Hearne: The Unfortunate (unexaggerated) Report of the Death of the American Royal

Let’s talk about what’s left of the once great, Kansas City institution known as the American Royal...

When I was a kid I didn’t have a clue about the American Royal outside of getting to hang out downtown and catch a really cool parade once a year. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.

As I grew older my awareness of the local annual Cow & Pony show grew and I was inculcated into the school of thinking that the American Royal was a very important component of the business and social fabric in Kansas City.

After all, local giant-among-men, banker R. Crosby Kemper Jr. was its most ardent supporter.

Plus people of my father’s age with ties to what is sometimes referred to as KC’s "agribusiness industry" gave it more than just lip service – they bought into it big time and backed it with bucks.

Even high society types worshipped at the Royal’s altar, offering their daughters as debutantes in the annual BOTAR Ball.

For the uninitiated, BOTAR stands for Belles of the American Royal and it’s considered second only to the Nelson-Atkins museum’s Jewel Ball in high society prestige.

Full disclosure: I squired a few debs to the big dance myself back in the Dark Ages.

And after I went away to college at the University of Arizona, my vastly wealthy ex roommate – who owned a sprawling cattle ranch along the border of Mexico south of Tucson – borrowed my house while I was on my honeymoon to attend the Royal.

It was that big a deal.

His family’s ranch was where the movie-musical Oklahoma was filmed and that he felt compelled to attend the American Royal made it feel like a bigger deal.

Hey, what did I know?

Over the years the Royal would book big name acts – albeit usually country stars – and friends and business associates would always have tickets and want people to accompany them to the rodeos, bull rides or horse shows. And that made it seem kinda happening.

A handful of years back, at the height of the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy series, Fab Five dude Carson Kressley even jetted in to ride in the Royal and help promote it.

With heavy hitter, civic leader George Gustello at the helm of the Royal bringing in big name, non-country headliners and Global Spectrum running a rejuvenated Kemper Arena, a stockyards renaissance appeared to be afoot. And that wasn’t that long ago, you guys – it was right before the Funk took office.

When KC mayor Kay Barnes foisted a series of well-intentioned, but misguided moves that resulted in the unraveling and eventual shuttering of Kemper, Guastello’s departure and the now all-too-evident fall from grace of what was left of the American Royal.

Face it, the American Royal isn’t the only Old World institution in trouble given the evolution of pop culture, business and society. Newspapers like the Star (and now defunct Sun and struggling Pitch), greeting card makers (like Hallmark), travel agencies, music and movie software makers – the list is endless.

However, the concept of relatively sophisticated young adults buying into local cock and bull rodeo shows in this day and age seems a stretch. And now that Barnes’ jettisoning of Kemper is complete, and the Royal having sampled the Sprint Center last year in an apparent failure, it’s back to Square One.

Actually, it’s much worse.

This year’s American Royal, we now learn, will go down in lowly Hale Arena.

With fewer than 3,000 seats rather than 18,000 to 19,000 and change. Oh, the shame.

Equally bad (if not worse), they won’t even have one big name act to lure us local losers back to the West Bottoms. Not one. Unless you count Liverpool or whatever local bands they book at bargain basement prices.

In other words, the American Royal is up you-know-what creek.

More than half of last year’s attendence at the Royal came to see headliner Reba McEntire. Meaning the entire event drew less than 8,000 people outside of her concert.


And if you want to hear a really bogus excuse for why the Royal won’t be back at Sprint this year, get a load of this: Sprint says they didn’t have the avails because it’s holding dates for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Madonna.

That is so ridiculously bogus.

The American Royal totally knows what its dates are long before concert tours with acts like the Chili Peppers and Madonna are booked. Had the Royal reserved the dates in advance, Madonna and the Peppers would have had to work around or play elsewhere.

So hey, the date’s been moved up to Sept. 27-29 for this year’s American Royal and that parade I went to so long ago will reportedly go down the same weekend.

Although, not so’s you’d notice.

Because when you go to the American Royal’s Web site and click on "parade" it tells you it’s at 10 a.m. September 17, 2011. Along with the caveat, "all dates subject to change."

Let’s hope so.

My guess – and it’s only a guess – is the parade will go down on Saturday morning, September 29th.

Let’s leave things on a positive note, shall we?

Remember that $70 million teardown of Kemper the Royal suggested a year or three back? A project that would then replace Kemper with a 5,000 seat Equestrian Center? Fat chance!

Unfortunately for the Royal, there are no Kay Barneses around anymore to sugar plum that deal through.

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20 Responses to Hearne: The Unfortunate (unexaggerated) Report of the Death of the American Royal

  1. rick says:

    When we lost
    the future farmers of america convention was the beginning of the end for the A.R.

  2. Hearne says:

    I kinda wanted to put that in too, but…
    I thought it might be considered piling on.

    I think a big part of the problem is, the AR has no 800 Pound Gorilla championing it anymore. Big Cros is on his last legs and the only guy big enough to fill his shoes is probably Cerner’s Neal Patterson. But Patterson’s got a new love interest right now in Sporting Kansas City.

    The sad reality being that the day may soon come when people talk about the American Royal BBQ contest and the BOTAR ball and say stuff like, “Didn’t there used to be some kind of horse show, too?”

  3. Smartman says:

    It’s Bitches of The American Royal , aight? It’s just gonna take a remake of Urban Cowboy with Paul Rudd and Lindsay Lohan to get all the blue blood Tad’s and Coco’s and their wanna be poseur friends to leave Fancyville and head to Sheplers for some $2,000.00 Luchese’s and other gear to make the AR important to “the swells” again. Stay Gold Card Pony Boy! Stay Gold Card.

