In the Kansas City music spotlight: Calvin Arsenia, an artist unlike any other

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Musician and artist Calvin Arsenia lit up the historic jazz district with the Cantaloupe album release show Saturday night. A number of great artists have had their start right here in Kansas City, from Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway, and Janelle Monáe. Now Arsenia joins the list. The artist has traveled around the world to break expectations with his performances.

Saturday September 15, 2018 Calvin performed at the Gem Theater located in Kansas City’s historic jazz district across from the American Jazz Museum. Calvin put on a show that audiences will remember: it included tango dancers, a couple of solo Celtic harp performances, men coming onto the stage to saw a log, intentional cricket sounds, costume changes, a full band with several string instruments, and a drumline that brought the audience marching out into the street.

Calvin Arsenia plays at Gem Theater | September 15, 2018

Calvin is 28 years old and stands at 6’6″ in flats. He recently spent time in Europe, playing music at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Born in Florida, raised Evangelical in Kansas, Arsenia has a wide range of life experiences. He has done harp-friendly covers of Britney Spears, Björk, and Lauryn Hill.

Artist Peregrine Honig described Calvin as a genius for his website.

“Arsenia’s height, energy, and curated environments fill the often intimate spaces he performs in. Brought in to 9 countries through public and private grants in less than a decade, Arsenia builds a scene for his audience and himself packed with beauty and lasting delight by incorporating flowers, scents, edible and drinkable musings.”

During his Cantaloupe show, Calvin incorporated some humor. He said he tells people from around the world about Kansas City, about our BBQ, about our jazz scene. And then they tell him about “Dorothy.” And then he tells them, “No, that’s Kansas.”

He started the show with a song from his last album Catastrophe. The song is called “Kansas City Baby.” He sang while playing the harp with a spotlight on him and the curtains drawn. Some of the lyrics include:

“Kansas City Baby
What can I do?
The skyline ain’t a mountain high
When you’re living on Troost

I have traveled the world
To find the most beautiful girl
She was under my nose
The heart knows when it’s home

Take a look at the luggage
I’ve been toting around
Trinkets and milestones
But the best that I’ve found

Are the blessings and proverbs
No, not just some words
But the faces of loved ones
Now haven’t you heard of

Kansas City, baby
What can I do?
Heart sick when I’m leaving it
But I’m coming home soon…”

After a couple of solos and building up the concert, the curtains opened and behind Calvin was a whole band with backup singers, violinists, a bassist, guitarist, a drummer — a number of musicians surrounded by bold colored lights and elegant tapestry.

The songs had many catchy lines from “he believes in beauty” to “I tried to write it away.” At any moment the set would change, or Calvin would wear something new, whether dark and subdued with a scarf or more bold with flowers and lace. Calvin is a classically trained musician with a strong voice who also plays several instruments, including the harp, the banjo, and the guitar.

He fuses together several genres including jazz, indie, folk, classical and electronic. During the Cantaloupe release show, he also sang a French song. It is recommended to see his performances live as it is a unique one-of-a-kind experience. One moment there is confetti flying in the air the next there is an introspective and subtle duet to a Radiohead cover.

Before intermission, he and the band did a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic. Tango dancers came up out of the audience and danced in the walkways, making their way up to the stage. Calvin was in the center and brought everything together into a cohesive whole.

Calvin Arsenia plays at Gem Theater | September 15, 2018

His voice is powerful with a a noticeable wide range. He projects his voice well and seamlessly sings up into his upper register. It has a smooth, silky like tone to it that’s both pure and fierce. He has a way of tapping into the emotions of his songs and bringing it out for listeners. One of his best performances of the night was from a new song called “Poseidon.” Before this number, his band played without him while he made a costume change.

When he came back to the stage, there was a new kind of built-up energy in the room. His outfit could best be described as unicorn-mermaid chic with pinks, whites, and browns. And he carried around a trident. The band and Calvin gelled well together at this point, perhaps getting over all the previous planned surprises of the night. His voice came out clear and he swayed to the music — with stage lights behind him in blue and green.

Announcing his last song, someone from the audience gave out a sad sigh and Calvin responded, “Honey, we don’t live here.”

For the final number, more violinists lined up in the aisles and played with the band on stage. Then after he took his bow, drums could be heard outside the doors. People inside the venue were led outside by a drumline that marched down to the Mutual Musicians Foundation. The drumline was in uniform, and several children were in it playing drums. It was a huge gathering on the streets.

Calvin Arsenia plays at Gem Theater | September 15, 2018

Calvin recently released the music video for “Headlights.” His new album Cantaloupe will release in the next couple of weeks. You can find his previous album Catastrophe on iTunes.