Until recently, local fans of less-mainstream live music – progressive rock, indie rock, electronic and hip hop – didn’t have many options.
The best they could usually do was monitor the listings at venues within a drivable distance, such as The Granada in Lawrence, decide which concerts were worth it, then hit the road.
But after an unusual music-meets-art, multi-genre concert put on at Abode Venue in July of 2012, that slowly started to change.
Fans of progressive music started finding bands they liked on the bills of local venues. Michigan-based electronic musician Shigeto at The Brickyard in Old Town. Indie rock band Joan of Arc at Lucky’s Everyday. Rapper and hip-hop producer Jel at John Barleycorn’s.
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More recently, the shows have appeared on the bill at an unexpected venue: The Crown Uptown at 3701 E. Douglas, a spot that usually attracts the grandparent generation for “Hairspray” and “Cats.” In the past few months, though, the Crown has begun clearing out its tables and chairs and locating the bass knob on the sound system for shows featuring hip-hop act RJD2, the artist who wrote the “Mad Men” theme, and Of Montreal, an alternative rock band from Athens, Ga.
Almost inevitably, these shows have had the same name attached to them.
Naymlis is hardly Wichita’s only promoter of live, local music, or even the only one bringing progressive music to town. But since its formation in 2012, Naymlis has become known for luring to Wichita alternative acts that previously wouldn’t have stopped here as well as for putting together diverse shows that merge several artistic forms, from music to visual arts.
“They’re helping to make Wichita a little-big city,” said Ian Stewart, a local graphic artist who has collaborated with the group on many of its shows. “They’re bringing things here that normally would be reserved for other markets, and they’ve tapped into something that there’s a desire for.”
The list of shows grows and grows
Naymlis was founded by Kyle Dick, 33, a Wichita native and ardent live music fan who moved back to Wichita about four years ago after living on the west coast, Florida and Kansas City and working in a variety of fields, ranging from real estate to music promotion.
In the summer of 2012, Dick remembers, he was hanging out with buddy Tyson Satterfield, and the two started comparing their record collections. Wouldn’t it be fun, they said, to put on a show where they just played their records for people?
They envisioned an event that would mix music with visual art, performance art, culinary art and film. They booked Abode Venue at 1330 E. Douglas and signed up local bands including Spirit of the Stairs and The Calamity Cubes as well as visual artists such as Stewart and sculptor Marc Durfee.
“It became a show that had nothing to do with playing our records,” Dick said.
Dick enlisted the help of Heather Eden, a mutual friend and fellow live music fan who was tapped into the local music scene after years of working at popular hangouts such as The Donut Whole and The Anchor.
Eden, who now holds a full-time job on air at KMUW, also had experience organizing shows and had worked with the Ulrich Museum to put on one of its summertime Art for Your Ears outdoor concerts. She also, Dick said, possessed a few key skills that he lacked, mainly the ability to organize details and people and to market and publicize events.
“Four weeks before the first show, I thought, ‘This is crazy. We don’t have enough time,’ ” Eden said. “But I was ready for the challenge because I believed in Kyle.”
The show drew a crowd of about 300, Dick said, and it got people talking.
The group immediately booked a similar concert at Abode and followed it up in September with a folk-and-bluegrass show featuring Elephant Revival and Carrie Nation and The Speakeasy.
In October, the group started a series it called Headz that highlighted progressive hip-hop and instrumental music that had a jazz and R&B influence. The Shigeto show was part of that series.
Torin Andersen, a longtime friend of Dick’s who had happily signed up his band Spirit of the Stairs for the inaugural show, said it was about that time he realized something new was starting to happen in Wichita.
A longtime fan of hip-hop and electronic music, Andersen said he was surprised an artist like Shigeto would stop in Wichita.
“Local electronic and hip-hop music was pretty much nonexistent, so to see this come to Wichita was huge,” he said.
The Naymlis shows were generating buzz, and they were drawing crowds.
Dick and Eden would regularly gather large groups of locals who shared their passion for music and art with the goal of planning more of the kind of shows they felt were missing in Wichita – shows that put the focus on the artists and art forms on stage. They labeled themselves an “artist collective.”
Reluctantly, Dick decided he’d better give the group a name.
“I didn’t want to name it,” he said. “We didn’t want there to be a name. So I just named it Naymlis. I decided, ‘I’ll just spell it stupid and no one will remember it anyway.’ ”
But people did remember Naymlis and its diverse list of offerings. As the months passed, Naymlis grew, and the shows got bigger. Some featured local bands. Others showcased national touring acts that were willing to give the Wichita market a try.
