This article is from the January 2013 issue of KC Stage
Eleven years ago, Frank Hicks and some buddies were kickin' it back at the chopper shop, sippin' on a few cold ones on a Saturday afternoon and listening to the tunes of some friends that happened to have a band. What an inauspicious start to what has now become an award winning legacy to the local, regional, and national music scene here in Kansas City.
"This was never supposed to be an extension of the Grand Emporium scene," said Hicks. "All I wanted to do was provide a place down at the motorcycle shop for my friends to gather between 12 and 6 on Saturdays to have a few beers and listen to some friends playing music." Nevertheless, the concept kind of grew, and how!
Free beer gets kind of expensive, so Frank decided to check into a liquor license. Qualms about it being a "biker bar" were squelched early on from the stellar reputation of the people that hung out and a shared love of motorcycles. No one percenters here, and soon just being open on Saturdays expanded and more local bands were getting paying gigs and bigger audiences, and so Knuckleheads was born.
Comfort for the artist was first and foremost in Frank's mind as he was expanding and rearranging the place. If something needed to be built, he built it. There was no rhyme or reason, it just needed to be done, and it all centered around the music. This is a listening venue, much to the relief of the musician, and they are pleasantly surprised by some of the amenities available to a musician on the road. When you are on tour, who thinks about the dull everyday stuff you have to do such as, say, laundry? A lot of artists hit the road crammed into a van with instruments spending hour upon hour watching the white lines on the highway. You get to a gig, do a sound check, and you still have several hours to kill before you can take that stage. (I've been there and it is NOT fun!) So, Frank decided to build a laundry room and showers and such to help them out. When asked what would help musicians on the road, the feedback was overwhelming. Clean hotel rooms would be nice for once. A nice green room would be a change. A good solid stage, good sound, good house equipment, and at every turn, Frank built what was needed. What started out as the motorcycle showroom floor is now the main stage inside. There is a smaller more intimate room called the Retro Lounge that was built with a smaller stage and close seating. Now there is also a big outdoor stage when weather permits. When asked if he had ever had all three stages going at once, he said, "Well, once it happened."
No doubt that this is a listening room! There is a huge sign onstage during performances that ask the audience to turn off cell phones and take loud conversations elsewhere. What a great touch, in my opinion. Frank agrees when asked why go to hear music when all you do is talk over it anyway? No wonder this place is a favorite place for an on the road writer or band. The list of nationally known acts is endless, and the support of local music is impressive. All you have to do is look at the walls and all the pictures lining them as if the wallpaper were an 8 by 10 glossy quilt.
When asked about his musical upbringing, Frank admits he is not a musician, but he does know quality when he hears it. Being inundated with CD's on a daily basis, though, is not an easy thing to wade through when looking for new stuff. Frank is not adverse to suggestions; but again, he is also there to hear the show, so if you see him hanging around, it might be best to wait till after the show to say something. "Artists deserve respect," is a good motto to live by.
The genres of music cover the spectrum, so you may be pleasantly surprised at whom you might see coming up. Frank has also shown major support by hosting benefits for local musicians who need help with cancer treatment expenses to several not-for-profit organizations needing to host a benefit. Knuckleheads is located at 2715 Rochester in Kansas City, Mo. You can check out the website, Knuckleheadskc.com, for ticket prices, upcoming shows, and start times. Some of these shows are posted well in advance, and there is music just about every night of the week. You can also call them at (816) 483-6407.
Oh yeah ... that group of friends that started it all by just happen to having a band? They are now called Trampled Under Foot.
Next month, the music of KKFI – just in time for their 25th anniversary. You can reach Jeanne Jasperse via Facebook or on KKFI.org.