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Image credit above: The Tap Room at Waldo Pizza hosted Listyn KC events for several years before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy | Listyn KC)

With the heavenly jukebox a constant companion in our headphones, who would really pay to congregate in one place and jointly listen to recorded music?

Lots of Kansas City Citizens, it turns out.

So much so that a group of local record enthusiasts came together around a plan to establish the Recorded music center, a sort of temple of vinyl art, with the Listyning Room for serious contemplation at its heart.

Their vision is that of a nightclub, a museum and an ultra hi-fi stereo system, offering a curated playlist with themed nights and guest speakers, all owned by a purpose-built company. non-profit and funded by membership fees.

That such a thing could be considered is a statement about the value of these 21st Mid-century Americans put on the camaraderie and visceral feel of sound moving the air in a room – things the heavenly jukebox, for all its ubiquity, just doesn’t deliver.

Indeed, supporters say the center is specifically designed as an antidote to the atomizing effect that the latest music delivery technology – streaming – has had on the personal level as well as on the work of musicians at the level of the musician. concept-album. They say the center could be members’ third place – after home and work – when life returns to normal before the pandemic.

“It’s as much about the community we build as it is about the facility,” said founder Kelsyn Rooks. “It’s more about giving people a place to come and share this incredible musical journey that we are all on, and giving them tools that they probably cannot afford individually. The average person cannot afford a $ 150,000 stereo system. But here, they can listen to it five evenings a week, and eventually even seven. ”

Kelsyn Rooks drops the needle into the groove at a Listyn KC event. (Courtesy | Listyn KC)

While the Center for Recorded Music project is the brainchild of Rooks, 47, it echoes the influence of his late father, Music exchange owner Ron Rooks (1952-2006) and the legions of Kansas City record collectors who came before and after him.

For the old-timers, there’s even a scent of the Main Street jazz lair lined with Milton’s albums on the Center for Recorded Music / Listyning Room. Teddy Dibble, board member and potential chief executive, was a casket carrier at Milton Morris’s funeral.

But to achieve this, the center will need to reach out to a new generation of recorded music enthusiasts, and Rooks and his supporters are eager to test their concept in the highly anticipated post-pandemic environment. They announced a public launch on social media today.

Kelsyn Rooks had a five-year track record of success, often selling two shows at each of her monthly classic album listening sessions at Waldo Pizza.

Rooks and his supporters were preparing to turn this into a for-profit Listyning Room business – they were focusing on a building – when COVID-19 shut everything down in March 2020. Listyning Room, like the Listyn KC series before it, is a trademark -friendly trade plays on the first name of Rooks.

In retrospect, he said, it’s a good thing it didn’t take off at the time.

“We would have been in debt with construction loans amid COVID,” Rooks said, “and that probably would have killed the concept.”

Instead, the group used the year of the pandemic to clean up their home as a nonprofit and garner even more long-term support.

The League of Theaters might be a good analogue of how they hope to proceed, but instead of presenting Broadway musicals, the Center for Recorded Music could present a lecture with a ticket. legendary record producer or engineer.

On an ordinary night it would work something like a Tokyo hi-fi recording bar, with food and drink and records – maybe even some that the members bring – are spinning. Monday could be a reggae night, like at the old Grand Emporium. Displays of sound technology recorded over the decades could add a daytime educational component.

And while there’s no listening room the big-eared Kansas Citians can go to yet, the vaccine rollout gives Rooks enough hope to make a splash and look forward to a day when fans. , perhaps with a vax passport, will be able to gather again to hear the needle drop on a killer LP. Donors hope to open the facility in early 2022.

A community situation

Growing up, Kelsyn Rooks rebelled against her hippie parents by becoming a technologist.

“I don’t want to use the word prodigy, but I was taking programming classes at community college when I was 7, 8, 9,” he said. “I was writing software pretty much from the start. I did an internship at DST in high school, writing financial analysis software.

“I spent years as a programmer, then years managing teams of programmers. Today I’m a manager in the CTO office at Nokia, mainly focused on large scale networks and private wireless and 5G. technologies. Obviously this has been a great way to take care of my family.

