News Column

St. Joe Live at 5

May 24, 2013

Shea Conner

Five years have passed since the first issue of St. Joe Live.

In the grand scheme of things, five years isn't a long time. It's the typical college stay for people who drop a few classes along the way. It's how long Jamaal Charles has been playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

But for us, the last five years have meant a lot. And you're about to see why.

We've asked our former writers Blake Hannon, Kevin Krauskopf and Lacey Storer to join Shea and Andrew as we take a look back at Live from its inception to its current state. They'll reminisce about their favorite stories and interviews (as well as some things they haven't enjoyed about the job) in this retrospective.

We hope you have as much fun reading it as we had putting it together.

Live by the numbers

-- By Shea Conner -- STJOELIVE STAFF

Sometimes, people are baffled when I tell them we write a weekly entertainment guide that's 24 pages. The common response: "There's that much going on in St. Joe?"

Sure, there may be a few ads and The Shuffle takes up a page, but yeah, there IS that much going on. And I've decided to take several hours out of my week to thumb through every single issue of St. Joe Live ever printed and give you visual proof. Here's St. Joe Live by the numbers:

We have written about 463 different bands from only St. Joseph, Kansas City and the surrounding areas. All 463 performed in St. Joseph in the last five years and were at least mentioned in a St. Joe Live article. However, we've only reviewed 19 albums by local music acts (my conclusion: we need to write more reviews and our local musicians need to start recording some more songs).

We have interviewed 445 additional music acts from around the world who have toured through the U.S. Of those acts, 269 performed in Kansas City. This list includes Metallica, Stevie Wonder, fun., Def Leppard, The Flaming Lips, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, Linkin Park, Big Boi, Al Green, Weezer, Shinedown, Flogging Molly, CAKE and so many more. Of those 445 national acts, 176 have performed in St. Joseph or the surrounding areas. This list includes Jason Aldean, Puddle of Mudd, Sara Evans, The Band Perry, Darius Rucker, Loverboy, The Oak Ridge Boys and 3OH!3 among many others.

In the last five years, we've also interviewed 51 comedians and actors who have toured the country. 27 of them -- including Ron White, Larry the Cable Guy, Rodney Carrington and Alex Reymundo -- performed in St. Joseph. 24 of them -- like Carol Burnett, Dane Cook, Cheech and Chong, Kevin Hart, Seth Green, Nick Offerman, Chelsea Handler, Ralphie May, Bill Burr and Frank Caliendo -- took the stage in Kansas City.

A few athletes have come up from time to time. We've interviewed two former WWE Champions in C.M. Punk and Mick Foley. Combined, they've held the world championship on 10 separate occasions. We've also chatted with one Harlem Globetrotter (Nathaniel "Big Easy" Lofton) and one former NFL star (Kyle Turley, who was embarking on a country music career).

The St. Joe Live crew has reviewed 136 movies in the last five years. Only 16 of those films earned a 4.5 score or higher from one of our critics ("The Dark Knight," "Up in the Air," "The Hangover," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Toy Story 3," "Inception," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," "The Social Network," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," "Moneyball," "The Muppets" (I take full responsibility for that one), "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Hobbit," "Lincoln" and "Skyfall"). And, yes, we had to sit through all five of the "Twilight" movies.

St. Joe Live has featured 117 different previews of festivals, fairs and parades in our area over the last five years.

We have written articles about 95 different professional art exhibitions (in museums or galleries) in the St. Joseph and Kansas City areas. 90 separate articles also have been dedicated to the solo work of local visual artists in our area.

We have written about 83 plays that were locally produced. Robidoux Resident Theatre was responsible for 55 of those productions. Missouri Western hosted 18 of them. St. Joe Live has written about an additional 32 plays that toured nationally. 20 were performed in St. Joseph or the surrounding areas while the other 12 were presented in Kansas City.

St. Joe Live has written previews of 110 different arts and entertainment events held at the Missouri Theater, but surprisingly only 19 events at the Civic Arena (it's just not used that often).

Previews of 32 Saint Joseph Symphony concerts have been featured in Live. We've also written about seven professional dance and acrobatic productions performed in our area.

I don't know ... I think we did all right.

Stories we're proud of

Shea Conner (2008-Present): "Family Portraits," the article I wrote about Radkey and Eyelit going to SXSW in March 2013. It was my first foray into "long-form" journalism and I poured my heart in to the piece, as well as months of research, weeks of interviews, days of fly-on-the-wall reporting, hundreds of photos and about 40 hours of writing when I got back to St. Joseph. It was really neat to watch those two talented bands from little ol' St. Joe win over new fans in Austin. When I'm an old man, I'll look back at that week as one of the best of my life. But I already consider that story the best thing I've ever written.

