The Truman celebrates five years of bringing music, community to Kansas City
A sign outside the Truman concert venue in Kansas City advertises its fifth anniversary (photo by Lucie Krisman).
In September 2017, the site of a former auto parts shop officially became a concert venue and opened its doors to Kansas City.
At 601 E. Truman Road in Kansas City, Missouri, the Truman sprang to life on the site of what used to be Sterling Engine Parts. While the walls still feature nods to its previous occupant through original signs and photos of the old shop, the building has been bringing people together to enjoy 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 Nashville’s Marathon Music Works — born out of a 1990s auto 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 its name, which Kansas Citians chose through a contest.
“We wanted every part of the Truman to be unique to Kansas City,” he said. “Everything from the color scheme to the design and who we got to do the branding. It was all local people.”
The Truman’s debut show was rapper Tech N9ne, who is from Kansas City, and Hicks said that first show set a standard for the rest of Marathon Live’s venues.
“It was really just a lot of electric energy,” he said. “I feel like we always look at the Truman’s first show as like, ‘That’s how we want every first show to be.’ ”
The Truman hosts both concerts and special events, such as weddings and corporate parties. In the venue’s five years, Marathon Live Chief Operating Officer Casey Ianelli said it has become a big part of the Crossroads neighborhood and the Kansas City music scene.
“I started (working here) when it was still in construction, so obviously we were starting from bare bones,” she said. “Seeing it all come together and be the venue it is now is really neat.”
After only three years of being open, the Truman was also thrown a unique hurdle; figuring out how to handle live music and events during a pandemic.
When shows paused, the focus became retaining the venue’s staff and engaging with the Kansas City community in the ways they still could, including hosting virtual events with local performers via 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, you just kind of take a deep dive and figure out how to do it and make it work.”
When COVID-19 restrictions started to ease, virtual events slowly led to masked and socially-distanced ones. Today, the Truman is back to shoulder-to-shoulder general admission shows — a transition that Ianelli called “equally exciting and terrifying.”
Instead of having venue-wide guidelines, the decision for which precautions are in place for each show is now up to the touring teams of individual artists.
“You definitely have to adapt,” Ianelli said. “It became way different, how you interacted with guests and artists. It’s a lot of patience.”
Ultimately, the Truman’s staff think the venue makes important contributions to Kansas City’s music scene. For one, venue manager Amanda Mills said, it serves as a happy medium between the city’s more intimate venues and its largest ones.
“You can see your favorite band in a room that would maybe normally be too small for them, but they pack it out and make it feel really intimate,” Mills said. “It’s a great experience on both sides.”
Much about the venue has changed through the years, from the colors of the walls to the people who work there. But Mills said one thing hasn’t changed.
“I would say the one thing that definitely has not changed is that we love having fun,” Mills said. “It’s really cool, getting to watch people have the best time of their life and knowing that you’ve played a part in helping to put that on.”
This commentary was originally published by the Kansas Reflector, a States Newsroom affiliate.
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