Truman celebrates five years of bringing music to the Kansas City community

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinions from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Lucie Krisman has reported on beats involving local government, business and arts and culture.

In September 2017, the site of a former auto parts store officially became a concert venue and opened its doors in Kansas City.

At 601 E. Truman Road in Kansas City, Missouri, Truman was born on the site of what used to be Sterling Engine Parts. While the walls still display nods to its former occupant through the old shop’s original signs and photos, the building has been bringing people together to enjoy music ever since.

For Nashville-based venue owner Marathon Live, 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 car manufacturing plant.

But Marathon Live communications manager Jeremy Hicks said the company wanted Truman to be its venue in every way — including the light blue exterior and its name, which Kansas Citians chose through a contest.

“We wanted every piece of 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. They were all local residents.”

The Truman’s debut show was rapper Tech N9ne, who is from Kansas City, and Hicks said the first show set a standard for the rest of the Marathon Live venues.

“It was really electric,” he said. “I feel like we always look at the first Truman show as, ‘This is how we want every first show to be.'”

The Truman in Kansas City opened five years ago and has since become a community fixture. (Lucie Chrisman)

Truman organizes concerts and special events, such as weddings and corporate parties. At the scene five years, Marathon Live Chief Operating Officer Casey Ianelli said it has become a big part of the Crossroads neighborhood and Kansas City’s music scene.

“I started (working here) when it was still under construction, so we were definitely starting from the bare bones,” she said. “To see it all come together and be where it is now is really cool.”

After only three years of being open, Truman also faced a unique hurdle; figuring out how to handle music and live events during a pandemic.

When the shows were discontinued, the focus became keeping the venue staffed and engaging with the Kansas City community in ways they still could, including hosting virtual events with local performers through 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, just take a deep dive and figure out how to do it and make it work.”

When COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, virtual events slowly gave way to masked and socially distanced ones. Today, Truman has returned to side-by-side general admission shows — a transition Ianelli called “equally exciting and terrifying.”

Instead of having country-wide guidelines, the decision on which precautions are set for each show is now up to the touring teams of individual artists.

“You definitely have to adapt,” Ianelli said. “It became very different, the way you interacted with guests and artists. It’s a lot of patience.”

Ultimately, the Truman staff feels the venue makes important contributions to the Kansas City music scene. For one, bar manager Amanda Mills said it serves as a happy medium between the city’s more intimate venues and larger ones.

“You get to see your favorite band in a room that would normally be too small for them, but they pack it in and make it feel really intimate,” Mills said. “It’s a great experience on both sides.”

Many things about the venue have changed over 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 hasn’t changed is that we like to have fun,” Mills said. “It’s really cool, watching people have the time of their lives and knowing you played a part in helping put it on.”

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