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.