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Our Backstage Pass Takes Us To Knuckleheads Saloon In Kansas City

STEVE INSKEEP: We have an inside glimpse now at the life of a rock star.


Well, let's not say a rock star. Let's say a musician who doesn't exactly fill stadiums and makes a living with scores, even hundreds of appearances on the road.

INSKEEP: For that musician, the center of daily life is the green room - a place to wait before going on stage - sometimes to wait for hours.

GREENE: And just so you know, there is no rule that the green room is green.

INSKEEP: Thank you, Mr. Greene. There is a necessity that it be comfortable. And for some musicians, the green room is where they do many of the things that we would describe as normal life.

GREENE: Yeah. For our summer series Backstage Pass, Laura Spencer of KCUR takes us to Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Mo.

LAURA SPENCER, BYLINE: To get backstage at Knuckleheads, you need to know the door code or have a guide, like owner Frank Hicks.

FRANK HICKS: Where do you want to start? Here?

SPENCER: Sure, yeah.

HICKS: All right. Let's go.

SPENCER: The green rooms aren't fancy, just comfortable - album covers and beer signs on the walls, leather couches, a bowl of chips and a TV. But unlike most clubs, there's a shower, a washer and dryer and a workout area.

HICKS: It's kind of like being in a hotel, but we wanted it to feel more at home.

SPENCER: Touring musicians need their own space, a place to sleep or hang out in between performances. Alejandro Escovedo has stopped in Kansas City for four decades in venues like Knuckleheads.

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: We get to the gig, we unload. We find out how they want us to go about our sound check.


SPENCER: It's mostly one-night stands for his latest album, "Burn Something Beautiful" - a blend of punk, roots and rock. Backstage, Escovedo says, it used to be about beer and booze, but he's no longer a drinker. He's 66, and he's had a few health scares. So it's more about spring water and fruit juices.

ESCOVEDO: It's always healthier for me to kind of tag along with people who are eating really well. You know, we always try to have something that's healthy and fresh. I think that's the most important thing.

SPENCER: The rest of the band? Not so much.

ESCOVEDO: What'd you get, fried okra?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter) Fried pickles, fried cheese, fried okra.

ESCOVEDO: Just fried stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's the carnival platter.

ESCOVEDO: The fried plate special.


SPENCER: Escovedo warms up his voice and gets comfortable with his guitar. And he and his band talk through the set.

ESCOVEDO: You know, you always start a set list like you do a book or record with a beginning and an ending. You make those strong. Now, it's just a matter of filling in the story in between.

SPENCER: Escovedo likes everyone to get loose and livened up thinking about the music when they're ready to take the stage.

ESCOVEDO: Are you ready to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ready to roll? We're ready.

ESCOVEDO: All right, let's go do it.

SPENCER: And they walk on together.


ESCOVEDO: Here again in Knuckleheads. I love this place. And it's good to be back in Kansas City always.

SPENCER: Night after night, this backstage ritual gets the band in sync for what happens on stage. For NPR News, I'm Laura Spencer in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORIZONTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas.

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