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Musical Space: Local Spaces

Cory Norton

Last time I talked about musical geography — how style springs up from places that artists and audiences can identify with. I gave lots of examples from all over the country, but the most important aspect of this is that there is a musical nexus right here.

When local musicians and audiences mutually decide to come together in a specific place, culture is born.

Just up the road in Kansas City, the 18th and Vine district was the wellspring of a style as important to Jazz history as 52nd Street in New York, giving to the world Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and many others. Just to the south is the site of the Walnut Valley Festival, one of America’s hotbeds of bluegrass.

Then there are the musical spaces within the city limits. Century II is the historical home to the Wichita Symphony, Music Theater, and the Wichita Jazz Festival. There’s the Cotillion, built at the tail-end of the ballroom era, but then becoming the local palace for rock and country. I can’t imagine hearing Split Lip Rayfield any other place.

But my favorite place in Wichita for musical culture is Kirby’s Beer Store. Sure, famous bands like Hüsker Dü, Yo La Tengo and The Flaming Lips played there. But it fostered our own local sounds, too: The Embarrassment, The Blivets, Klyde Konnor, and Scroat Belly were nurtured at Kirby’s and left their mark. It must be because of geographic concentration;  the musicians, the crowd and the whole of its musical history are crammed into such a small space that what it produces couldn’t possibly happen anywhere else.


Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, “Kater Street Rag,” The Real Kansas City of the ’20s, ’30s, & ’40s, 1923



Cain’s Ballroom - Tulsa

Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, “New San Antonio Rose,” The Essential Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys.



Cotillion: Split Lip Rayfield, “Never Make It Home,” live at the Bottleneck. (This isn’t the live version, but I couldn’t find that one.)



Century II:

Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Antonio Sanchez, “Question and Answer,”  Quartet Live!” An 18-year-old Pat Metheny got to meet and play with Gary Burton at the Wichita Jazz Festival in Century II. 



The Embarrassment, “Faith Healer (Live)” Blister Pop


Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.