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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Folly Jazz News

As Winter Turns to Spring

As this past winter turned to spring, the fog of COVID-19 slowly began to lift from the Kansas City entertainment skyline. Venues that have been shuttered for more than a year are starting to promote their upcoming performance calendars. Artists who have been “on the bench” since March of last year are booking shows, pulling rehearsal together and regrouping with their fellow musicians, actors, and dancers. You can almost hear it, see it, feel it in the air – live entertainment is coming back!

Although it seems like it’s been forever since we’ve heard live music or enjoyed live theater, it was, after all, only a little more than a year on the sidelines. Just a blink of an eye in the span of a lifetime. A year from now (God willing!), the pandemic will be a footnote in history – that terrible year that fades further from memory with every new show, gig, or art exhibit.

The one true novelty of the next several months will be the intensity of our communal return to live performance. Crowds will be bigger, more excited and involved. Artists will be focused, prepared and perhaps just a bit anxious as they experience the rush of “Re-opening Day” – a twinge of stage fright and breathlessness they thought they outgrew years ago. There’ll be a uniquely intense flurry of grateful joy both onstage and in the audience, with cheers and applause to punctuate the moment. And then?

Then it’s back to normal. We buy tickets, mark calendars, book gigs, rehearse, prepare. We perpetuate those habits we share as patrons and purveyors of the arts. Because we identify with the arts community and have a personal place in it. And because no matter what happened last year, our love of operas and plays, paintings and ballets, jazz, and sculpture, endures and outlasts life’s downsides. We love it, live on it, and live for it.

Kansas City’s oldest performance venue is the Folly Theater. It sits on the corner of 12th Street and Central, where it has overseen the ebb and flow of downtown’s entertainment landscape for more than 120 years. When it originally opened as the Standard Theater in the fall of 1900, burlesque was all the rage and movies hadn’t come along yet. People flocked there for nightly offerings of music, dancing, comedy, and drama. It was turn-of-the-century television!

The theater was but one part of the vibrant 12th Street music, restaurant and club scene that stretched from Pennsylvania to Oak. The global Spanish Flu pandemic brought normal life to a standstill, decimating the entertainment corridor for nearly two years.

During World War I, the area played host to thousands of servicemen who hiked from Union Station to get a drink and see a show between trains to and from who knows where. In the 1920’s, it sprang back to life and roared until the 1930’s crushing depression once again disrupted the area. Then, in 1942 and throughout World War II, the soldiers trudged up Main Street again, to see and do it all in Kansas City.

Many years have passed, bringing change to 12th Street. The vast majority of its colorful buildings, bars and bandstands are long gone now. But many more venues have risen up to take their place – in Westport, the Crossroads, in NKC and out south. A fresh generation of actors, musicians, dancers, and artists have stepped into the spotlight to take their turn. And the faithful patrons who love and hunger for those beautiful creations just keep coming back.

As for 12th Street? Well, there sits the Folly Theater, redefined through the years as the home of burlesque, vaudeville, jazz, Americana, classical music, and modern dance. For the past year-and-a-half, she has been dark, except for the traditional “ghost light” that stands in the center of her stage, waiting for winter to turn to spring.

Now spring is here, and the garden of the arts is about to bloom again. Grab a bouquet!

—Steve Paddock

Board President

Folly Theater

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