Downtown Lawrence Music Crawl aims to demonstrate ‘music is for everyone’

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Organizers of an upcoming free music festival hope temporarily transforming downtown spaces into venues for concerts, workshops and open jams will break down barriers that stand between community members and music.

The first Downtown Lawrence Music Crawl is a means to take outdoors what happens inside Americana Music Academy, said Christy Miller, executive director of the nonprofit music school at 1419 Massachusetts St.

Several outdoor spaces downtown were reimagined for the event, Miller said, and are intended to invite people of all backgrounds and ages to come together, without any financial barriers, in celebration of Lawrence’s diverse musical life.

“Music is for everyone,” Miller said. There are no “prerequisites to be able to be musical” and Lawrence is “a place where everyone belongs.”

“Whether that means you’re an audience member tapping your foot, or you are learning to strum a ukulele, or you’re singing with a jam session — that we are musical beings — and that music creates community,” Miller said.

On the concert side, local acts such as Ambarita Sidabutar, The Twangles, Cantemos Youth Chorale and more will perform.

Miller said as “caretakers of folk music tradition,” Americana Music Academy’s roots have influenced the festival’s first-year plans, but organizers of the annual event intend to expand its musical genres.

This year, Americana Jazz Trio and the ensemble Haskell NDN Avenue are set to perform. Miller said she hoped to partner with Haskell Indian Nations University and the Indigenous community “more integrally in this event” and to diversify with Latin and gospel music offerings and more in 2025 and beyond.

“We realize there are certain limitations, in terms of, we don’t have limitless stage presence at the moment,” Miller said. “But this was our first year, and we plan to expand out from here, like looking for hip-hop artists.”

Musical experimentation and experiences

In addition to seven hours’ worth of open jam sessions on the green space at Lawrence Public Library (you’re welcome to bring your own instrument for the jams if you have one), the family-friendly festival includes numerous opportunities for community members to experiment with and experience music.

Have a guitar you’d like to learn how to restring yourself? There’s a workshop for that in the Japanese Friendship Garden. Children can make their own instrument — for free — during a two-hour workshop there in the afternoon. And two hours of open-mic opportunities on Americana’s lawn will give musical acts up to 20 minutes of stage time, depending on the number of participants.

“We’ll have a full stage and sound system,” Miller said. “And during that time, anybody in the area who would like to, comes and reports to the stage manager there and they get on a list, and you have a chance to perform.”

Half of Americana’s students are adults and senior citizens, according to Miller, and many have expressed interest in trying out the open-mic experience but hesitate due to feelings of intimidation.

“They’re either shy or embarrassed or feel like they don’t have the expertise they need to be able to do that. When in reality they do,” Miller said. “It just happens to be a particular set of knowledge that they don’t know yet.”

During the “Musician’s Intro to Stage Tech” workshop, Lawrence musician Max Paley will talk attendees through the process of music on a new stage and how to navigate all the cords and questions that accompany first-time performances.

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Karen Mueller, internationally renowned autoharp and mountain dulcimer expert, will perform with Lila and also present a workshop, “Accompanying Your Singing with An Old-Time Sound.”

“The idea is, you know, if you’re a singer or somebody who likes to sing and you want this really nice entry point way of being able to start accompanying yourself on an instrument, but you want something that’s more of an old-time sound than a guitar, or maybe you’re intimidated by banjo — introducing how to do that,” Miller said.

The Downtown Lawrence Music Crawl is supported by grant funding from Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission and Lawrence’s transient guest tax, of which the Lawrence City Commission approved $4,075 in funding in December. Miller said the city’s monetary contribution has helped pay for marketing and visual branding, including art by Chris Millspaugh.

Additional support comes from a collaboration of local businesses, community members and organizations. In addition to the use of space made available for the events, Miller noted, Raintree Montessori School has lent their ukuleles for use in a beginners ukulele workshop.

“You can show up to that workshop with nothing and you can learn to play songs on a ukulele within an hour,” Miller said.

Mike Logan, owner of several iconic downtown music venues, has lent use of a stage and sound system for the crawl, Miller said, and other musical partners such as Lawrence Musical Alliance through Nick Carswell have helped make the festival possible.

Music-Crawl-Map-r

The Lawrence Downtown Music Crawl will kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 27. All events will end at 4 p.m. with the exception of jam sessions on the library lawn, which end at 5 p.m. 

The festival will span from Lawrence Public Library’s Plaza at Seventh and Vermont streets on the north end to Americana Music Academy’s lawn near 14th and Mass on the south end. In between, the Japanese Friendship Garden, 1045 Massachusetts St., and two spots on the east side of South Park will host the crawl’s offerings. See the full schedule for all the free events at this link.

Miller recommended attendees bring their own chairs and blankets. A limited number of seats will be available at each site, which are all wheelchair accessible. Open mic sessions offer limited bench seating and standing room only. Food and non-alcoholic beverages also are welcome at each crawl site, as are leashed dogs “on good boy behavior.” Organizers ask that attendees clean up after themselves.

Miller said organizers still need volunteers and paid music buskers. Unpaid volunteers will receive a shirt and snacks during the event. Music buskers don’t have to be family- or child-focused, Miller said, but they should present material appropriate for all ages. Those who are interested should email organizers at americanamusicacademy@gmail.com no later than Wednesday, April 24.

Organizers are solidifying backup plans that will bring the music crawl indoors in case of rain. Check the Lawrence Downtown Music Crawl website at lawrencemusiccrawl.com or its Facebook event page for the most current schedule and venue information should inclement weather occur. Questions about the event can be directed to Miller via the contact form on the music crawl’s website at this link or by email at americanamusicacademy@gmail.com.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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