Made for the Middle


Kansas City’s fifth annual Middle of the Map Festival dominates the month of April to bring the best music, film, and discussions to the heart of the Midwest.

By Hannah Pierangelo


Like with Oreos and sibling order, sometimes the middle is the best. For Kansas City, it’s never been better to be in the middle. Of the map, that is.

Kansas City has seen more than a little national attention over the last year. We can thank America’s favorite pastime and the Royals for its time in the spotlight, as well as The New York Times’ shout out to the city for a revitalized urban setting that’s attracted many millennial residents. Being right in the middle of the country, the city is able to draw from the biggest and best ideas in art, culture, and music. Kansas City is, simply put, the pulse of the Midwest.

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That’s where Middle of the Map Festival comes in. Now in its fifth year, the fest isn’t a toddler anymore; it’s finally hitting a growth spurt and standing on its own feet this year, having matured in more than a few big ways since its birth. What started as a music festival has expanded to add film and forum, much like the popular South by Southwest Festival held in Austin, Texas, each March. The music component has also added multiple days and venues to coincide with its ever-growing lineup, which passes 120 artists this year. To top it off, the festival expects to draw more than 10,000 people over three weekends to the beating heart of Kansas City.

“Music happens there 365 days a year,” said Nathan Reusch, co-founder and curator of the festival and founder of independent record label, The Record Machine. “It’s not like we’re entirely throwing this festival in a field in the middle of nowhere.”

For first-time attendees, this is a good year to introduce yourself to one of the more successful urban Midwest fests. The music weekend, held April 22-25, will span seven venues including the historic Uptown Theater, an outdoor stage in the district lot, and in smaller venues like The Riot Room, Record Bar, and Westport Saloon in Westport, said Reusch. Though fans must be 21 to attend shows at The Riot Room, Westport Saloon, and Ernie Biggs bar, Uptown Theater will be open to all ages and The Record Bar open to those 18 and older.

While the country’s most popular music festivals are hosting upwards of 50,000 people a day in empty fields, Middle of the Map is able to incorporate the best venues, restaurants, and the entirety of downtown Kansas City’s vibrant atmosphere into the event.

“That’s the thing about Kansas City,” Reusch says. “We’re not the largest market. We’re not New York, we’re not LA, we’re not Chicago. Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, and Coachella—those things exist. [Middle of the Map] is providing something that’s an alternative to that.”

The festival is also includes local acts on its bill as well as national ones. Iron and Wine will headline this year’s festival, but hardworking bands from Kansas City will share the stage with some of the festival’s bigger names in keeping with the festival’s local values.

Iron and Wine, pictured above, will be headlining this year's Middle of the Map Fest.

Iron and Wine, pictured above, will be headlining this year’s Middle of the Map Fest.

Hembree, an indie/alternative rock band based out of Kansas City, will play the third night of the festival before indie-folk artist Lord Huron at the outdoor stage.

“What’s unique about Middle of the Map is a lot of the local venues work together and you buy admission for the festival and you can walk in through anybody’s door,” says Matt Green, Hembree’s bassist. “It’s just cool because it’s a full city event, it’s not just grouped in one area like a normal festival would be. It creates a unique vibe. People can text each other and say, ‘You’re at the Jerusalem café? Well get down to The Riot Room, this band’s really good.’ It creates a lot of buzz really fast around the city.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit


Edited by Katie Gilbaugh

Photos provided by Nathan Reusch and Iron and Wine