Andrew Gaug (2012-Present): "Digital vs. Discount" (from January 2013). Despite its ruggedness, I have always been a fan of The Plaza Theater. Maybe it's because I remember that being the big theater when I visited St. Joseph as a kid (I still remember seeing the Arnold Schwarzenegger non-hit movie "Last Action Hero" there in the '90s) or that I didn't want to see a cheap theater die a slow death. Coming from Ohio, I've seen enough businesses go under as people whispered about them not doing well, but doing nothing to help right the figurative ship. Talking with Plaza 8 manager Josh Hall, he made it abundantly clear that the writing was more or less on the wall -- they need to turn a bigger profit and get the public's attention or they will go under. I don't think it shocked anyone to hear that, but I believe it helped make it a reality or many. Since then, the theater is seeing a second life, playing classic movies like "The Goonies" and "E.T." and putting on special events, like "A Place At The Table" with the Second Harvest Food Bank of St. Joseph. I thank Hall for his candid nature in putting the theater and his reputation on the line in telling the truth about the theater, but also the public for responding to the spotlight we helped shine on them.

Kevin Krauskopf (2011-2012): "I, Guitar" from Oct. 26, 2012. I have to admit that writing this centerpiece about a book and art project by classical musician Anthony Glise and photographer Megan Wyeth was, to say the least, intimidating. Glise and Wyeth's approach to the project, where they photographed and "interviewed" Glise's collection of guitars, was so unique that I hardly knew where to begin, much less how to capture their intent without cheapening what they had presented. I'm glad to have tackled this difficult assignment, less because of any words I put on paper and more because the pair's exhibition at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art was so intriguing.

Blake Hannon (2008-2011): I can't pick a single story, but I'm the most proud of the column I started, The Shuffle. It was the space where I could rant about whatever I wanted in local entertainment and pop culture. I'm also proud that the Trails West! report card I created is still a yearly staple.

Lacey Storer (2008-2009): I didn't really get to do the music and bands stories, so mine isn't a big assignment. It probably sounds really silly, but I was VERY happy that I got to go to the "Sex And The City" movie premiere (pretty sure I didn't have to fight with the guys over that one). As a long-time fan of the TV show, it was a lot of fun to be able to see the movie and write a review that I'm sure was essentially one big love-letter to the film.

Our favorite interviews

SHEA CONNER (2008-PRESENT)

1. Carol Burnett

I'll never forget that half-hour for the rest of my life. It was the only interview I've ever been truly nervous for, but it melted away within seconds of hearing her voice. You never know how a comedy legend of her stature will act, but she was so sweet, so funny and so engaging.

2. Hal Holbrook

I asked the acclaimed actor three questions. He talked for more than an hour. We were supposed to discuss his performance of "Mark Twain Tonight!" here in St. Joseph, but we got off-topic quite a bit. He even gave me the Oscar speech he prepared had he won the Academy Award for "Into the Wild." THAT was cool.

3. Patrice O'Neal

The late comedian was the first "famous person" I ever interviewed, and boy, was it a good one. I have talked to only a few people since who have been so unabashedly honest. He's a guy who did what he wanted to do and said whatever the heck he wanted to say.

4. Grace Potter, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

For a few minutes, I could have sworn she was flirting with me (or maybe I was just hoping). But I've come to realize that that's just the way Grace is -- bold, bubbly, bright and very uninhibited. She was a lot of fun.

5. Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips

To this day, I'm still flabbergasted by the ideas this man has rolling around in his brain. We had a lengthy conversation about the marketing gimmicks he was trying out with his band. Among them, he was selling the Lips' new album on a zip drive that was implanted in a marijuana-flavored replica of a brain housed within a life-size gummy skull. Believe me, much weirder things were discussed.

ANDREW GAUG (2012-PRESENT)

1. Nick Offerman

He's Ron freakin' Swanson! In all seriousness, Offerman was a tough one to nail down as I tried for a few months to get him on the horn with little to no response until a day or two before the interview. When I finally talked to him, he is everything you would expect -- hilarious, humble and a man among men.

2. Nate Ruess, fun.

This one was a personal favorite not only because I was able to talk to him right before fun. hit right into the stratosphere of pop music, but also because Ruess's previous band, The Format, had been a huge part of a harder period of my life when I first arrived in St. Joseph. Plus, he's an incredible lyricist.

