Upon entering the free-standing building on 85th Street, the first feature you’ll struggle to process is the people: people everywhere. Customers pour through doorways and clusters of friends clog aisles. Employees scramble with platters of food and iced drinks. Audience members chat in between bites of barbecue sandwiches, extending across their tables to relay orders over the noise. The group dominating the next three and a half hours, though, can be found at the front behind their respective instruments. After being introduced to the crowd, this six-piece band launches into an “uptempo jazz tune,” in the words of Diane “Mama” Ray, host of the weekly blues-meets-jazz jam at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ.
A local landmark for its meals and melodies, B.B.’s hosts a variety of acts during the week, but only on Saturdays from 2 to 5:30 p.m. are the open mic-style sessions held. Here, customers volunteer to belt out blues, funk and country as the audience eagerly chimes in. While B.B.’s has roots steeped in the blues (co-owner Lindsay Shannon is a founding member of the Kansas City Blues Society) the melting pot of genres appeals to customers of all ages and personalities.
“You’ll go from B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ to ‘Believe’ by Brooks & Dunn to a jazz standard like ‘How High the Moon’ to a Foo Fighters song,” guitarist Jay EuDaly said.
Everyone from nine-year-old kids to grandmothers participates, and although the skill level of performers isn’t always consistent, the band’s enthusiasm toward the tunes rarely falters. EuDaly and Ray both gained musical interest at a young age, and although they are now involved in blues and jazz, are open to play any requested songs.
“We’ll pretty much do anything– any style, any genre,” EuDaly said. “Because of the way it is, anybody that wants to get up and do it can have a chance.”
Since their formation in 1986, the shows have attracted entertainers not only from the Kansas City area but around the globe. Jose Hendrix, a musician from the Congo, delivered renditions of the Police and the Beatles April 14. Renowned producers and performers such as Narada Michael Walden, who is known for working with Sting and Santana, have also appeared. Another sense of novelty lingers in the hosting band’s trumpet solos, drum beats, and duets, which fuse their laid-back attitudes into sincere tunes that can reach blaring levels.
“[The jam session is] not a situation where you can talk over dinner– it’s pretty raucous,” EuDaly said.
However, the volume doesn’t create an intimidating or tense atmosphere. Instead, the comfortable ambiance has proven itself a quality regulars know and love and newcomers consider a reason to return.
“Everybody really enjoys themselves,” attendee Hank Fullmer said. “[The attitude is] very playful.”
Bobbing heads, tapping feet, and clapping hands are only a few indicators of the unmistakable energy the blues-meets-jazz jam sessions generate. The environment thrives so even during breaks, laughter punctuates the barbecue-scented air.
“Everybody was there for the music and good times,” Fullmer said. “You’re sitting at these tables with a bunch of people you don’t know and you become friends.”
Moments like crowd sing-alongs make it evident the musicians’ energy establishes the customers’ bond and the lively aura.
“It’s the international language,” Ray said. “Everybody knows music.”