Interview: Joe Heyen and Anthony Ladesich

Filmmakers screen documentary about K.C.’s Cowtown Ballroom

Check out the whole story on Saturday's Lawrence Arts Center screening at

No two ways about it, the documentary "Cowtown Ballroom...Sweet Jesus!" belongs to Joe Heyen and Anthony Ladesich, with Heyen directing and producing and Ladesich writing, producing, editing and serving as the director of photography. They brought their film, which documents the venerable Kansas City, Mo. concert hall during its heyday, to the Lawrence Arts Center as part of a benefit for KAWR community radio. The duo took a moment after the screening to talk about bringing their documentary to Lawrence, community radio and supporting the arts in Kansas.

Nick Nelson: You guys have screened this all across the country. Why Lawrence?

Joe Heyen: We’ve wanted to do a screening since we opened a little over two years ago in Kansas City. We played 16 weeks in four different theaters and I certainly wanted to do Lawrence all of that time. We just had trouble working out the details and finally the Lawrence Arts Center was nice enough and KAWR, the new community radio station, which is coming to Lawrence, was nice enough to sponsor it and so this is where we are.

NN: What is it about the Lawrence arts scene that drew you guys?

Anthony Ladesich: Lawrence is a natural audience for Cowtown just by the shear nature of the fact that it’s kind of a story based in the early '70s right at the tail end of the hippy movement. I think it was about progressive thinkers at that time and Lawrence seems to be a fairly progressive town.”

JH: There are so many good filmmakers here in Lawrence. I wanted to give them an opportunity to see it. So many good films are coming out of Lawrence right now. We try to share all the time and not be proprietary in what we’re doing.

NN: Which artists did you interview that you were especially excited about?

AL: B.B. King was huge. I think that was probably the biggest interview that we got. He’s a god. Whether you like blues or not, B.B. King is, you know, B.B. King. That was kind of a mindblower to be in the same room with him. And he was the sweetest, nicest guy. He was much, much more gracious and kind and generous with his time than a lot of people we interviewed that were far less important.

JH: Steve Miller was cool. He wrote a very nice letter after he saw the movie saying how much he liked it. Roger Earl of Foghat. They got us a room in their hotel so we could set up an interview. When it finished, Tony and I were like little kids. We were jumping up and down on the beds, you know? But they’re not out beds, so...

AL: It was a great interview.

JH: “Roger Earl flew in on his own nickel with his wife to come to our cast and crew screening, which was a considerable honor.

AL: I love the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I’m a musician as well and a songwriter. When I first developed a taste for rootsy, rural kind of music, "Will the circle be unbroken" was a really big deal to me. I don’t necessarily love all of their material, but that particular record was a huge deal to me because it was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Merl Travis and Doc Watson and Mother Maybelle Carter and all these iconic people on it. So to be in the same room with those guys was really cool. They were very sweet guys.

NN: How about a little bit about the radio station, KAWR?

JH: We’re both big music people and arts people. We were just talking that we have not done any commercial radio at all. We did 11 shows on KKFI. We did three on KCUR, three on (KTBG) The Bridge; Tony came over and did KANU. We’ve done so much community, public radio.

AL: I think it really goes to the spirit of the movie, which is Cowtown was definitely a community rallying point and radio was a big deal to get people through the door at Cowtown. As much as we can support local radio, community radio, anything that’s subversive in any way or in the cracks and left of center — that’s kind of what we do.

NN: Any other places that you’ve shown the movie that were especially cool?

JH: We were opening night at the Austin Film Festival. That was one of our highlights.

AL: Austin was great. And then we went to Sante Fe and Temecula, California; Hot Springs.

JH: I did two shows with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in Springfield last year. That was pretty cool. We did one in Kansas City too.

NN: So why should people see “Cowtown”?

Anthony: It’s entertaining as hell. It’s a fun movie. If you like sex, drugs and Rock ‘n' Roll, you’ll love Cowtown Ballroom.

JH: Couldn’t have said it better.

NN: Anything else you guys would like to add?

JH: Just support the arts in Kansas. There is a battle going on right now both in Missouri and Kansas. And I’d like to congratulate the filmmakers from Lawrence. I saw Earthwork a couple weeks ago. There’s some great stuff coming out of Lawrence. I’m really pleased and proud of this community.


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