The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Lucie Krisman has reported on beats that include local government, business, arts and culture.
In September 2017, the site of a former auto parts store officially became a concert hall and opened in Kansas City.
At 601 E. Truman Road in Kansas City, Missouri, the Truman came to life on the site of what was once Sterling Engine Parts. While the walls still feature nods to its former occupant through quirky signs and photos of the old store, the building has been bringing people together to listen to music ever since.
For Marathon Live, the venue’s Nashville-based owner, this isn’t the first space to transition from an auto shop to a concert and event venue. In 2011, the company opened Marathon Music Works in Nashville, which grew out of a 1990s automobile manufacturing plant.
But Marathon Live communications manager Jeremy Hicks said the company wanted the Truman to be its own venue in every way – including its light blue exterior and name, which the Kansas Citians chose in a contest .
“We wanted every part of the Truman to be unique to Kansas City,” he said. “Everything from the color palette to the design and who we have to brand it to. It was all locals.”
Truman’s first show was Kansas City-native rapper Tech N9ne, and Hicks said the first show set a standard for the rest of Marathon Live’s venues.
“It was really just a lot of electrical power,” he said. “I feel like we always look at Truman’s first show like, ‘This is how we want every first show to be.’ ”
The Truman hosts both concerts and special events, such as weddings and corporate parties. In the room five years, Marathon Live COO Casey Ianelli said he had become a big part of the Crossroads neighborhood and the Kansas City music scene.
“I started (working here) when it was still under construction, so obviously we were starting from scratch,” she said. “To see it all come together and be the place it is now is really cool.”
After only three years of opening, the Truman also faced a unique hurdle; understand how to manage music and live events during a pandemic.
When shows were put on hiatus, the focus was on retaining venue staff and engaging with the Kansas City community as they still could, including hosting virtual events with local artists through Facebook. and Instagram Live.
“It was definitely out of our wheelhouse,” Hicks said. “But that’s kind of our motto, you know. If you don’t know how to do something, just dive deep and figure out how to do it and make it work.
As COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, virtual events slowly led to masked and socially distanced events. Today, the Truman is back to side-by-side general admission shows — a transition Ianelli called “equally exciting and terrifying.”
Instead of having venue-wide guidelines, the decision for which precautions are in place for each show now rests with individual artist tour teams.
“You absolutely have to adapt,” Ianelli said. “It became very different, the way you interacted with the guests and the artists. It’s a lot of patience.”
Ultimately, Truman’s staff believe the venue makes an important contribution to Kansas City’s music scene. For one thing, venue manager Amanda Mills said, it serves as a happy medium between the most intimate venues in the city and the larger ones.
“You can see your favorite band in a room that might normally be too small for them, but they tidy it up and make it really intimate,” Mills said. “It’s a great experience on both sides.”
The place has changed a lot over the years, from the colors of the walls to the people who work there. But Mills said one thing hadn’t changed.
“I would say the one thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that we like to have fun,” Mills said. “It’s really cool to see people having the time of their lives and to know that you played a role in helping to put that in place.”
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