Our Man in KC: Boulevardia, Shakespeare in the Park, and More!

Damian Lair with his niece and nephews (Lucy, César, Alexander, and Sebastian) at the Legends Outlets.

Outfitted Like Legends

It may seem silly, but some of my fonder childhood memories were of our annual back-to-school shopping trips to Kansas City. From a very small town, and pre-internet, there wasn’t much in the way of children’s clothes nearby. My two sisters and I, accompanied by our patient mother, would make the annual trek. But before scooting off to the city, there was the serious matter of funds negotiation. Every year, we each had to prepare an itemized list—for our father—of what we needed, including anticipated costs for each item. It was a nerve-wracking exercise, but in hindsight, a meaningful and educational one. Cheers, Dad.

With summer winding down and school somehow just around the corner, what better way to relive my back-to-school shopping fantasies than, vicariously, through my nieces and nephews?

Followers of this column know I love a spontaneous adventure, but with five kids (including an infant) and a summer calendar packed with soccer, dance, swimming, camps, and the occasional vacation, there was no room for spontaneity. When did kids’ lives become so scheduled and complicated? We settled on a rare free date and met at the Legends Outlets. There, we could cover a lot of retail ground for numerous children and divergent tastes in an efficient manner.

Surely, you’ve been to the Legends? It’s been an anchor of the Village West development in Kansas City, Kansas, for more than 17 years now. For anyone not familiar, the Legends is an outdoor shopping and entertainment destination, just 15 miles west of downtown. With more than 100 retail, dining, and entertainment options—topping more than a million square feet of space—there’s something for everybody. Yours truly, included.

We began at my personal go-to, Ralph Lauren. There’s clothing for kids and grownups galore. Lucy found some particularly adorable dresses—Uncle-D approved. Unexpectedly, I spotted a denim jacket (yes, I weighed whether I need a 10th one) with a very Southwest-style embroidered and quilted back. Very different from anything I have, and it would be perfect for an upcoming autumn trip out west. In our basket it went.

Hot Gossip: Who donated to a charitable cause, in sincere hopes of mending friendship fences?

The Nike and Adidas stores were big hits across our diverse age and gendered clan. New sneaks for everyone! Also, we couldn’t walk by Claire’s without 1.) 5-year-old Lucy relitigating her ear-piercing case (Mom still says no!), and 2.) dropping in for some (I suppose) classroom-appropriate baubles. Hey, a girl has to shine . . .

The Legends J.Crew store has the metro’s only Crew Cuts (children’s line) section. Another go-to of my own, so we found plenty of mini-me options that didn’t make the kids roll their eyes. Sadly, we’re getting to that age. They’re no longer infants we can dress up as our objection-free porcelain dolls.

For many boys, this age is accompanied by an aversion to Mom-preferred clothing to sportswear galore. Au revoir, precious Peter Pan collars. César and Alexander are no exception here. In the can’t-beat-them-join-them spirit, I took them to a place I knew they’d love: Rally House. I’m no expert, but the Legends location may be the largest metro-wide outpost (it’s certainly the largest I’ve visited). The kids were equally impressed by its endless array of sports stuff. Not surprisingly, Chiefs gear was No.1. Have to be geared up for Red Friday, after all. K-State also got a strong shout-out (2022 Alumni Family of the Year proud!). As for me—still lacking some gear to show my new KC Current pride—I scratched that off my list. And I will say, teal is such an attractive color.

Wrapping things up for the day, we had one final stop. As a reward for mostly good kid behavior: tickets for Dave & Buster’s. And as a reward for shopping with five kids under the age of ten: cocktails. We had dinner also, but that was a small, pesky box to check in order to be let loose among a mind-blowing array of arcade games. This was a first D&B experience for me, and it was a bit jarring—in a fun way. We got all the fixings—loaded fries, burgers, chicken tendies, boneless wings—you name it. I got to catch up with my sisters, played a few games with the kids, and selected prizes. The kids loved it. Lucy was so entranced by the experience that she’s since declared she will have her next birthday there. We’ll see if that sticks. And if it does, I would be pleased to return. Perhaps denim jacket #11 will be calling my name . . .

Overheard: “These new [Apple] headphones say: ‘I’m rich and busy. Get out of my way.’”

A Grand Experience

Boulevardia has a tagline: A Grand Experience for your Senses. It’s an apt description. Originally held in the West Bottoms, the event now dominates the surrounding blocks, streets, and park at Grand Boulevard and Pershing Road. And, as Kansas City’s largest urban street festival, it covers three big sensory bases: food, music, and beer.

For one summer weekend, this pop-up nation transformed the Crown Center area into our own baby-Coachella. People pulled out their festival looks to pose amidst the numerous Instagram-ready backdrops and photo opts. Guests could get a snap at the Coca-Cola Airstream photo booth or a caricature by Capybara Caricature. Interspersed were ambient street performers—curiously dressed in stilts, costumes, and melted ice cream hats, waving color guard flags and glow sticks. Are you feeling festival-y yet?

In the streets and park, there were a myriad of yard-game options: frisbee golf, ladder toss, Jenga—you name it. Summer was made for this. Also in the park was Makers Village, which included more than 50 local vendors purveying art, clothing, jewelry, candles, and décor. ACira Studio had an array of contemporary Mexican paper art—intricately cut, 3-D paper designs in a bouquet of colors. There was tie-dyed loungewear from Bleach Bae, customizable hats by Cosmic Cowgirls, and vintage apparel at a Fetch pop-up shop as well as GoodKid Collective and Tall Tale Vintage. Red Hare Leather (you may have seen on the runway at a recent West 18th Street Fashion Show) had handsewn leather goods, and there was joyful clay jewelry from Tucker & Scout. Lex Moderne had very attractive, decorative cement planters—some with candles—and more candles from Ipomoea Organics, a mother/child operation that donates a portion of its sales to the Kansas City Center for Inclusion to benefit LGBTQ youth. And in the less-expected category, there were cocktail bitters from Good Bitter Best, beeswax lip balm, honey, and bee pollen (I sprinkle it in my lunch shake every day to keep the allergies away!) from Messner Bee Farm, and live plants from The Rolling Garden.

