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Vibrant Memories Of The Wichita Music Scene

Jim Kent / Wichita Music History Project

Popular culture often provides a useful window into the past, highlighting larger trends and issues that may not be apparent at first. This was the case when I became involved in a project documenting local rock bands from the 1950s through the 1970s.

The burning of the Blue Moon nightclub in 1961 symbolizes a shift in the local music scene from the big band jazz of the World War II generation to the rock and roll of the Baby Boomers. Students in local high schools started forming bands like the Moanin’ Glories, the Outcasts, Mike Finnigan and the Serfs, the Shakers, and Soule Survivor. There were regular “battles of the bands.” Some recorded records, others just played local clubs or at places like the Cotillion. Because clubs that sold 3.2 beer could legally sell to 18-year-olds, a number of local venues hosted teenage bands, including the Penthouse at Hillside and 17th Street, near Wichita State University.

By the 1970s, new issues emerged. Vietnam split the band scene as some musicians went overseas to serve, taking their instruments with them, while others were part of the antiwar counterculture, including those influenced by local Beat Movement figures. New styles in clothes and hair popped up, as well as new influences in music. Teenagers grew into young adults with new responsibilities. Radio stations relied on nationally syndicated music rather than playing local bands. A new generation of youth listened to disco or heavy metal or punk on eight tracks or cassettes or over the radio rather than attend live gigs.

Through it all was a side of Wichita that was vibrant and dynamic. A lot of those fond memories are just now being recorded and preserved.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.