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.