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Kansas City band addresses gun violence, shares personal connection

Woodland Ave
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 09:38:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Flare Tha Rebel, Matt Peters, Bob Pulliam and Ryan Marquez have known each other since middle school.

"It goes back to sleepovers and baseball games, and hanging out on Friday nights, talking about girls on the telephone," Marquez said.

Each of them is a part of Woodland Ave. in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Woodland Ave. is a collective of four solo artists, and all of us bring our individual styles and we really form an infusion of hip hop, rock, pop and jazz," Flare Tha Rebel said. "We all connect personally and we're able to amplify each other as solo artists, but then bring that energy as a collective, as a group. And then Woodland Ave. being the street of Lincoln College Prep."

Lincoln is where they all went to school.

While the four members have known each other for decades, they have a new addition: Bassist Lauren Williams.

"Jeff and Lauren are married, and that's the connection," Marquez said. "Lauren is family through Jeff and she's our sister and we love her."

"She's incredible when it comes to rhythm section," Flare Tha Rebel said. "So we feel very fortunate that this collective can be extended to have her come in and jam with us."

The collective recently submitted a song to NPR's Tiny Desk called "Child's Play" which addresses gun violence.

For Pulliam, it's about the intersectionality of the message behind the song.

"It made me fall in love with the song and drew me into it, but on the same token, it's something that's extremely serious, something that all affected us," Pulliam said.

"It takes a holistic approach in discussing the intersectionality of gun violence," Flare Tha Rebel said. "That's a pretty broad stroke, and so when we talk about this issue, I don't think you can talk about it in one scenario. So the song really tries to show the connectivity between not just mass shootings but the gun violence in systemically oppressed communities, but then police brutality as well. I think if we're going to talk about this issue, we're going to tackle it, you have to take it from all those sides, and so that's what the song really tries to do with the narrative."

Marquez says it's a testament to spreading awareness.

"Coming from neighborhoods inside the inner city where gun violence is a real thing that you do encounter and having been affected, having lost family members to victims of gun violence, it's a testament to spreading awareness," Marquez said. "Everybody's divided. The world's divided on how they feel about guns this or guns that, but when it comes down to it, we're talking about people's lives. We're talking about people's sons and daughters, family members."

According to KCPD's daily homicide analysis, there have been 65 homicides in 2022 so far — 18 victims were 24 years old or younger.

In one line of the song, the lyrics read: "Let him see 21, see 21. If he lives that long, he'll feel like he won."

"That was a harsh reminder of the hopelessness that some young folks have and understanding that if someone is living to live and reaching 21 as success, then we've all failed as a community," Flare Tha Rebel said. "And I want to identify that and name that and focus on something that we need to strive to be so much better than as a society."

Producer and musician Matt Peters knows firsthand the impact of gun violence.

"In the video that we did for the NPR Tiny Desk contest, Lauren was playing a bass that belonged to my dad who played in the Kansas City Symphony," Peters said. "Unfortunately, he passed away from a gun violence-related incident in 2005, so that's just another way that this song resonates with all of us. It's just another example of how gun violence affects people across the country, but you feel it most in your own community."

Peters' father is family to this entire group.

"You know, we think of each other's parents as our parents," Marquez said.

Pulliam says this particular song is special.

"My dad passed away last year, not from gun violence but he recorded some keys on the track, and like Ryan said, my dad was Ryan's piano teacher," Pulliam said. "And so for me, when I think about the track, is that that's the last thing I recorded with my dad, the last musical thing I did with him and that just ties in the whole family aspect of what we bring to the table."

For bassist Lauren Williams, she says it's spiritual for her.

"You know playing a bass on a song about gun violence that was revered and played by Steve Peters, who was murdered in his own home by a gun, it was really spiritual for me," Williams said. "And I felt like he was working through me to add life to that song and bring that message. I really want to appreciate you, Matt, because it's really like I love that I can connect with people I haven't even met that this issue touches, that there's a voice in music that we can amplify it around so it was super fulfilling for me as a musician."

The lyrics ending the song hit home for Flare Tha Rebel.

"The lyric towards the end, 'Grew up with toy guns, cops and robbers, now we got real ones, kill each other, no problem,' I think about us as kids," Flare Tha Rebel said. "And that connectivity that we have as children, growing up and being naive to the ways of the world and then becoming adults and seeing how these issues can follow us. That line, that juxtaposition to something so innocent, to something now so vile and vicious."

They also want to provide solutions for the place they call home.

"I focus on making sure that the youth of our city have equitable resources to education," Flare Tha Rebel said. "So they can grow up and have stronger pathways and have connections to success, and providing that type of education isn't limited to what zip code you live in."

Members of the group say it's not just the words in the song that holds significance but where they performed the song: the Blk & Brwn smart bookstore.

"To see this space as their third space, or a space where they feel safe and do what they do best here, it feels surreal to me," said Blk & Brwn owner Cori Smith.

"Gun violence hurts us, and this bookstore is a place of healing," Flare Tha Rebel said. "It's a place of empowerment and joy, and if you're stepping up to combat a cause, talking about social justice, it's easy to be burdened by it. And so being in the spotlight like Blk & Brwn Bookstore, which is beautiful and empowering, it energized us to say we can tackle these issues."

All in a community these members call home.

"I think we as artists are often charged to bring light to what is going on," Flare Tha Rebel said. "And I think what we do is to make sure that we don't ignore this, this can't go on in our backyard and us not face this issue."

Woodland Ave. will be performing on Friday, June 3, at Lemonade Park at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information about the concert, click here.