Our Man in KC: Symphony Ball, Jazzoo + More!

Damian Lair with Symphony Ball co-chair, Ursula Terrasi.

By every account, this year’s annual event for the Kansas City Symphony, themed “Royal Gala: Let’s Have a Ball!” was a roaring success. Much of that success (as everyone knows) can be directly attributed to this year’s returning co-chairs, Sue Ann Fagerberg and Ursula Terrasi. The “Have a Ball” theme was also a nod to the evening’s honorary co-chairs, Marty & John Sherman, principal owners of the Kansas City Royals. Taking place at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the evening began on the stage inside the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Aside from the hundreds of guests bedazzled in black-tie finery, it almost felt like I was a member of the Kansas City Ballet or Lyric Opera that performs on that very stage. A few more cocktails, and I may have even started singing and dancing. Fortunately, we weren’t there long enough for any embarrassments. Soon, we were whisked next door to Helzberg Hall for proper greetings and a Kansas City jazz-themed concert by the symphony, led by Michael Stern. Special guests, Lonnie McFadden and Bobby Watson, dazzled us with tap dancing, vocals, trumpet, and saxophone. It was a memorable performance.

Following the concert, we made our way to the Brandmeyer Great Hall for dinner. Studio Dan Meiners transformed the cavernous glass lobby into a modern supper club, replete with giant drum-shaped lamp centerpieces and lots of candlelight. The vibe harkened back to a swankier time, and Lonnie again entertained guests during and after dinner. His energy never ceases to amaze. He met his match with the crowd, though, who partied till the lights went out (some even making it to a hot after-party that went well into the morning). Was I there? You can bet on it.

Ethnically Enriched
It had been three years since I last attended (and wrote about) the Ethnic Enrichment Festival, held annually at Swope Park. I distinctly remember the occasion because I scored a show-stopping Ghanian garment embroidered in gold, along with a coordinating cattle-horn necklace—both of which I’m still waiting on the right party for their ceremonious debut. Alas, patience. Coincidently, that was also the most recent in-person festival, with the last two being held virtually. It was great to be back in the park.

Spanning Friday through Sunday, the festival has been organized for more than 43 years by the Ethnic Enrichment Commission. The festival’s purpose is to preserve and share the member countries’ heritage with the Kansas City community via music, dance, food, and crafts. More than fifty booths made up the village circle. Standouts among the food offerings were Colombia’s beef empanadas and arepas, Egypt’s falafel and chicken shawarma, Greece’s dolmades and spanakopita, Ireland’s fish and chips, Jamaica’s jerk chicken, Sweden’s meatball wrap, and Thailand’s pad Thai (easily the longest line, i.e., most popular). 

And on the topic of lines, I must regrettably report that they were frequent and extensive. If any of the organizers are reading, I have an unsolicited suggestion for you: do it like Disney and offer a limited number of higher-priced “fast passes.” After two years of festivaling behind computer screens, it was incredible to see so many people jammed into the park; nearly 55,000—the largest attendance ever. Part of that success could be attributed to the accessible $5 ticket price. But the lines were problematic, and rather than ease them by increasing prices or choking off attendance, a tiered ticket option might be—just the ticket.

If waiting in line for food isn’t your jam, blessedly, there are other things to keep you busy. Not all country’s booths are food-centric. Others offer cultural items for sale, crafting, information, or a combination of each. You might also swing by the beer garden that boasts brews from more than ten countries. And with a drink in hand, you could meander over to the main pavilion stage where member countries’ performers rotate every 30 minutes. We caught glimpses of India, Taiwan, and Japan. Around the world in a matter of hours? I’ll take it. Next year—with a Concorde fast pass. 


GloWild at the Kansas City Zoo.

Zoo x Two
The ‘year of the alligator’ may not exist in the Chinese zodiac, but it did for one night during Jazzoo at the Kansas City Zoo. The much-anticipated annual event (nudged back from its standard first Friday in June—to where it will return next year) was back in full form. This year, the benefit raised money for six new alligators that just arrived at their new Kansas City home. The funds also support more than 1,700 other animals—a lot of mouths to feed!

Yes, it was a teeny bit balmy (part of summertime’s charm!), but I had forgotten how much fun this party is. Lots of young, fresh faces, no doubt slipping in on their employers’ bounty of sponsorship tickets—as they should. New faces mixed with old as I ran into a bevy of longtime friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Jazzoo is the perfect party for spontaneously bumping into friends, as you meander around the zoo, hunting for bites and drinks.