  4. the dude says:

    I thought it was Biff and Buffy,
    oh how the time’s have a changed.

  5. Gerald Bostock says:

    People who grew up in KC may have fond memories of that boondoggle, but most folks in the metro area did not grow up here and couldn’t have cared less about it. It is an exercise in cognitive dissonance–high society types pretending as if they care about steer breeding and calf-roping and hoping fervently that they don’t accidentally get horseshit on their shoes because the elite of KC decided the Royal was Important and Worthy of Attention. This meant that even after the Blue Coat-inflated attendance figures declined when the FFA bugged out, the Star forced the event down the throats of uninterested readers with mandatory daily feature coverage of something, anything Royal-related, for the two or more weeks each year the miserable event went on, as well as inches and inches of statistics and results of some kind that mattered to only about six people. Another of the Emperor’s New Clothes–everyone can stop pretending that the American Royal is significant.

  6. Smartman says:

    Simpler Times
    I imagine that on a cool summer evening on a small family farm in southern Indiana three generations of men gather on the front porch with adult beverages and reminisce about their first trip to the FFA in Kansas City. The first time they bought some porn at Time For News, or the first rub and tug at Magic Touch Massage and then maybe losing their virginity to a local hooker. Many young men came of age during the glory years of the FFA in Kansas City. Those memories and experiences will forever be hard wired in their brains.

    And therein lies the problem. Any civilized city has places in their urban cores, convention districts or downtowns where a fellah can pick up a copy of Barely Legal, or visit a jerk and squirt or find a nice young gal specializing in transactional relationships. Hell, we don’t even have a decent strip club. After a hard day working the 8′ by 10′ guys need to blow off some steam. Gals too. Despite all of our so called progress we are less convention friendly now than we have ever been.

  7. chuck says:

    What the fuck, I guess so…
    A Red Light District could actually bring in some cash and mitigate that heavy debt we are carrying for the P&L.

    Gonna need a ton of hookers!


  8. the dude says:

    And there is your answer
    to the %15 vacancy rate in the White Power District- whorehouses. So simple, so elegant.

  9. chuck says:

    You are welcome!

  10. Hearne says:

    I’m pretty much with you Man, except…
    Some of those older generation bluebloods were to the gentleman-farmer manner born and really did get off on that livestock show stuff. Their wives often, too. You know, some of them would compete in English riding, etc.

    And I’ll tell you what was always a BIG DEAL here.

    Whoever bought the Grand Champion Steer. Remember that?

    The kid who raised it always got his picture in the paper and the big shot (or shots) who bought it and how much they paid was considered hard news.

    Just did a quick Google and saw the video of last year’s grand champion but didn’t see any media coverage of it at first glance.

    I did find where Neal and Jeanne Patterson bot the 2006 grand champion steer for $115,000.

  11. Super Dave says:

    I don’t know anymore I remember when we use to have such fun in this town and it seems to all be falling apart. And I am sorry the fact I am 57 hasn’t a damn thing to do with it. Things have just change and not for the good. Sometimes i wonder if this town isn’t in many ways just dying.

  12. notstupid says:

    Dude, you never took a dat to that ball.

  13. Hearne says:

    You’re right, notstupid…
    I don’t even know what a “dat” is. I did however escort at least two debutantes to it and dated (or is it, dat-ed?) a couple more. Waltz lessons and all!

  14. mark smith says:

    never been to the ball
    never dined on the finest of crab meats and hummingbird pie or whatever you upper crust types eat at those soirees. The ball could wither away and most of KC wouldnt even know it. That said, it is a little sad to see much of the old KC traditions die on the vine. You can still see ghosts of KC past if you look around the west bottoms. The old Chas P Shipley saddle company building still has his sign stained into the brick, along with several other farm machinary and mfg companies long dead. Change isnt always good. I’d take the old blighted downtown over the hipster douche soup bowl PnL district. But thats just me.

  15. Super Dave says:

    I agree Mark

  16. paulwilsonkc says:

    Out of all my personal friends in this town…
    ONE family is buried in the AR. They are a horse family, the mom, dad and both daughters. They spend more on boarding and upkeep or two horses than 4 of us combined on house payments. (Well, all except ASSHAT who has the biggest home in the city, but no doubt paid cash from the proceeds of the last international company he sold.)

    These people live and die horses, horse shows and horse shopping. But again, out of everyone we know it this town… 1, count um 1 family. I think, wether we like it or not, its over. Will the last person leaving Kemper please turn out the lights?

  17. paulwilsonkc says:

    Hearne, make sure Craig knows you said BOTAR, not BOTOX Ball
    I don’t want him claiming he dated those girls first and embarrass himself..

  18. balbonis moleskine, who fell in love w a beautiful highway says:

    Hearne misses the honky tonks,
    KC Royal Queens, and 7-Elevens
    (you got it, you got it)

    And as things fell apart
    Nobody paid much attention

  19. tiad says:

    Three Thoughts:
    1. Steve Balboni’s foreskin should have credited David Byrne for those lyrics.

    2. Jr. (wait for it): This was actually a good article from you. Just don’t go too Glazer on us and started bragging about dating ‘dem debs.

    3. Deb does dat?

  20. balbonis moleskine says:

    wish I had a lawnmower
    You might not know this loyal readers, but Tiad’s mother is actually pictured on the Talking Heads final album, Naked.


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