3. Elena Tonra, Daughter

Daughter is one of those bands where the music is so sullen and depressing, you're not sure if the interview will be the same. Tonra, the lead singer of the band, was completely unlike her music -- fun, constantly joking and making the sometimes jangled nerves of this reporter feel at ease.

4. Todd Cooper, Blue Oyster Culture Club

I have to show some local love too. Without a doubt, Todd Cooper is one of the most genuine people you will ever talk to. In interviewing him about B.O.C.C.'s rise to fame in the area, he remains grounded and humble, while taking the potshots from nay-sayers in stride.

5. Big Boi, Outkast

Clocking in at about four minutes, Big Boi was the shortest interview I've ever done for a national artist. He makes the list because Outkast has always been huge for me in terms of their legendary scope in music and undeniable lineup of classic albums. I was so nervous talking to such a legend, I didn't mind that he had to get off the phone early to do, as he said, "some Obama stuff in the 'hood."

KEVIN KRAUSKOPF (2011-2012)

1. Zachary Scott Carothers, Portugal The Man

I know, right now you're asking yourself, "Who?" This interview, and diving into Portugal The Man's catalog in preparation for it, introduced me to a band that remains one of my favorites. Do yourself a favor and hunt down some of its music.

2. Zakk Wylde

Yep, that one -- the one who played lead guitar for Ozzy Osbourne for more than 23 years. And, yes, the conversation I had with him over the phone was every bit as weird as you would expect. At one point, Wylde told me he and his Black Label Society bandmates would stop their concert while he modeled his new line of black lingerie. Get that image out of your head.

3. Adam Carolla

This interview has always stuck out to me because it was one of the first "big" interviews I did, and because I learned a valuable lesson from it: Publicists can be a little flaky, so even if they don't confirm the interview, Adam Corolla might call you first thing Monday morning. As soon as I heard his all too recognizable voice on the line, my first thought was, "Oh, crud." That's because I hadn't prepared any questions for him, because his publicist never confirmed the interview. I asked him if he could call me back later, assuming he'd berate me and not give the interview another thought. He was cool about it, and we had a nice chat the next morning.

4. Clark Vogeler, The Toadies

The '90s alt-rock band behind the iconic song "Possum Kingdom" releases a surprisingly good new album almost 20 years later and I get to ask their guitarist about it? I'll take that any day of the week. And I wasn't even the biggest Toadies fan at the News-Press at the time. (For the record, that would be Sean Hagewood.)

5. Rome Ramirez, Sublime with Rome

He readily admits he's no Bradley Nowell, but asking the new guy what it was like to get to carry on Nowell's legacy definitely was a highlight for me. Rome turned out to be a pretty funny and level-headed dude.

BLAKE HANNON (2008-2011)

1. Stevie Wonder

He's a musical legend thats as kind as you would imagine.

2. Reverend Al Green

It's impossible not to smile while talking to this guy.

3. Ron White

The "I was thrown out of a bar in New York City" guy gave a very insightful interview on how to stay on top in stand-up.

4. Pretty much any country artist

They are always polite and appreciative of their fans. Must be something in the water in Nashville.

5. Bob Shultz and Todd Cooper (tie)

It's a tie between two locals. Bob Shultz, St. Joe's resident movie buff, is one. He and I could wax poetic on pop culture for days. Also, Todd Cooper from BOCC and Full Power. He was always good for child-like enthusiasm and a good quote.

The stress and success of Page 14

-- By Blake Hannon -- STJOELIVE STAFF

As someone who was involved with St. Joe Live from concept to creation, I could talk about the nit-picking, trial and error and tireless hustle that was needed to get this sucker off the ground and on people's radar in the early days. But I'm not going to do that.

I'd like to talk about a page -- one page in particular. A page that has given me some of the highlights of my writing career along with some of the biggest headaches in my entire work life: Page 14.

When you pick up a copy of St. Joe Live, Page 14 is where you'll find a story from one of the paper's entertainment reporters on a national touring music act that is coming to the Kansas City or Lawrence area (editor's note: you'll find the Page 14 feature on Page 16 in today's special issue).

In the grand scheme of things, it's a story that doesn't technically even need to be there. The primary goal of this publication is to cover arts and entertainment in St. Joe, and people could just as easily turn to other KC-based publications to read about various live music acts in that area any given weekend. In fact, when we used to be called Off Hours, we would just pull a story from a wire service on some well-known or up-and-coming music artist, throw it on the page and call it a day. People seemed to be totally OK with that.

But to me, when it came time to transform Off Hours into St. Joe Live, that was entirely unacceptable.

