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Kansas City Streetcar’s Holiday Jam isn’t just a musical surprise — it’s an annual agent of joy

Rocking the streetcar, musician Trey Debose, plays saxophone on a rainy Saturday afternoon,  part of the Kansas City Streetcar Holiday Jam bringing tunes to riders between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Trey Debose played saxophone on the Streetcar on a rainy Saturday afternoon. His performance was part of the Kansas City Streetcar Holiday Jam, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Since 2017, the Kansas City Streetcar Holiday Jam brings live music and local musicians to crowds of tourists and shoppers traveling between Union Station and River Market.

As Streetcar 801 pulled out of Union Station this month, wrapped like a giant, mobile Christmas present, Trey Debose stepped up to the microphone.

“Welcome to Kansas City’s Holiday Streetcar Jam, y’all,” he said, over the din of streetcar announcements and passengers shuffling on and off. “Just sit back, relax and enjoy yourselves!”

Since 2017, musicians have performed on the Streetcar between about Thanksgiving and Christmas — with a two-year break during the pandemic. 2023 performances wrapped up this week.

“I know the holidays can be very stressful, but we try and bring a little bit of levity to it, and joy,” said Streetcar Authority Communications Director Donna Mandelbaum. She said the shows often amount to an unexpected treat for holiday shoppers.

“The vibe on the Streetcar, especially on Saturdays, is very high-energy; lots of families, lots of smiling faces,” she said. “Maybe they just came from Union Station, or they're going to Crown Center or City Market.”

“We have four streetcars that run every Saturday because we have a lot of crowds,” she said.

Fourteen different local performers played a set on the Streetcar this year, in styles from classical to jazz and pop. Videos of many of the performances are on the Streetcar's Instagram account.

Holiday tunes were encouraged, but not required.

Music teacher Trey Debose grew up in the Kansas City music scene, and has been a professional musician for 40 years. Debose said he learned to play harmonica from legendary jazz man L.C. “Speedy” Huggins.

“Kansas City is everything to me,” Debose said. “You can't just go to college to be a jazz musician. You can learn the instrument or notation or whatever but to be a musician you just have to be in the life, and I have Kansas City to thank for that true education.”

Though he's performed around the globe, this was Debose’s musical debut on the Kansas City Streetcar. He brought along one of his 7th grade students from St. Elizabeth Catholic School to play with him. Debose said getting that first paying gig is a milestone for a young musician.

"I've been a professional musician since I was 13, when I got my first paycheck for playing," he said.

Jazlin Bravo, 12, was on double bass and is also involved in the Youth Symphony of Kansas City and Harmony Project KC.

"At first I was kind of nervous, like, to see if I would actually be able to balance with my double bass," Bravo said. "After a while, I just kind of got used to it, so I was able to ... keep myself steady."

Singer and songwriter Broderick Jones performed some of his latest tracks to shoppers traveling between Union Station and River Market.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Singer and songwriter Broderick Jones performed some of his latest tracks to shoppers traveling between Union Station and River Market.

Onboard the streetcar, musicians play near the center of the car, and tote instruments and battery-powered amps with them.

“Never performed on a streetcar before,” said Broderick Jones, a singer and songwriter from Olathe, Kansas, who admitted to being just a little bit nervous.

To get a feel for the swing and sway of the out-and-back trip, Jones and his band took a ride the week before to check it out.

“It was moving and we were, like, almost stumbling everywhere,” Jones said. “I’m from the suburbs, so I don’t take many trains or streetcars, so it’s definitely going to be something. It’s going to be an experience for sure.”

With a few new songs to roll out in December, Jones brought along a camera crew for his performance.

“I’m just excited to get in front of some new ears and see if they like my music or not,” he said. “Hopefully they do.”

Musician Trey Debose, performs for passengers disembarking at River Market
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Music teacher Trey Debose performed for passengers disembarking at River Market.

Rithwick Chary was one of dozens of people packed in for a streetcar ride.

"I just thought it was a surprise for everyone kind of coming on, right?” Chary said. “They're kind of walking on, just expecting to go to their next destination, and then they're treated by live music, right? And live music is something that brings a lot of people together."

That's what it’s all about for performer Trey Debose.

“People didn't even know they were going to get on a streetcar and see a live performance — and when they got on, they stayed,” Debose said with a laugh. “Some people went past their stops; 'This is fun, we'll walk back,' you know?”

“Music has that power to change people's lives like that, instantly, because it truly is a gift,” he said. “For me to sit at home and play and sing, but not give it to people — what a waste! So, until I die, I’m giving it away. I’m going to play it and play it and play it.”

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