If shopping weren’t entertaining enough (it is for me), there were a bevy of other options. With no ice in summertime, the Crown Center Ice Terrace was transformed into a daytime retro roller-skating party by Winnwood Skate Center. At night, the terrace transformed again into the Monster Energy Silent Disco where you could pick up wireless headsets linked to one of two DJs mixing at nearby stages (in silence). I believe the first-ever silent disco I participated in was at Boulevardia, during the very early West Bottoms years. Now, the concept is everywhere. Almost too everywhere. Nearby was the familiar Ferris wheel of Boulevardias past. (Side note: I cannot wait for the permanent one being installed (as I write!) on our downtown skyline at the future Pennway Point development, just blocks away, along I-35.)

And what’s a festival without live music? Spread across three scattered stages, there was music around the clock. Frontliners included Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The War and Treaty, Surfaces, Grandson, K.Flay, and Big Freedia. Last but not least—drag performers Daisy Buckët, Lana Luxx, and Victor Shawn made Boulevardia her-story by being the first included in the festival’s eight-year entertainment lineup.

All the jamming, skating, and silent-discoing work up an appetite? Fortunately, there were food trucks and stations by many familiar local restaurants, including Fairway Creamery, Mission Taco Joint, Taste of Brazil, André’s Confiserie Suisse, Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Beer Kitchen, Char Bar, Earl’s Premier, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, Meat Mitch, Pressed Penny Tavern, Taco Naco, Teocalí, and many others. One could stay all weekend and never eat the same thing twice.

As for beer—and that is sort of the point of Boulevardia—don’t expect to be drowned in propaganda from Boulevard Brewing Company. You’re never more than a stone’s throw from a Boulevard tap, but the festival is an equal-opportunity beer purveyor. I’d go so far as to say they celebrate competitor brewers. Case in point, the popular Taps & Tastes event where brewmasters from 50-plus national and international craft breweries poured selections from their breweries alongside several Kansas City culinary stars who serve savory bites to accompany. The extra ticket price covers an unlimited sampling of bites and beer. Included, of course, were local brewers Alma Mader Brewing, BKS Artisan Ales, City Barrel Brewing Co., KC Bier Co., Pathlight Brewing, and the new Vine Street Brewing Co. There were also brewers from as nearby as Topeka (Blind Tiger), to as far away as Cooperstown, New York (Brewery Ommegang), Paso Robles, California (Firestone Walker Brewing Co.), Freeport, Maine (Maine Beer Co.) and Achouffe, Belgium (Brasserie D’Achouffe). Also coming from afar—visitors. Of the many people I talked to throughout my time at the festival, so many were visiting from out of town. Have beer—will travel!

Hot Gossip: Who walked in on quite the scene in the pool house bathroom?

Chelsea Rolfes as Ariel in the Heart of American Shakespeare Festival production of The Tempest.

Tempest in the Park

It is a rite of summer in Kansas City to experience the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival in Southmoreland Park, just blocks east of the Plaza. Nothing beats it. Prove me wrong.

On this particular annual trek, I was accompanied by HASF supporter extraordinaire (and fellow columnist here), Merrily Jackson. In addition, we had Carl Bennum (who double-dutied as the most luxe and gracious chauffeur) and the lovely Marsha Ramsey. Serendipitously, we selected the most glorious, mild, storm-free evening—of which this season was remarkably full. Often, I will pack a blanket and picnic basket full of bites from a favorite local restaurant. But, being the guest of Dame Merrily, we got the royal treatment. Besides the front-row, reserved actual seats, being a patron member of the Good Will Society (how clever), entitles one to enjoy the pre-festival and intermission times with tented plush seating, fellow theater enthusiasts—and wine. If you’re lucky, the inimitable Bernie & Dr. Scott Ashcraft will be there pouring, as they were on this fateful evening. With plenty of time to spare, we hit up the food trucks and brought our feastings back to the Good Will tent for consumption. Ragusa’s Italian Café had its food truck on hand for hungry Bard-lovers, and we all agreed their meatball sandwich was top-notch. My intermission s’mores crepe was also the perfect summer’s night treat.

As for the performance, this year’s was The Tempest. While the storyline can be a little difficult to follow—quite a number of loosely-connected characters—I will go out on a washed-up limb and declare it to be the best HASF performance in memory. And I’ve been attending for years. The vibrantly lit set was stunning—in fact, all the lighting was incredible. There wasn’t a dud actor in the bunch (special applause to Chelsea Rolfes who sparkled as Ariel the airy spirit). The costumes were whimsical and joyful where they needed to be. The live (new this year!) original music (nod to Greg Mackender and Amando Espinoza) was exceptional and completed the stormy, magic-spirit atmosphere. It was a stellar production, beginning to end.

For the utmost enjoyment—unless a Shakespeare expert—I strongly recommend pulling up a synopsis online before the show. It will make your life easier. Because summertime under the stars isn’t for deep thinking. It’s for getting a little lost in the sky while still tethered to a verdant lawn. Bravo, bravo, to the executive artistic director, Sidonie Garrett!

Overheard: “Seems like every house in Mission Hills has a charter bus parked out front . . . ready to be swept to Taylor Swift.”

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

email: dlair@inkansascity.com  | Instagram: @damianlair #OurManINKC

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