The influx of touring bands that came to KC weren't exactly in our backyard, but they were in the backyard of the neighbor kid just down the street with all the cool toys you wanted to play with. We know that people in St. Joe go to KC for a variety of reasons, and live music is one of them. That was all the reason I needed to make it part of St. Joe Live's mission to interview and write about a national music act that came to Kansas City or Lawrence, every week, without fail.

Turns out, making sure you accomplish that "every week, without fail" can be a giant pain. When a musical artist is touring and comes to the Kansas City area, there are a few media outlets they may want to schedule interviews with to promote their upcoming performance -- and St. Joe Live wasn't one of them.

So, in order to get some of these big-name acts to talk to us, we had to become master harassers. We became third-degree black belts in bugging the hell out of publicists, booking agents and touring managers until they finally caved and let us have 15 minutes of phone time.

And the bigger the artist, the harder it was to find out who you needed to talk to in order to talk to them. A lot of times, the story you're reading is the back-up plan to the back-up plan when initial attempts to snag the weekend's headliner at the Sprint Center came up short or the band that's playing Starlight Theatre can talk to you ... just not by your deadline. The funny thing is, that can also be a blessing in disguise, whether it's a candid, insightful interview or just exposing readers to an artist they may have never heard about elsewhere.

I think just the idea of exposing St. Joe's readers to new music was part of the reason I was so driven to make Page 14 happen. When I was in college, I got a particular thrill out of introducing my roommates to something they haven't heard before -- whether it be the latest Ryan Adams album or a Jimmy Eat World record -- and turning them into fans. If I could do that for my three college cohorts, why couldn't I do that for an entire city? Wishful thinking, I know, but it was worth a shot.

The last reason I spearheaded Page 14 is a totally self-serving one: I wanted to talk to famous bands and, in some cases, a few legends and some of my musical idols. If you had an excuse to call up and chat with a musician you've long admired, wouldn't you jump at the chance? St. Joe Live allowed me to jump at that chance on an almost weekly basis.

You learn a few things interviewing national acts.

1. The more band members, the better your chances of getting an interview.

2. The drummer or bassist is almost ALWAYS available to talk.

3. Unless they are a guy-girl duo, talking to two people at the same time makes keeping track of quotes rather difficult.

4. Hip-hop artists are nearly impossible to get on the phone.

5. Hard rock bands tend not only to be horrible interviews, but they also give nearly the exact same answers ... if they are even awake (I'm talking to you, Breaking Benjamin).

6. Country artists are consistently the most gracious people you will ever talk to.

For all the challenges that Page 14 presented, St. Joe Live did manage to succeed in talking to some of the most recognizable talent in almost every genre imaginable. Personally, I was able to speak with artists before they gained a massive following, like current Kanrocksas headliners The Avett Brothers, who I profiled for St. Joe Live's first-ever issue back in June 2008. I caught a few bands on their way to bigger and better things, like Vampire Weekend, The Civil Wars and Lady Antebellum, who were the opening act FOR THE OPENING ACT at the Sprint Center that year. I got to talk to the bass player from Metallica. That doesn't require any additional elaboration. That's just cool.

Then, there are the interviews that, to this day, blow my mind. When Al Green starts singing "Let's Stay Together" to you over the phone and refers to you as "Mr. Blake." When Stevie Freakin' Wonder talks to you for more than 30 minutes and tells you the three favorite songs that he's written, only to change one of his selections when you tell him the three favorite songs YOU think he's written (it was "As," in case you're curious). Those are the types of talks I'll tell my daughter about when we're grooving to soul tunes in our living room.

I may have spent an entire article rambling on one page, but the truth is, I'm proud of every page, word, syllable and letter that made its way into St. Joe Live. It's easily the most fun I've ever had at a job. Even though I left St. Joe back in 2011 and am currently residing in Kentucky, my St. Joe Live decal is still on the back of my car. Sure, I partially don't want go through the trouble of removing it, but it's mainly like being a dad who carries around pictures of his kids in his wallet. You just like showing off something great you helped to create.

The good ol' days

-- By Lacey Storer -- STJOELIVE STAFF

What do I remember most about the early days of St. Joe Live?

I remember being really excited when it was announced that the News-Press was rebranding Off Hours into a new publication. For Blake and I, the newest members of the Lifestyles staff, it was our first chance to really be involved in something big at the paper.

In the beginning, though, there were some ... challenges, shall we say? Brainstorming meetings that seemed to pointlessly go on for hours. Focus groups where only one person showed up. Wondering if this project -- which had come to be known as St. Joe Live -- would come together and, if it did, would it be the fun, cool, successful publication we had imagined?

