With a quarter-century of Farmers’ Ball now in the books, the 25th annual KJHK battle of the bands had The Bottleneck shaking so hard that it’s cork almost popped off. While Kansas City rapper The Royal Chief may have come away wearing the silver anniversary crown, fellow finalists Tione, Chess Club, and Oxford Remedy all put up quite a fight Friday night.
The show was kicked off by Topeka native rapper Tione, who was joined on stage by fellow members of local artistic collective Vivid Zebra, and Toine certainly earned his stripes with an electric tone-setting performance. Tione delivered arguably the most diverse set of the night, ranging from moody trap/R&B fusions like the heartbreak ballad “Black Dragon”, to the bouncy synth-driven groove of “There She Go”, as well as serving a sonic adrenaline shot with the stereo-thumping “Hot 95”. Despite being the first performer of the night, Tione’s set was anything but a warm-up, as the fresh legs of the crowd were immediately put to work for every unrelenting second of his no holds barred performance. Proving himself to be a true man of the people, Tione cut right into the thick of the action, choosing to mosh alongside his raucous followers while not once breaking from his laser-focused performance. Fresh on the heels of The Tione Tape, Vol. 3 releasing earlier this month, Tione is building quite a well-rounded catalogue for himself and adding his natural stage presence to the equation it seems inevitable that his star will only rise exponentially moving forward.
Riding the energetic inertia of Tione’s set, the self-described emo/math pop? [sic] band Chess Club delivered a dynamic performance in their own right. While the set was a total 180 from Tione’s performance, the Lawrence locals didn’t diverge in terms of quality or crowd work. Guitarist/vocalist Griffin Nelson channeled his inner Steven Tyler in his stage presence, shredding the driving riffs of songs like “Probably” and “Hit the Ball” with pinpoint precision while jumping around and even getting on 2 knees at one point. Bassist David Krejci was no slouch either, as he kept his same infectious energy through the entire set. Drummer Cooper Avery was the backbone of the set, balancing out the raw energy of Nelson and Krejci with the calm hands of a surgeon as he laid out the foundation for the set, most notably on the track “I’ll Be Fine, Dad”. The pinnacle of Chess Club’s set was their stirring closing performance of “Midwest Precipice”, which is one of those nostalgic ballads that makes you stop in your tracks and think about everything that led you to this moment. The wistful track was the cherry on top of a beautiful performance by Chess Club, and I highly recommend giving it a spin, along with their 2018 project Hit the Ball if you’re looking for the perfect soundtrack to a warm Kansas sunset this summer.
Next on the docket was Kansas City alt-rock band Oxford Remedy, who performed yet another unrelentingly animated performance. While their catalogue is the most sparse of the Farmers Ball finalists, their two official releases “Fake” and “Vending Machine” are both absolute hits. Each member of Oxford Remedy brings a balanced repertoire to the stage, with sisters Kate and Grace McCown serving as dual threat guitarists/vocalists, and drummer Robbie Matthews also possessing vocal chops. Bassist Sydney Aldridge may not be a vocalist but she is definitely on the same level as the rest of the band, sharing the same energy on stage that had The Bottleneck rocking. The chemistry of Oxford Remedy is by far their biggest strength, with each member feeding off the energy of the others in a leveled display of teamwork on stage. The crowd definitely fed off this chemistry as well, and while Oxford Remedy may not have walked away from the neck and neck battle of Farmers Ball with first place, they easily ran away with the title for most crowd surfers during their set and overall were not only electric sonically but were masterful in their crowd control.
However, while the first three acts of the 25th Farmers Ball were amazing in their own right, it was the appropriately named Kansas City rapper The Royal Chief who ultimately wore the Farmers Ball crown. From the second he walked on stage Royal Chief was 100% at home, pouring his soul out to the entirety of The Bottleneck. Early in his set, Royal Chief made his intentions clear, promising to “change the wave”, a goal that he undoubtedly achieved in a captivating half hour that saw him touch virtually every stylistic base possible. From the energetic ambition of tracks like “High Stakes”, to more mellow, introspective tracks like “Pipe Dreams” and “Wings” that saw the crowd switching from jumping around with reckless abandon to nodding along eyes-closed as Royal Chief transported the crowd into his shoes. However nowhere did Royal Chief forge a deeper or more poignant connection with the crowd than in his heartfelt duet “Best of Things”, which featured an incredibly gripping guest performance from singer Baj. The touching ballad may not have been marked with mosh-pits or stage dives like the majority of Farmers Ball, but the energy was probably more palpable at this moment than in any other of the 25th Farmers Ball. Carrying this momentum through the rest of his set, Royal Chief was on a mission to prove himself, and in the eyes of many, he very much succeeded.