The Hot Club of Cowtown plans to conjure the historic past of the Great Plains when they play Western swing music in Blue Rapids Sunday night. The trio, based out of Austin, Texas, will play before the fireworks culminate the city’s anniversary celebration July 4. The free concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Riverside Park, near the Marshall County Fairgrounds.
The concert is sponsored by the Marshall County Arts Cooperative.
“We play fiddle tunes, standards, hoedowns, songs we write, European traditional songs—it’s very danceable, and a great fit for an old-fashioned rural Kansas get together with ice cream and duck races,” said Elana James, who plays violin for the band and sings. “As a native Kansan (from Prairie Village), I can say, I am excited.”
This show is part of the group’s first road trip in almost a year and a half due to the coronavirus pandemic. James jokes the musicians are ready to release some pent-up, excitable energy.
The Hot Club of Cowtown consists of James on violin and vocals, Whit Smith on guitar and vocals, and their newest member, Zack Sapunor, on upright bass. They have been together for almost 25 years and their signature musical style is Western swing and hot string jazz played in a vintage style.
“I am always happy when we play community events, outdoors, for people of all ages,” James said. “This music is not just for arts centers or nightclubs—no music is. I enjoy sharing the history of this sound with people in the setting that it basically came out of.”
Western swing is a music tradition that came up in the 1920s through the 1940s in the rural American southwest.
“Playing in Blue Rapids is featuring the music in its natural habitat,” James added. “I think it will go beautifully with the Kansas sunset.”
That afternoon musicians are invited to jam with the band at 2:30 p.m. on the square in downtown Blue Rapids. The jam is open to anyone, and will have a casual feel with the band playing acoustic, leading some tunes, and inviting others to join. Those wanting to jam with the band should bring their instrument.
“We’ll get a sense once people are there of what kinds of tunes we’ll do, but the main thing will be for people to get a chance to play with us and not just watch us,” James explained. “I love to play, and there is nothing like sitting down together, even for an hour, and playing some tunes together to celebrate the gifts of our independence and our ability to play music together on the 4th of July.”
People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to the performances.
“We love it when people enjoy the show in whatever way that resonates with them,” James said. “Some people like to sit and listen and watch, some people like to dance, kids like to dance around, but really we would just like to add to the festive nature of the evening.”
The trio enjoys talking to people after the show and hopes audience members stop by for a post-show hello.
Their concert is part of the Blue Rapids’ weekend anniversary celebration starting Friday night, July 2, with a cruise night and free movie. Activities are planned throughout the weekend. A full schedule may be found on the Blue Rapids 150th celebration Facebook page.