Claypool, the bassist best known as the primary creative force behind the funk-rock institution Primus, will be joined by an all-star band that includes guitarist Sean Lennon and the Kansas City percussionist Mike Dillon.
In addition to performing musically and thematically transgressive Flying Frog songs like “Whamola,” the collective will interpret Pink Floyd’s caustic 1977 album, “Animals.”