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What happens when you stick rock in the middle of Kansas? Well if it's in the middle of the word you get Kanrocksas and if it's in the middle of the city you get 2 days packed with more music than KC has ever seen. 2011 marked the debut of this newbie festival and for its first year, Kanrocksas decided to give birth to a whole new experience.

Settled in the infield of a racetrack, the festival held 3 main stages, 2 minor stages and 1 tent stage. Set up on the outside of the track, the parking lot held a mini city all its own - otherwise known as campgrounds. Tens of thousands flowed in and out of the grounds for two solid days. And with a constant supply of cold water provided, numerous food vendors and even a 200 foot high waterslide, there was always something to do. But, when they weren't seeking shade or watching the graffiti artists at work, festival goers moved in waves between sets. Besides the unfortunate "double-booking" which happened a few times throughout the fest, one was always guaranteed that when one band ended, a mere 10 minutes later another band would begin.

Day 1:
Friday started the festival off with handful of bands that figured out one way or another how to make the audience dance. Take Fitz & The Tantrums; now this is soul music, or at least how my generation would do soul. In other words, it's soul mixed with a bit of pop and indie and when you translate that strong sound with its saxophone and keys to the stage, it makes for the perfect band to kick everything off. And sporting those necessary afternoon sun shades just completed the "we ARE cool" sentiment. Following in the "cool" factor came the Arctic Monkeys, who have come to be known as some of music's favorite foreigners. When one calls Yorkshire home, I would not think that the term "heat index" is generally included in their vocabulary. However, when you plan a festival in the Midwest and plop it on the first weekend in August it's gonna be hot. So with the humidity ranking way too high, the band appropriately suited up in t-shirts, jeans and some Grease-styled haircuts for their assault on sound. The beauty of the Artic Monkeys is the vastness of their talent. With the recent album Suck It And See, they tapped into a bit of the heartfelt stuff. For this set they busted out some perfect summer pop hits as well as songs like "Brick By Brick" that just seemed to deserve that awesome product slicked front hair flip. Powerful 60s guitar riffs and deep harmonies kept the grooves solid, while the rest of the songs focused on delicate melodies set to lyrics of love.

With the sun still high, hip-hop fans gathered for Kid Cudi. His awesome energy and bright smiles instantly got the crowd hyped. And the massively huge (nearly nauseating) bass beats literally shook the grounds of Kanrocksas. While his set mostly sat on the slow bumping tempo, he still managed to keep the energy going. In true hip-hop spirit, most-to-all instrumentation and music was digital and mixed but to add a little something-something, Kid utilized the screen already set up for the headliner to display a mix of Matrix-style graphics and music videos shots. This was definitely one of the token sets of the day.

After taking a break from the crowds to annihilate some bratwursts, I headed back through the chaos for a front seat at The Flaming Lips' set. It was the usual FLIPS scene: confetti, stage dancers, gigantic video screen and a human sized inflatable ball. But that's what we've all come to love about that band. So as to not disappoint those long time fans, Wayne took a moment in one of the first few songs to introduce a new element to the Lips show: iPhone. Yes, Steven had actually brought his iPhone on stage and proceeded to use his new app as the effects/instrumentation to their next song, "Worm Mountain". I"m not sure this addition would fly in a traditional band, however, most traditional bands don't have someone dressed in a sun outfit dancing on stage. So it worked. Overall their set had a great sense of youthful nature about it and came as a nice "odd-man-out" to the rest of the mostly DJ/hip-hop filled day.

Ending Day 1 was an artist that actually calls Kansas City home (well St. Joe). Eminem may not verbally announce his connection to Missouri, but we sure like to point out the connection. And while most people probably wouldn't admit their excitement, it was easy to see that his set gathered the largest crowd of the day. Having not been to this area in at least five years left fans highly anticipating another appearance from Marshall Mathers. And from the first song, "Won't Back Down," this chart topping artist had even the most random fans doing a bit of a thug dance. Every word was precise, every beat drop was full of relentless attitude and with a plethora of guest singers, Eminem put on one heck of a performance. One of the only draw backs was the fact that less than half of the songs were actually sung in their entirety. Most of the time we got a verse and a chorus and then it was on to the next hit. This is apparently a "typical" part of a hip-hop/rap show. Regardless it was freaking annoying. We came to hear the songs, the entire songs. Notable selections mostly included songs off the recent release Recovery with a few moments from The Eminem Show. Songs like "Cinderella Man" and "Won't Back Down" had such solid bass beats that they let the lyrics take main stage. One thing that Kanrocksas did right was acoustics and sound systems, thus making it so each and every word was easily heard. The set ended with an encore so popular it nearly caused pandemonium in the crowd. When the movie 8 Mile came out audiences were introduced to a story about a guy just trying to make it through life. And the song that captured all of that was "Lose Yourself". If you want to see hip-hop randomly emerge from the most random of people, play this song for them. I saw everyone from kids to parents rapping along to the lyrics. With a simple up beat tempo across the ivories kept this song very simple, even when taken on the live stage. Lyrics embedded in our brains, mixed with beats embedded in our feet, made for a perfect ending to the evening.

And as exhausted fans dragged themselves back to their cars or campsites, a nice fireworks show lit the night. Not necessarily what anyone was waiting for, but still a pleasant surprise.