Dick booked New York DJ Cosmo Baker then hip-hop duo Mobb Deep then Blackbird Blackbird, all at the Brickyard.
He signed Blockhead, an electronic and hip-hop producer from Manhattan, to do a show at Abode.
Earlier this year, a friend who worked at the Crown Uptown suggested the historic theater as a venue Dick should consider. The Crown had hosted concerts before but it had been years. Dick liked the idea but worried that all the tables and chairs in the multilevel venue would get in the way.
Move the tables and chairs out, the friend suggested.
“I walked in and looked around and said, ‘This is it. This is what we’re doing,’ ” Dick remembers. “No matter what it takes, we’re going to bring concerts in here. We’re doing it.”
At the Crown, Naymlis worked closely with Matthew Rumsey, who was named producing artistic director when new owners took the venue over in 2011.
Under Rumsey’s leadership, the venue had begun putting on some less-traditional stage shows, such as “Spring Awakening.” Rumsey had long toyed with the idea of adding concerts to the offerings but wasn’t familiar enough with the music business to take the risk.
“Kyle came to us and he said, ‘What do you think about doing a show? We’ll be the investors and you be the venue. We want to collaborate with you.’ ” Rumsey said. “And that immediately appealed to us. We wanted to be able to be a part of something like that but we didn’t want to have the risk of trying to do two different types of things.”
Naymlis had the connections and the staff, Rumsey said. Dick and Eden came in and were professional and organized. The first Crown show, RJD2, drew about 550 people in late March. The Of Montreal show a couple of weeks later drew about 450. The Crown also was the site in April of a popular show that featured The Floozies, Starkey and Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan. Several more Naymlis shows are planned for the Crown over the summer.
“We’ve loved seeing the new demographic in here,” Rumsey said. “Once we got into it, it was fun. It’s my age group, and they come out to party. There’s standing room. They laugh. They drink. It’s everything we want to see.”
Any venue, any size
Running Naymlis is now a full-time job for Dick, and it takes up most of Eden’s afterwork free time. The business is growing and supporting itself.
Naymlis has about 30 people on its payroll, and they’re becoming more and more experienced at handling the details of show production, from stage management to lighting to sound. Dick books the acts and the venues. Eden organizes the troops and does the marketing.
Dick and Eden are reluctant to take credit for the shows Naymlis is putting on, even though they’re clearly the driving force. Eden answers nearly every question with a preamble that points to the “hundreds” of people who had a hand in the group’s early success. Dick tries, in a good-natured way, to avoid all questions. Neither wanted to be photographed for this story and agreed only under pressure.
“This involved dozens of people to begin with,” Eden said, several times. “There are 100 names I could give you of people who played pivotal roles in Naymlis’ initial success.”
One name on that list, she said, is Stewart, who owns local graphics and promotions business Big Mention and has not only designed many of Naymlis’ sleek promotional posters but also provided some of the electronic art and videos that Naymlis likes to project behind the stage at concerts.
Stewart said he’s enjoyed being involved in Naymlis as it’s grown, but as a music fan, he’s also appreciated being able to see the type of acts he enjoys.
“I like that they’re not just sticking to one thing,” Stewart said. “They’re constantly changing. It’s evolving. This will be year two of doing it, and look at how much it’s changed. To be able to bring in the caliber of acts that they have speaks volumes about what they’re doing.”
The next big Naymlis show is scheduled for May 20 at Abode Venue and will be a visual art exhibit honoring the life and work of late record producer J Dilla, who worked with groups such as Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Janet Jackson and Mos Def. He also worked with Slum Village, a Michigan-based hip-hop group that will put on a presentation about J Dilla’s life followed by a live performance. Dick says he’s excited about the show because it is the type of art-meets-music event that Naymlis originally envisioned.
Dick also is about to become much busier with the opening of a new music venue, tentatively titled The Marple, that’s should be ready later this summer in the old Marple Theatre space at 417 E. Douglas that was most recently occupied by Fat Tony’s sports bar.
Dick will manage the venue, which will be home to many Naymlis shows in the future but also will welcome events put on by other promoters. Naymlis also will continue its relationship with Crown Uptown, Abode and other venues around town.
Naymlis organizers say they want to continue to bring to Wichita a diverse list of shows that appeal to different musical tastes, different age groups, Dick said. The group is as open to bluegrass as it is to hip-hop, and it will put a show in a venue of any size.
“We will do an arena show. We will do a bar show,” he said. “We just want to continue to bring artists we appreciate into Wichita.”