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Our favorite Kansas City bands from NPR's 2024 Tiny Desk Contest

Members of the band Kat King sit in a living room staring at the viewer.
Jorden Durkee
Kat King
Kat King, a five-piece indie-pop rock band, was one of the local groups that entered NPR's 2024 Tiny Desk Contest.

Kansas City is home to talented musicians of all ilk. Here are some of our favorite local bands who entered NPR's 2024 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.

‘Tis the season for NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest! The yearly endeavor welcomes submissions from thousands of musicians and bands from around the country.

Artists who are not yet signed to a record label get their chance to perform an original song — but they must include some kind of desk in their video. Every entry is reviewed by a panel of NPR and member station contributors, as well as professional musicians like Durand Bernarr, MUNA and Julien Baker.

Out of those great songs is chosen one winner, who gets to perform at the real Tiny Desk at NPR’s D.C. headquarters and go on a tour to 10 NPR member stations across the U.S.

Your 2024 champion? Sacramento artist The Philharmonik, a producer, singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist. You can hear his entry, a song called “What’s It All Mean?”, here.

But that’s not where the great music ends. A number of talented Kansas City artists submit to the contest each year, and KCUR pored over the submissions to find our favorites.

While these musicians may not have won NPR’s contest this year, supporting local artists is kind of Kansas City’s M.O. — and it’s definitely KCUR’s jam.

So check out these great local songs and remember their names for the next time you’re seeing live music, or you’re standing next to somebody at the grocery store who looks familiar.

Keelon Vann

25-year-old genre-hopper Keelon Vann taps iconic Kansas City bookstore Prospero’s to host his video. The stacks become the backdrop for Vann’s bluesy song “Slaves To The Money,” an indictment of the systems that hold back marginalized communities.

Backed up by Thomas Pribyl on drums and Tommy O’Halloran on bass, Vann’s voice soars, clear and high, over tight grooves. Even though Vann is fighting “the system,” it won’t get him down. “They better remember our names,” he croons, before jumping into an electrifying guitar solo.

Vann has been featured on Up To Date’s KC Soundcheck series. He’s also performed at a number of Kansas City venues recently, including at Grinder’s and The Ship, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Check out Vann’s Instagram for more details on his music and opportunities to see him live.

Kat King

Kat King, a five-piece indie-pop rock group, invites you into the comfort of their “Living Room.” The song is intimate and romantic, an ode to Midwest summers. King, the band’s frontwoman, is kissing goodbye to her old life of bar-smooches with strangers, in exchange for curling up with that one special person each night.

In addition to King on vocals and guitar, the group includes Kara LePage on keyboard and backing vocals, John McCain on bass, Derek Melies on backing guitar and vocals, and Daniel Cole on drums. Their arrangement is warm and comforting — like the feeling of a hug when you need it the most.

As a solo artist, Kat King has been making music since 2nd grade. But now the “Kat King” moniker refers to her whole band, which our friends at The Bridge call “one of Kansas City's most in-demand indie artists.” The group will head out on tour this summer, playing shows in St. Louis, Indianapolis and then back to home base Kansas City for multiple performances.

Keep up with them on Instagram and their website.

Carlton Rashad

Carlton Rashad has a bold, soulful voice that is sure to draw you in close. In his Tiny Desk submission, “Vibe,” Rashad describes catching eyes and sharing a smile with someone walking by. Instantly, he knows there’s a potential for a connection between the two of them.

He’s assisted here by vocalists LeShea Wright, Re DeVine and Ashley Brewer, as well as keyboardist Eric Rankin, drummer Jordan “JB” Bryant and bassist Brandon Butler. They create a jazzy, laid-back sound that lets Rashad’s tone and impressive vocal runs shine through.

“Vibe” romances the listener, leaving you blushing like, “Who, me?”

Carlton Rashad has been singing since childhood, the winner of a KC Gospel Alto competition at age 12, and competed in several singing competitions thereafter. He’s been tapped to perform the national anthem for Sporting KC, the Kansas City Current and the Royals.

From the looks of Rashad’s Instagram, he’s performing around Kansas City often, so stay updated with him there. His is a voice you’ll want to experience in-person.

Friendly Thieves

Our friends Friendly Thieves, who we featured in last year’s roundup, return to the Tiny Desk Contest with a spooky, mysterious jam. “You Better Run” can be described as both literally and figuratively haunting, punctuated by eerie guitar notes and saxophone riffs that sound straight out of a retro detective show.

You Better Run” is set off further by vocalist Sam Wells, who croons, screeches and growls over this funky jam. Ben Baker on saxophone, Sam Millard on bass, Jamae Breeze on guitar and Matt Chipman on drums round out the track, often playing in parallel to emphasize the urgency of the melody.

Friendly Thieves debuted in 2022 and have since established themselves as an in-demand live group. They released their first album, “Till Death,” in 2023.

The band continues their ascent to Kansas City super-stardom this summer, performing at Boulevardia (near the top of the billing, by the way) and Lemonade Park. Learn more here.

The Royal Chief

The Royal Chief’s name might sound familiar if you’ve been following KCUR’s Tiny Desk Contest coverage for a few years: NPR featured him in 2021 for a touching tribute to his deceased older brother. He’s left his mark on both his native KC and Atlanta, working there with G.O.O.D. Music artist Cyhi The Prynce.

Now he’s back with a triumphant new entry, “Feel Good,” supported by his backing band the CRWN JWLS.

“Feel Good” celebrates relaxing after working hard or getting yourself through a particularly tough patch in life. The Royal Chief raps and sings in equal confidence, delivering an affirmation to himself and gentle advice to “get lost in euphoria.” His backup singers bring power to the chorus — and if you look closely, you’ll notice Carlton Rashad, whose own Tiny Desk entry we featured above.

The Royal Chief just performed at On Wax: DJ Battle in KC’s Crossroads. Find out where he’s going to be next here.

The Swallowtails

With “I’m On Fire,” The Swallowtails — a duo of bassoonist/vocalist Rachel Lovelace and guitarist/vocalist Miki P — create something that sounds so much bigger than just two instruments.

The artists have been playing together since 2018. Here they expertly build off each other’s playing, and Miki P’s lead singing is clear and crisp.

The song earnestly captures the drive it takes to push through hard situations, finding that fire within yourself to get over the finish line. “I don’t wanna know all the answers, I just wanna feel OK,” they sing in a build-up to the chorus.

The Swallowtails released their EP “Lucky Penny” in February, and they’ve performed a slew of local gigs recently — including one with The Canterberries for KCUR’s Gen Listen Live + Local series, and at Manor Fest.

You can see where they’ll be this summer 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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