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Saturday May 28th, 2022 at Flagship Books in Kansas City, KS
Manor Fest 4: Charlotte Bumgarner, Maddie Razook, & Rachel Cion

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At least one person tested positive for COVID after this performance. If you were there, please get tested.

The 2022 edition of Manor Fest had been swishing about Kansas City and Lawrence for two weeks. Twenty shows in twenty different locations. As the last day of the fest dawned, I’d not seen one. Life is like that sometimes. Best intentions and all that. But amidst all the other evening and night gigs, a little ray of hope shone on the schedule – a Saturday afternoon show at a new bookstore only a few miles from my house featuring four performers that I (embarrassingly) had not made a point to see previously. I plugged the show into my calendar.

I arrived at Flagship Books just before 2pm, picked up my wristband from a volunteer, and slipped inside. While I waited for the first performer, I cruised the shelves. Some new, some used. Fiction and non. Small. Or maybe just cozy. I didn’t find the book I was looking for (Hell of a Book by Jason Mott) but did find a somewhat outdated paperback on the great buildings of Chicago that was a steal. There were tables in the back staffed by the three principals of Secret Handshake Studios who sponsored the afternoon stage. They sold some jewelry and other handmade goods, guided guests who were invited to make custom buttons, and they explained the mission of their new crafting studio and storefront. I excused myself when I overheard Chloe Jacobson couldn’t make it. I never saw her perform when she was living in KC, but now that she’s escaped to Portland, my chances have gotten fewer. This was one more miss. Also, the show would now start at 3pm. I went outside, found a sunny spot on the sidewalk, and sat down with my book.

It was just after 3pm when local Kansas City chanteuse Rachel Cionitti took the stage as Rachel Cion. Not exactly a secret identity, but we all do what it takes to keep things tidy in our lives. She played for about a half hour. Maybe six songs on an acoustic guitar with a borrowed soundhole microphone that flustered her when it misbehaved in the first song. Cionitti pops up on a lot of DIY bills – either solo or in her indie pop creation, Bigfatcat. She’s young, self-effacing, and talented. Her slowly strummed folk songs provide a bed for a high emotive voice that she lets soar and break as it wants. The results are pleasant and immersive. And it’s a shame I hadn’t made the effort to see her before.

There wasn’t a terribly long break between acts. In fact, many people didn’t dare get up from the fifteen or twenty folding chairs set out for the event. While waiting for the entertainment to resume, the audience chatted in hushed tones.

Maddie Razook drove from her home in Oklahoma City for the show. Her set was a shift from Cionitti’s. A move from Generation Z to Millennial. The distressed Doc Martens and oversized black band t-shirt of the first performer gave way to the sandals and white peasant blouse of the next. She stood behind her keyboard, with eyes closed, delivering songs slow and deliberate. Deliberate but not somber. With the versality of the keyboard, including its basic percussion capabilities, Razook incorporated pop elements into her set. Not overblown Katy Perry pop, but reminiscent of the early work of fellow Wichitonian Jordana. Her voice was warm, soft, and controlled as it sat assuredly on top of supporting chords and alongside the dreamy, twinkling melodies. Razook played several new songs during her short set that I hope to hear fleshed out on an upcoming release.

After Razook’s set, I returned to my book and my spot on the sidewalk. When the hot sun got the better of me, I moved to the shaded side of the building facing 6th Street. This drag in Kansas City, KS is home to a growing number of new creative business like Flagship Books. A new record store, recording studio, cafe, and more have also opened on the strip in the last year signaling that Strawberry Hill is on the ascent.

The afternoon showcase culminated with Tulsa’s Charlotte Bumgarner. Bumgarner records for Manor Records, but I’m unaware of any other ties to the region. Or maybe the four-hour drive from Tulsa is regional enough for us Midwesterners. Bumgarner began her set with “Honey Touch” – a single recorded in 2020 and available only on streaming services. Like most of the songs in her set, this one was quiet. And a bit gloomy. While “sad girl indie” as a genre feels pejorative, it is the nom du jour for women songwriters delivering thoughtful lyrics over sparce instrumentation. The shoe fits. Bumgarner’s lyrics are specific and fleshed out with just enough detail to allow them to feel lived, and yet universal enough to deliver a sting. That’s a lot for someone barely into their twenties.

Bumgarner played her acoustic guitar for this set. With her band Graveyard Party, she plays electric. Some solo sets too. I’m glad she chose acoustic this time – not only did it fit the lazy afternoon in a sunny bookstore vibe, but it allowed her to demonstrate her fingerpicking that, despite her warnings, was lovely and added additional depth to her set. Custom tunings also added intrigue, even if they birthed some lengthy pauses. Bumgarner apologized through the delays, confessing she just can’t allow herself the pretention of travelling with two guitars. Offers to be her guitar tech then sprung up around the room. She looked skyward imagining that reality. While she had planned to end her set with a new song, its opening chord eluded her. Instead, after some mental struggle, she thanked the audience and called it a day after only five songs.

Immediately after Bumgarner had stepped away from the microphone she was approached by Razook who commiserated about the inherent dangers of playing new material. Bumgarner promised to send Razook the new song (“If I haven’t already”) and Razook promised to do the same for one she was working on. There’s comradery within the Manor Records family and that spirit of cooperation drives Manor Fest as well. The bands, the venues, the neighborhoods, and even the sponsors all support a people-first philosophy. Seeing this firsthand, I was once again embarrassed to have not been more involved – especially as I hopped in my car to hurry home in preparation for other obligations rather than following the crowd down the street to Mockingbird Lounge. In a few minutes, the next four performers would play on an outdoor stage sponsored by Stray Cat Film Center, but like so many Manor Fest showcases, I’d have to miss that one too.