“I had just come back from a tour with The Gaslights
. We played a show in New Orleans, and I realized something was wrong with my stomach,” Henderson said. “Someone told me that Louisiana State University had a musicians’ clinic, but I didn’t have the money to go. Turns out, all I needed was to give them a CD. I went to a real doctor, who said I had a tiny hernia and told me how to get through the rest of tour.”
When she returned to Kansas City, Henderson thought that a safety net for musicians would be a good idea. But like many large, grand ideas, this one went to the wayside. Until 2008.
“When I got diagnosed, I realized that we had enough of a community and a need. We had been doing benefits, but we really needed a net for musicians when they fall.” And thus, Midwest Music Foundation was born, with Henderson and her husband/creative partner Chris Meck at the helm.
Midwest Music Foundation is, by definition, an educational art organization that unites musical performers and audiences in the Kansas City area. But if you talk to Henderson and watch the intensity in her eyes as she talks about it, it’s much more than that. It’s a passion to foster an artistic community, a desire to allow musicians to follow their own dreams but still be able to live within their means, a need to show the rest of the country that there’s something to the Midwest.
“The music that comes out of Kansas City rivals anything made on either coast, and I honestly believe that, because we’re in the middle, we have to kick so damn hard to be listened to,” she tells me. “And as a result, a lot of our music is better because we have the tenacity to get it out there. We have to fight to be heard.”
One way MMF has represented Kansas City and allowed us to be heard has been at its own showcase at South By Southwest, MidCoast Takeover
Henderson mentioned, “It was never something we discussed doing; it just happened. Suddenly we were planting our flag on the biggest music festival in the country.” And it’s paid off. Last year, MMF, the showcase, and several Kansas City musicians were highlighted in USA Today
. The Deli Magazine
named MidCoast as one of the best unofficial showcases at SXSW, and asked MMF to head up a Kansas City branch of the magazine.
“There’s something to be contended with in Kansas City. Not just a music scene, but a community that fosters itself—a thinking, doing community of people practicing an art.”
It’s clear throughout the conversation that Henderson wants to give something to the local music community and prove to the nation at large that our city is a force to be reckoned with. “After the first Meow, I had no idea what to do except have incredible gratitude and indebtness to those who helped me. I realized that I was home. I never would have to leave this city. I just wanted to know what I could do to give back.”
And give back she has. Midwest Music Foundation has not only helped put Kansas City’s stamp on a national music stage, but has provided emergency health care to a handful of musicians.
“It’s good to have an organization that cares about the work you do; it’s important to the livelihood of the community. If you blow out your knee, or fall off a ladder, or have a terrible situation, we can help you immediately.” She mentioned that other smaller cities like Austin and Memphis had become places that the musical community could count on, and hoped that MMF could become that for Kansas City. But why does it matter so much?
Henderson was more than happy to tell me. “Because music is an art. It’s something that needs to be tended, and the people who make it need to be cared for. And not just in the health care sense, but also a sense that musicians are important and what they do is important, and it’s a conscious decision, a sacrifice that they make to do what they do. And the currency to building a city is investing in its artists. It’s a cultural infrastructure.”
Now in its fifth year, Apocalypse Meow has become a bigger benefit than ever. The event will be held on Saturday, November 3 at The Beaumont Club with seven bands, raffles, auctions, food vendors, health care information, and much more. On the evening before, Dead Voices
and Henderson’s project Tiny Horse
will be performing at Midwestern Musical Co
“I’m really looking forward to playing the pre-party. Last year I was too sick to do it.” Henderson’s cancer came back with a resurgence last year and she was unable to play. “This year, Chris and I will be playing with a full band. Matt [Richey] has a true arranger’s brain, Zach [Phillips] has an incredible mind for melody, and Cody [Wyoming] is just brilliant. A treasure.”
She tells me that she’ll just be excited to be there, especially when she never realized that Meow could get to its fifth year. “When I thought I was dying, I told my lawyer that I wanted $5,000 to go to MMF; it’s that important to me. I want this thing to get bigger and go on, even if I can’t be a part of it. I want there to be an Apocalypse Meow 15.”
And with a person with such a determination toward creating a musical community, who possesses such a persistence to bring good music to the ears of others, there’s no doubt that MMF and Apocalypse Meow will continue with that same spirit, conviction, and humility.
“I’m still the girl at shows who geeks out over the guitar. I’m still completely struck by people who make music. It’s the soundtrack of our universe. It’s what you get married to; it’s what you die to; it’s what you drift down highways in cars to.”