Diary of a Boulevardia Newbie Told in Beers

Boulevardia: A festival in three beers

Boulevardia at night.

Beer No. 1: I inhaled a deep breath while waiting in line at one of the many Boulevardia pop-up bars on Saturday evening, moments after I arrived at the two-day street festival in Kansas City’s Stockyards District. The air was filled with hops, barbecue and cigarette smoke, a welcome smell at any outdoor gathering. It was comforting. I’ve only lived in Kansas City for a few weeks, but beer and cigarettes wafting through the air is a universal sign of a good time. So, this being my first Boulevardia, I knew I was in good hands. 


As I waited for my Boulevard Wheat (I’m a simple man with simple tastes), I looked around at the throng of people waiting to get another plastic cup of Boulevard’s finest. It was a long wait, sure, but it’s a beer festival. That’s what we were all there for. The sun was setting over HyVee Arena, so the heat was subsiding (sort of), but it felt as though the party was just heating up. 


After finally acquiring my beverage, I went and stood on the side of the Boulevard Main Stage and watched Boston-based rock band Guster rip through hits for the adoring, albeit intoxicated, crowd. A group to my left suddenly burst out in song, serenading a young woman with “Happy Birthday.” Naturally, those gathered, myself included, joined in. Towards the end of the song, those of us who didn’t know the birthday girl stumbled through the “Happy Birthday dear …..” part, but we soon learned her name was Lindsey. (Lindsey, if you’re reading this, Happy Birthday!) We all cheered along with her friends in excitement as she began another 365 days on Earth, and while I assume no one else besides that group actually knew her, we all hooted and hollered like we had known her for years. Wanting to celebrate our new friend, I went to get myself another drink.


Beer No. 2: This time, I decided to go with a KC Pils, just to diversify my palette. On my way to the makeshift bar, I noticed a small crowd had gathered on the side of the street, oooh’ing and aaah’ing at something. I found a gap in the pack and to my surprise, a man was doing some pretty impressive tricks on a relatively small bicycle. It should be noted that the man was wearing a full body spandex suit wrapped in Christmas lights, and the bike was draped in lights as well. Honestly, it was mesmerizing. I stood there for a few minutes observing, watching him manipulate the bike to his every whim in a way that was seemingly gravity-defying. 


Eventually, I snapped out of my trance and continued on my quest for another brew, but I took as roundabout a way as I could to take in more of the festival grounds. Despite the focus on beer and loud music, it was very apparent to me that Boulevardia was a festival for all ages. There were college-aged students running wild, full cups in their hands as they watched friends get tossed off a mechanical bull. There were moms and dads chatting with other moms and dads, relishing a night out. There were a few elderly couples sitting at one of the smaller stages, taking in some less intense music. I even saw a young boy who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, the lights in his shoes flickering with every step he took. 


I made my way back to Guster for the end of their stage time, and I stood towards the back as I could make a swift exit and beat whatever crowd chose to leave before Bleachers, the last act on the Boulevard Main Stage, came on. As the opening lines from Guster’s set-closer “This Could All Be Yours” exploded from the stage, “There’s a message in the skies and streets/Opportunity, the American dream,” I looked down at my cup of beer, and upon seeing it was empty, I left to go fix that, as the glass is always full in my American dream.


Beer No. 3: I honestly wasn’t even sure if I was going to get another drink. I’d enjoyed myself and felt like I’d finally experienced some real Kansas City fun, so I made my way toward the exit and prepared to call an Uber. But then, off to my right, I heard a saxophone, a swift guitar lick and a soft, smooth voice, and my feet instinctively took me in that direction. I found myself at Guy’s Homegrown Stage listening to a group called Durand Jones & The Indications. I had a feeling I’d be parked there for a bit, so I got myself another drink, this time Boulevard’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. 


At the end of that first song I heard, Jones looked out into the crowd, which was significantly smaller than at the main stage. “How you feelin’ out there?” He asked, and because there were only about 10 rows of bleachers filled and a dozen round bar tables, it felt as though he was genuinely asking us. “Good,” I said to him, but really to no one. “Really good.” His band eased into a slower song and I looked around. Middle-aged couples swayed back and forth together on the bleachers. A young couple drunkenly waltzed around an open area. The stage was less than 1000 feet away from where I had just seen people go nuts for Guster, but it felt like an entirely different festival. It was infinitely more intimate, like a small outdoor jazz club. And only a stone’s throw away was the mechanical bull that had spent the last day and a half vaulting drunken challengers off its back. So, in an area smaller than a football field, you could lose your mind at the main stage, take in a relaxing evening of R&B and beer on a smaller stage, or get launched off a fake bull.  And there was plenty more to do than this over the course of the festival: a treasure hunt, beer tastings with drinks from Texas to Belgium, a silent disco, and, of course, there was that guy on the bike with the lights, if that’s your cup of tea. There really was something for everyone.