Then, finally, the first run of St. Joe Live was printing. And we were told that there were no drivers to deliver it. I don't remember why there were no drivers, but if we wanted to get this thing that we had spent hours and hours and late nights working on out to the public, we were going to have to do it ourselves. We, meaning Blake and I.

That afternoon, we loaded several hundred copies of St. Joe Live into Blake's not-exactly-large hatchback. The next couple hours were spent criss-crossing all over town and delivering to restaurants, bars, coffee shops, any place we thought St. Joe Live would fit in. This was a ritual we would perform every week for the next month or so.

I remember how excited I was (at first) when On The Scene was assigned as my page. I went out on the weekends, talked to people and took their pictures, and it counted as work! I got to go out for my job. What could be better than that when you're in your 20s? It's funny how quickly going out turns into a chore when you HAVE to do it. There were nights when all I wanted to do was lie on the couch and watch TV, but just had to go out (I know, rough life, right?).

There were times, though, when going out for work was always fun. One of the best new things that came with St. Joe Live was our monthly events. Basically, it meant I got to hang out with Blake and Shea as we hosted karaoke, introduced bands, gave out freebies and just generally had a blast at whatever local drinking establishment was hosting us that time.

I remember being asked (or maybe I volunteered) to write a dating column. As with On The Scene, something that seemed really fun at first turned into work very quickly. I remember getting really sick of writing about my dating life -- especially when it was non-existent (which, unfortunately, was a lot in St. Joe) and even more when it really sucked. Nothing like talking about love and romance and trying to find the two when you're heartbroken.

Going back through those first, now-yellowed issues of St. Joe Live is almost like flipping through my high school yearbooks. I can see myself growing up through my dating column. I remember long-lost friends and hangouts. I can laugh, and cringe, at some of the crazy things that happened while I was out at the job. St. Joe Live might be just another weekly entertainment publication for those of you reading this, but for a lucky few, it is/was a job, a passion and a whole lot of fun.

Doing it justice

-- By Kevin Krauskopf -- STJOELIVE STAFF

When Blake left St. Joe Live and I took over for him in April 2011, I put a lot of pressure on myself to adequately fill what I could only assume were his monstrous size 17s. I mean, he's almost six and a half feet tall, so his claim to wear only a size 12 shoe is hard to believe.

It's not hard to believe, though, how far St. Joe Live has come in the five years since its first issue. I saw first-hand the hard work that Blake, Shea, Lacey, later myself and now Andrew put into each issue. Props also to net dude Sean Hagewood, presentation guru Paul Branson, lifestyles editor Jess DeHaven and the audio and visual work of photo chief Todd Weddle and his staff.

Good work, guys. It's a level of dedication that's still evident in the numerous local and national features, columns, movie and concert reviews, entertainment listings and more that fill St. Joe Live's 24 pages and populate its website every week.

Shea asked each of us to write about our time with St. Joe Live. I thought that perhaps I'd write about the new emphasis we put on Web content and visual presentation while I was there. But then I got bored just writing that previous sentence, and I realized there was something much more worth the ink (and ink's Web equivalent) -- the explosion of the local arts and music scene I witnessed as a St. Joe Live entertainment reporter.

Don't get me wrong. Local artists, musicians and thespians, not us, deserve the credit. We merely had the privilege of documenting it.

Maybe the arts and music scene had been this vibrant all along, and I just missed it until I really started looking. Yet, I remember a conversation about local music I once had with a friend and former bandmate (I was the incredibly mediocre lead guitarist for The Act for a short time in 2010 when it took the form of a five-piece cover band). There was little point being an original band, he told me in so many words, because people in this town don't support them.

If it was true then, it is not any longer. Look at local bands like Radkey, Eyelit, Dsoedean, Scruffy & The Janitors, The GasTown Lamps, Missouri Homegrown, and so many more (my apologies to those I've inevitably left off who should be included) who are in a way ambassadors for the level of talent calling St. Joseph home.

On the arts front, I had a backstage pass of sorts to observe deepening levels of artistic expression and cooperation at places like the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art and Gallery 7 and among local art organizations. I watched with intrigue as Robidoux Resident Theatre put on bolder, riskier productions (can you imagine RRT staging "RENT" five years ago today?) and executed them at a high level. I saw Missouri Western boost its own theater offerings while opening the professional Western Playhouse. And, the Allied Arts Council continues to make St. Joseph into a mid-summer destination with its signature Trails West! festival.

Nobody can rightly feel short-changed by the arts and music scene in St. Joseph. Twenty-four pages a week hardly seems to do it justice.

Shea Conner can be reached at shea.conner@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.

___

(c)2013 St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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