Speaking of bites, if you’ve been, you know that food is at the core of the Jazzoo experience. Scattered around the zoo are 50 restaurant stations, including all your KC favorites. Some of the best offerings (IMO) this year included: KC Mac N’Co., Plate Moderno Italiano, The Savoy, Silo Modern Farmhouse, and Urban Café. 

Interspersed among the trail of restaurants were DJ Joe the “Mad Scientist” and DJ Ice Kole spinning beats, performers from Kansas City Aerial Arts, and musicians Wonderfuzz and Big Time Grain Co.. The event culminated at a large tent where The Zeros kept the crowd dancing till midnight.

While partying at the zoo, I was invited to attend another event there the following week. So, I did. The occasion was a pre-opening celebration for GloWild—a brand-new experience at the zoo. Through December 11, you can visit the nighttime, Asian-lantern attraction—the largest in the Midwest. Consisting of a one-mile loop encircling the zoo, the path is lit continuously with animals, botanicals, nature scenes, and local landmarks, all of which are steel-framed structures (“lanterns”) meticulously covered in colored silk. The trail is perfect for photo-taking; those I took turned out to be vivid and amazing, which you already know if you’re following along on Instagram. Midway through the trail, you’ll also find Chinese acrobats and contortionists performing three times nightly in front of the Penguin Plaza. Food and beverages (adult and kiddo) are available for purchase along your stroll, which takes roughly 90 minutes. So, as the sun sets earlier and earlier, put on a sweater and head out to the zoo for an evening autumnal amble.

When my good friend Angie Jeffries invited me to her birthday celebration at a winery in Stillwell, I wasn’t sure what to think—other than what day do I block on my calendar? So, on a gorgeous pre-fall Saturday evening, we chartered a car (vino safety first—obviously) and set on a course of the unknown. Serendipity Farm & Vine is just off 69 Highway at 183rd Street (yes, the numbers go that high!) And I will say, it is completely charming.

The farm encompasses several bucolic acres—far enough outside the city that you feel like you’re in “the country,” but close enough that it doesn’t take forever to get there. The property centers around a gathering of the chicest barns you’ll ever encounter. One is where you’ll get your wine (important), another is an open space for weddings and events, and another is a four-bedroom “she shed” rental—and quite a large one at that. Sadly, it was booked for the night we were visiting; we checked in advance. 

Funnily enough, what brought us to the winery had nothing to do with wine at all. The birthday girl is a huge fan of “yacht rock,” and in her close following of all yacht rock happenings in the city, she learned that local band Yachtly Groove would be playing there. The band performed inside a large tent with reserved tables, while scores of people encircled with their picnic chairs and blankets. In addition to the wine (all crafted on-site), Rivals BBQ catering was serving up loaded nachos and pulled pork sandwiches. Fantastic barbecue. We nibbled, sipped our wine and wine slushies (had to try, and just as fun as you’d imagine), and grooved to all the smooth, soft-rock hits of the 70s and 80s.

On our way back into the city, we weren’t quite ready to call it quits on celebrating. Someone remembered that the affable Bill George had recently opened a bar in the area. We Googled it, and suddenly we were at the Final Final Club. We were there, but you wouldn’t know it. At the end of a strip mall, there’s a small payphone icon above a glass entryway. Inside, there’s an actual payphone beneath a neon sign: Last Call. Followed by some cute Instagram pics of us making calls on the dinosaur payphone, we entered. No password required.

Final Final is a cozy nightclub with a modern feel. There’s live music on the weekends, and a very tight dinner and snacks menu. I wanted the s’mores, but somehow got distracted and forgot until we’d already left. Another time. It was our lucky night, though, because Bill happened to be in the house. We chatted and ordered espresso martinis. Chatted more. When our drinks arrived, one was extra-special. “Printed” atop the espresso foam was a picture (swiftly grabbed online, uploaded, and converted) of my friend Heidi Markle and her dog, Harley, who’d just passed away. Bill knew of Harley’s passing and offered this thoughtful gesture. He was also eager to try out his new machine (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that, using a tasteless, edible material, prints words or images onto cocktails that have a bit of froth or foam that the printing can attach to. Incredible. Oh, and if you’re curious about the name, Bill detailed how he’d often find himself meeting friends somewhere for a “final” drink. Followed by a “final final” drink. So, there you have it. Check it out. Finally!

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

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



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