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It was one of the city's best parties, but Dawayne Gilley's KCK Street Blues Festival has now been canned



It's Thursday, May 13. Sitting at a white-draped table in a ballroom at the Jack Reardon Convention Center, Dawayne Gilley flips through the Kansas City, Kansas–Wyandotte County Official Visitors Guide.

The cover of the glossy brochure boasts a grinning plastic dinosaur from the T-Rex Café at the Legends at Village West. Smaller photos show scenes from a T-Bones game, a NASCAR race and a Schlitterbahn innertube ride — some of WyCo's biggest tourism-revenue generators.

On page 25, under "Festivals & Annual Events," is a blurb for the project to which Gilley has devoted himself the past nine years.

"The Kansas City, Kansas, Street Blues Festival: A world-renowned blues festival that resembles a block party or family reunion featuring KC musicians."

Short, but true.

Approaching its 10th year, the festival is now a tradition for the last weekend in June.

Gilley has come to the Reardon Center to accept the 2009 Tourism Event of the Year award from the Kansas City, Kansas-Wyandotte County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But in a cruel twist of irony, Kansas City, Kansas, is quietly turning its back on the Street Blues Festival because of a petty, bureaucratic issue involving liquor laws.

Gilley is tall and heavyset, with a full head of sandy brown hair and a trimmed, white-sprinkled beard. His saucerlike eyes look even bigger behind his thick glasses. He's dressed in a blue-checked, long-sleeved dress shirt, black slacks and black New Balance sneakers — this is about as formal as Gilley gets.

Last night, he worked late at his job as warranty parts expediter for the Ford Motor Company so that he could take a few hours off to accept his plaque and free lunch.

Passing boats of ranch dressing for their iceberg-lettuce salads and eating beef medallions are Mayor Joe Reardon and 135 other city and state politicians, officers of civic organizations, representatives from the brochure-cover enterprises and other western Wyandotte County attractions such as Cabela's and the Great Wolf Lodge.

After a promotional video, Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Bridgette Jobe describes a social-media tourism campaign starring "Dottie Wyandotte," an attractive blogger-mom type who tweets and posts videos and photos to drum up online interest for local attractions.

Gilley organized the first three Street Blues Festivals without the benefit of e-mail. He didn't even own a cell phone until two years ago.

"You get a lot more done face to face," he explains. "If people are serious, they'll find time to meet."

Gilley is the first of four award winners. Melissa Bynum of the Wyandot Center presents his award. Unlike, apparently, most of the people at the luncheon, Bynum has actually been to the Street Blues Festival.

Calling it "a lovefest of music," she talks about dancing with strangers and making new friends at past festivals. She holds up an 8-by-10-inch glossy photo of Bobby Rush that the legendary musician autographed for her at one fest.

When he gets up to the podium, Gilley says Bynum's introduction has put a lump in his throat.

But he has bad news.

"A new state law was passed, and our patrons may not be able to bring their coolers, and that's really gonna impact us in a far greater way than you could imagine," he says.

"We're in serious jeopardy at this moment."

He says there's a chance that the festival might be saved, but he's not hopeful.

He thanks the Convention & Visitors Bureau, returns to his seat, and digs into the dessert that he'd been saving for the comedown.

A few days later, he will meet with the festival board, talk to the would-be king and queen of the festival (musicians K.C. Kelsey Hill and Linda Shell), and decide to call off the 2010 Street Blues Festival.

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