Hello, Goodbye

There is a moment between the peaks of seasons that brings all manner of people out of the woodwork-a moment praised by poets, held sacred by artists, and set to melody by musicians. Living in a town like Lawrence, there's no mistaking exactly when this point in time occurs. Bars are full but never uncomfortably crowded, students have found an effortless routine to their studies, and on any given night in town you can enjoy a host of abundant, budding talent.

And so it was that this October afforded me the opportunity to commit to writing what I know, and the things that I wish to better understand, about the local music scene.

A few years ago, I rather sheepishly accepted the task of taking over "Plow the Fields," the local music radio program on KJHK. For sixteen years that special program had been giving the gift of exposure to unassuming local musicians and eager bands hoping to achieve something more meaningful than the applause of five people at the local coffee shop. I knew a few guys with guitars (and really, who doesn't?), and my childhood growing up listening to KJHK provided me a decent amount of local know-how and know-who, but I was concerned about my ability to seek out the scene and present it in an informed and unbiased sort of way.

Needless to say, my education was quick and painless, and I have appreciated every local band that has romanced my aural palette and convinced me of the prowess of Lawrence's local talent pool.

This week I said goodbye to one of these Lawrence originals-Ad Astra Per Aspera. I remember the first time I saw them perform with Fourth of July at the end of December, 2005 (and this so obviously points out how much of a latecomer I was to their fanbase). It was hard not to be nearly overwhelmed by the wall of sound they produced, but what I recall most was how well that sound translated into a palatable energy.

A few months later, in March 2006, Ad Astra was abruptly cut from the bill of the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah show at the Bottleneck. There was a fair amount of buzz when this happened; it would be unfair to say the support was surprising but it was certainly satisfying. Lawrence rallied behind one of their most well-loved offspring, and Ad Astra returned the favor in August by appearing at the Bleeding Kansas Music Festival in Burcham Park.

I had the pleasure of managing the local stage at the festival, and am proud to say that the stage-featuring local greats such as Kelpie, Ghosty, The Appleseed Cast, and many others alongside Ad Astra-was at full capacity the entire day. It was a day of true testament to just how strongly this town supports its culture, especially its music.

A month later Ad Astra released "Catapult Calypso," and featured an alternate version of "Post-Scarcity Sing-A-Long" on the Farm Fresh Sounds local music compilation produced by KJHK. At the end of 2006, I watched them host a benefit for Kirk Rundstrom when he was 6-months in to his battle with cancer, and was there when they opened for the Thermals in 2007.

I prepared for the end of Ad Astra in a sort of lamentful way, owing a great deal of my success as a local music aficionado to my recognition and love of all they had done for the scene over the past several years.

Instead what I witnessed was an outpouring of support and celebration for Kurt and Julie as they prepared to head East to New York, and for the entire Ad Astra Per Aspera family. A certain understanding formed that they would take with them the uniqueness of Lawrence community that connected us that night and continues to bridge the experiences of show audiences, bar-goers and local performers alike. By the end of the evening it was apparent that it was not the end of Ad Astra, but a sort of "passing of the torch" to others who now must assume a more prominent role as town standard.

Who all will come to fill that void remains to be seen, but regardless a large group of town faithfuls are ready to support them.


OtherJoel 13 years, 7 months ago

Great topic, albeit a sad one.If Ad Astra isn't/wasn't my favorite local act, they are definitely up there, and I am sad to see them end (at least in the current incarnation), especially since they kept raising the bar until the end -- the last 7" was brilliant. I regret not making that show, and while Kurt and Julie added so much to their sound, I do hope the remaining three continue playing together. A remember when I was getting ready to move to the area from DC in 2004, and feeling a bit of scene snobbery with respect to coming here. I tracked down some mp3s of theirs, "I Am the Palm Tree" among them, and my concerns were put to rest. Since then, of course, I learned there are many great artists in the area, but Ad Astra was the gateway.

that_will_do_pig 13 years, 7 months ago

Thanks, Joel. It was definitely a little sad to write this one... I do know that there's a good chance that wasn't the LAST time we'll ever hear from Ad Astra as a whole. Kurt said they would be back fairly often, and maybe some time away will pull a little on their heartstrings and we'll see a reunion show in the future. "I Am the Palm Tree" is a great track, perfect for gateway-ism. I think the best thing about Ad Astra, though, is that they can still be a "gateway band" for newcomers to Lawrence--they surely influenced enough local musicians for this to be true for awhile yet.

frankt 13 years, 7 months ago

That's a really nice blog. I hope you write more.

ailecia 13 years, 7 months ago

I enjoyed reading your blog! It sent me a bit down Memory Lane (oops, an unexpected pun!) too... I moved to Lawrence in the summer of 1999 and in my first month in town I met the punk kids living down at the Pirate House. This is when I first became friends with Kurt and Mike and later Julie and Brooke. Seeing them create a band with Scotty was one of the coolest things I've experienced. They practiced for a year before playing that first show: a show they set-up in a their friends' basement, so they could be surrounded with support: they played those first 4 or 5 songs to friends (all invited with cute "come meet our baby band" stork invitations) in a basement more noted for having hosted Bratmobile, Gravy Train and Against Me! shows. Having seen Mike and Kurt play in fun punk bands, I must admit I was absolutely blown away with what they had been working on and I soon become one of their biggest fans!I can't even count the number of Ad Astra shows I've seen and photographed! And each has been wonderful... the show before last at the Granada was the most perfect show because it gave Ad Astra an opportunity to headline one of our largest local venues and play alongside so many other amazing local bands (Hairy Belafonte [whom Brooke and Mike still play with, so Ad Astra fans who like the fun dancey punk rock can enjoy these tunes while Kurt and Julie are away], Coat Party, Boo and Boo Too, and The Fourth of July). That show totally blew me away, and not just because of Ad Astra's performance, which btw, was absolutely fucking stellar, but because of the whole environment--all the bands--all the fans. Lawrence fucking Kanasas is the shit. We have such an amazing local music scene and this show proved that we can have an all local show that brings everyone out to have fun.It is so important that we support our local music scene. It's one of the things that brought me to Lawrence (can you believe my final choice for grad schools came down to me choosing the town with the best music scene? true story). And it's one of the things that will keep Lawrence from becoming a homogenous piece of crap like my hometown, Auburn AL, which supported an amazing alternative, ska, punk, death metal scene in the early 1990s, but a scene that got crushed by the local police who shut down house shows, the local bar owners who refused to support any muscians playing in genres outside of the mainstream and the developers who plowed over our show houses to build multi-million dollar condo developments for weekend football fans. Imagine if the Oread was plowed over to make room for game-day condos... this is what has become of my hometown, hopefully this will never happen to Lawrence, the town I now call home.

that_will_do_pig 13 years, 7 months ago

That was a wonderful addition to this piece, ailecia. Thanks so much for sharing! As someone who grew up here in Lawrence I love hearing the reasons people have for coming to town. It's great to hear that the good word of Lawrence musicianship is out there, and playing a roll in drawing in supportive residents and audiences. Keep your eyes out.. there's more writing about other great local bands, musicians and venues coming to this blog.

OtherJoel 13 years, 7 months ago

Ditto. Jenny, you've clearly established your awesomeness by starting this blog with an Ad Astra post. The OJ gives his blessings. Keep 'em coming.

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