During this time, and especially after the death of her father in 2006, Kelsyn Rooks began to take more interest in music. He established Blackbird Home Theater, a home theater and home automation company that relied on music itself through technology.

“In 2014 or 2015 vinyl records were hot again,” Rooks said, and his love of stereo equipment was combined with a new “passion for today’s media. and the musical experience.

Pink Floyd's cover
The cover of “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd, the debut album presented by Kelsyn Rooks at the Tap Room at Waldo Pizza on May 3, 2015.

He was starting to think about sharing his passions with the public when he learned of the existence Classic Album Sundays, the creation of DJ / writer Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, and signed as her Kansas City outpost.

While it was a success from the start, constantly drawing crowds of 70 to Waldo Pizza’s tap room to listen to records like “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Pet Sounds” put into context and played on a system. At the cutting edge of technology, Rooks soon balked at the restrictions imposed on him by the group.

After taking a hiatus in 2017 to take care of his child’s health, Rooks returned on his own in 2018, under the name Listyn KC.

“It just exploded,” Rooks said. “I got to this point because I had more control over my own marketing, how we presented ourselves on social media, when I promoted things, what I chose to play for the month. And when I say off, I mean by the time we get to 2020 and COVID, shows were selling out in five minutes from the moment I uploaded 75 tickets. “

Selling double shows and managing a waiting list of 30 or 40 people has long proven the business case, so Rooks, Dibble and others began to work on expanding the concept.

“We started with this very small idea of ​​finding another space where we can set up the equipment all the time. We can do shows more often. And maybe we’ll take it over, ”Rooks said.

It turned into a combination of a social club and an educational enterprise.

“We’ve thought about the idea for a long time,” Rooks said. “Is it a for-profit music bar that serves drinks and food, but you can go and listen to records?” Is it some sort of a private social-slash-club concept? In 2020 and COVID, I got to that point where I said, ‘Look, it’s not about profit for me. It will never be my full time job. I want to make this accessible and available to as many people as possible ”.”

While Dibble, videographer and former employee of the Penny Lane record store, has 2,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. Eat. To sleep. Vinyl, where he discusses records, he sees the Center for Recorded Music / Listyning Room as performing certain functions that no website can.

“We want this to be a community situation for people who love music, who love recorded music and who will experience it in a way that they normally couldn’t because of the equipment that we are going to have.” Dibble said.

“It takes me back to my early days of collecting records and discovering music. The main thing was word of mouth. This is how you learned things. You would get stuff from the radio. You would pick up certain things from the posts. But word of mouth was the most reliable. The older brothers of friends were a huge source.

“I see it as a modern extension of that, where we can bring people together in a very relaxed way – sometimes very informal and sometimes formal.”

Music lovers at a KC Listyn event.
Listyn KC regularly sold her shows at Waldo Pizza’s Tap Room, where music lovers gathered to listen to classic albums on a $ 150,000 stereo system. (Courtesy | Listyn KC)

A year from now, once organizers find 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of space (they are looking in the Midtown-Crossroads neighborhood) and people feel comfortable hanging out inside, Dibble can imagine the scenario.

“Let’s say it’s a roots music night Wednesday, and we’re open from 5 to 11 pm,” Dibble said. “There will be a dedicated listening time where we will not encourage people to talk to each other, but more to listen.

“But around that there will be a more relaxed rotation – not in some kind of DJ, but just to let people hear that kind of music during that night. Over time, we’ll get people to understand that when it’s called Listyning Room, the intention is to listen, and there will be other spaces where you can listen and chat. “

This all sounds good to Roger Banbury, a retired marketing writer for Metropolitan Community Colleges, who has attended several Listyn KC exhibitions.

“I’ve been listening to some records for 50 years, but when you hear them on this system, you hear things that you’ve never heard before,” he said. “Kelsyn is the perfect host, DJ and curator. With that and a great selection of beers and great food, what more could you ask for? “

The KC Listyn events featured a state-of-the-art $ 150,000 stereo system.
Listyn KC events featured a state-of-the-art $ 150,000 stereo system. (Courtesy | Listyn KC)

Rick Hellman is the founder of the Kansas City Rock History Project.

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