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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Listen to our favorite Kansas City bands from NPR's Tiny Desk Contest

Friendly Thieves, an alternative funk rock group based in Kansas City, plays Boulevardia on June 16, 2023.
Friendly Thieves
Friendly Thieves, an alternative funk rock group based in Kansas City, plays Boulevardia on June 16, 2023.

Kansas City is full of artistic talent and big dreamers. Here are some of our favorite local bands who entered the 2023 NPR Tiny Desk Contest.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest is a yearly tradition for music lovers. The contest brings thousands of entries each year to the ears of NPR’s judges and, although only one act will win, the rest of us get to enjoy a musical feast of songs submitted from across the country.

The contest welcomes original songs from unsigned artists who, of course, must feature a desk somewhere in their video. The winner of the contest gets to perform at NPR’s headquarters behind the O.G. Tiny Desk, and tour the country with NPR Music.

NPR recently announced the winner of the 2023 Tiny Desk Contest — a band called Little Moon from Springville, Utah, who submitted a song called “Wonder Eye.” Listen to their winning entry here.

Kansas City is full of artistic talent and big dreamers, so we would be remiss not to show off some of our favorite local bands who entered the contest.

Here are some of the best Kansas City bands from the Tiny Desk Contest. Keep an eye out for them around town — they could be next year’s big winner!

Pinky and Clementine

Within just a few seconds of the song “At Least It’s Mine,” your eyes might get a little misty. Pinky and Clementine isn’t technically even two members: Overland Park resident Sandra Bayona is Pinky, and her guitar is called Clementine. They more than get the job done together.

Bayona’s voice is strong and soulful, and she strums confidently over lyrics about choosing to love yourself and your artistry, instead of a toxic relationship. The song is a declaration of confidence and maturity — wise beyond her years.

“You say that sounds like a lonely life,” she croons, "but at least it’s mine.”

Catch Pinky and Clementine live on Twitch, and purchase Bayona’s music on Bandcamp.

Friendly Thieves

It’s obvious from the song “The Wolf and the Lamb” that the band Friendly Thieves has oodles of charisma, and not just because of the members’ matching pigtails. The self-identified alternative funk rock group, which formed last year and played its debut show in July 2022, delivers on all fronts of their description.

Frontperson Sam Wells’ voice is intoxicating, perfectly set against gnarly bass and grimy saxophone. When the song builds towards its finale, every instrument’s sound fits together like a well-oiled machine, and it sounds sick.

Friendly Thieves just performed at Kansas City’s Manor Fest, and you can catch them next at Boulevardia on June 16. Find out more on their Instagram.

The Canterberries

Small Steps” by The Canterberries describes the mental struggle against a racing mind and too many things on the to-do list. According to their Instagram, singers Abby Parra, Emma Vogt, and Hannah Dahlor are just “3 pals singing in our living room.” Together they create a choral effect, like competing voices in your head teaming up to encourage you to have a little grace with yourself.

“They say the goal is the journey, why not give it a try?” Vogt sings with a smile, and a little twang in her voice.

The Canterberries just rocked Lemonade Park, but they’ll be at Mike Kelly’s Westsider and the illustrious Overland Park Farmers Market this summer. Check here for details!


Jass Couch was one of our favorite Tiny Desk entries last year, and the Kansas City-born R&B artist wants to take you to higher ground. Her submission video, shot in a church with golden light streaming through the windows, radiates warmth even before Couch picks up the mic. When she does, things get even sweeter.

Not only does Couch have a gorgeous singing voice, she can also rap and play the flute. Couch is accompanied by local hip-hop/R&B artist Slikc on drums, and pianist and sound designer Clarence Copridge on keys.

Her performance feels reverent and loving, and her stage presence makes it feel like she’s singing to you and only you.

Jass' performances are a hot commodity in multiple states! If you're in Chicago for the Pride Parade, she’ll be performing with Sofar Sounds, and watch her Instagram for gig announcements through the summer. Listen to Jass talk about her music on KCUR’s Up To Date as part of our KC Soundcheck series.

Konrad Hell & The Highwater

On “Tied Down,” Kansas City band Konrad Hell & The Highwater is in pursuit of 2000s indie coolness. The song is smooth, chic, sexy, rocky, electronic and reminiscent of NYC band The Strokes. The song transports you to a glitzy lounge, where the twinkling lights of a disco ball pour over your face.

Despite being dressed in suits with a full band setup and mood lighting to boot, the relaxed nature of Konrad Hell & The Highwater makes it seem like this is just an average night for the group, and they’ll keep jamming long after the camera turns off.

Keep up with the band on their Instagram and Bandcamp.

Various Blonde

Queen of Hearts” by Various Blonde could easily soundtrack a rom-com movie trailer. The track is a funky pop jam, outfitted with sweet guitar rhythms and frontman Joshua Allen’s soft voice.

“I got a taste of you, then I drank a case of you, but couldn’t keep my pace with you,” Allen sings about a whirlwind romance.

The band creates such a summery vibe that it could entice you to skip the rest of the work day and hit a park with friends. Throw this song on and hit the door, preferably with a lemonade and shades in-hand.

Various Blonde, who’ve played together since 2009, often perform around the Midwest. They announce tour dates on their website here.

As KCUR’s social media and newsletter producer, I deliver the important stories of the day to audiences in the most concise, engaging and accessible ways. By amplifying KCUR’s reporting across digital platforms, whether through the Early Bird or Instagram, I make sure our communities stay informed and connected to Kansas City. Follow my Twitter @h_rrisor reach me at allison.harris@kcur.org.
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