Day 2:
Rested, stretched, hydrated and fed, we gradually found ourselves back within the confines of the festival on Saturday. The day we knew was going to be full, not only of music, but of humidityand sunshine, so a few bottles of sunscreen were packed as well. The first set of the day was The Black Angels who probably easily grabbed the title of one of the best up-and-coming bands of the weekend. A huge 70s and 80s classic rock vibe came flowing from the stage on this one. Black sunglasses and long hair worked well with distorted rhythm guitar notes and a subtle bass grind playing throughout. This was a set with minimal frills but this was a band that would feel very at home in venues like CBGBs or a dark basement.

From classic rock to what one could describe as dance rock, dressed in brightly colored 3-piece suits, the four members of Ok Go promptly hopped on stage and took the day to that next level. Kicking it off right away with "Do What You Want" the energy was instantly at high octane. The infectious lyrics and melodic pop rock tendencies in the guitars made even those of us in the photo pit jump around. As one fan said, "Ok Go - making hand bells cool even today" makes it no surprise that our set contained the song "Return" and those famous bells. However, this song met the fate of an outdoor stage and the fact that when an artist steps away from their precious microphone, voices are sometimes lost to the vastness of outside. Still, a pretty song. Realizing that they may have taken a step back with "Return", Damien literally took a step off [the stage that is] in the next song "Last Leaf". While this was another acoustic-type song like that of the former, with the sole performer standing in the middle of the audience that supposed to hear it, it seemed to work a bit better. Awesome hits like the treadmill dancing "Here It Goes Again" and even oldie (but goodie) "Get Over It" with its attitude-packed and crazy rock riffs, took slots in this very short time. And then to end with audience participation on "This Too Shall Pass" and lyrics "When the morning comes / this too shall pass" ringing in each pair of ears, they seriously had one of the best setlists of the weekend.

Rolling through the antics of a Cage The Elephant set, the next preparation was for a Mr. Todd Maynard and his alternative band A Perfect Circle. The music from APC was on a completely different level from the rest of the day and with the deep colored lights illuminating an army mesh backdrop, the entire experience was as unique as the music. The genius of Maynard has been seen with Tool for many years now, but it's A Perfect Circle that has really given fans a chance to see another side of the artist. Heavy bass progressions and guitar work so fluid it almost commanded a head bang filled the 50 minute set. While the music may have worked better at an indoor venue, the festival tried to make the best of it. So under a sky lit with stars and the occasional floating lantern, the band worked through sounds from albums like Thirteenth Step and eMOTIVe. And though a common complaint heard related to the long distance between stages, at that moment it worked in our favor, as competing for time slots with APC was Girl Talk - though one would've had no idea, as standing in front of that stage made it felt like that was the only music being played in the entire festival.

A 180 from the stylings of Todd was that of the next act. And with just a guitar and a set of drums, the classic rock-ness of The Black Keys echoed through the grandstands. I'm not really sure how they did it, but somehow those two guys created such a strong sound you'd think they had an extra 4 or 5 members on stage. The title "Hardest Working Men In Showbiz" easily goes to the Keys. Take "Howlin' For You" with a little hand clap, a little synthesizer and the talent of Patrick and Dan, made for an extremely fun song. The music created seemed so comfortable in the Midwest, old school and classic.

The headliner for Saturday also felt like the headliner for the entire weekend. Muse was originally supposed to stop by KC in 2010, but the unfortunate news came of show cancellations for not only us, but a few surrounding cities. Therefore their performance at Kanrocksas almost felt like a make-up show. What a make-up show it was. Though those of us (40!) photographers missed a few of their well-known hits while in the pit, the set as a whole was pretty freaking amazing. The stage was equipped with massive video screens and smoke cannons. And even Matthew (lead vocals) came out sporting a matching pair of blue LED sunglasses. Besides major numbers like "Supermassive Black Hole" and "Map Of The Problematique", most of the night came from the recent album The Resistance. With each song came cinematic level effects, dance grooves with hints of prog-rock, pop and even hip-hop sprinkled on top. No matter if it was the sultry synth tones in "Undisclosed Desires" or the chaotic punk guitar in "Hysteria", each song had just as much energy as the song before. The icing on the cake came at the end of the main set when the song "Stockholm Syndrome" came with its full blown insanity, cleverly disguised as guitar notes, the band also busted out their very expensive laser light show. Now I've seen my fair amount of laser shows, they do not compare. One moment I was afraid we were all going to have seizures and the next it felt as though the lasers were going to land right on top of us. This was a multi-sensory experience, the body didn't know where to focus, lights, guitar, vocals, bass, drums, lights, guitar, lights, vocals. Pure, awesome, insanity. When the main set finished, the question was left lingering in most fans minds: "wait, don't they have another hit?" Yep. After a brief pause for a song from Origin Of Symmetry, they answered everyone's question with "Knights Of Cydonia". And with that came those famous "ahh-ahh-ahhhhhhs" and the most randomly placed Beach Boys-esque note slide. The whammy bar takes hold of the notes on this song and if you listen real close on the album, you'll also hear a few trumpets. For the stage, it was that memorable chorus that kept fans fully involved in their last number. Each Muse fan in that audience was patiently waiting for the mid-song break and their chance to belt at the top of their lungs: "No one's gonna to take me alive! /The time has come to make things right! / You and I must fight for our rights! / You and I must fight to survive!" This was an excellent song to end the night [and weekend] on.

Preliminary numbers have rolled in for the festival at about 70k in attendance for the weekend. So yeah, for the amount of great music and its first attempt, I'd log this in as a success.

-Rachel Fredrickson

Kanrocksas Music Festival
August 5th - 6th, 2011
Kansas Speedway, Bonner Springs, KS

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