Timing is perfect for a sit-and-chat with Chris Fritz. The legendary Kansas City-based music promoter and masterful engineer of change—owner of New West Presentations, the management company behind Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone—just staged one of the self-proclaimed best four shows of a celebrated career that spans five decades. The two-day, 50-plus act mega-event, Kanrocksas Music Festival, reverberated throughout the Kansas Speedway in early August, captivating nearly 60,000 fans. Today looking more like CEO of a Fortune 500 company dressed for a casual day at the office than a veteran of the rock-and-roll lifestyle, Fritz—silver-haired, tanned and intense, sporting on-trend jeans and a white shirt—is nursing a nasty cold that started the day after Kanrocksas wrapped to favorable reviews. He’s sipping a cup of tea and sharing edited highlights from what is undoubtedly a living, breathing history of modern music. Fritz flips through a Rolodex housed in a sharp-edged memory that recalls his whereabouts on New Year’s Eve 1971 (with Stan Plesser, KC’s father of rock-and-roll) and peppers the fast-paced conversation with household names: Creedence, Eagles, Green Day, Foo Fighters and Eminem—Kanrocksas’ plum act.
Fritz is a savvy businessman who has survived the ups and sometimes-brutal downs of an ever-evolving music industry by diversifying: he is celebrating 25 years as co-owner of a lacrosse team, once revved up monster trucks at Kemper and has booked thousands of shows into venues like Municipal Auditorium, Kemper and Memorial Hall. Though not a native Kansan, Fritz loves living in Johnson County. He did the music scene in New York City, Chicago and California and put down roots in Kansas City on July 4, 1972, six months after coming to visit his parents. For 38 years he has been a major architect of concert and entertainment in this region, redefining himself professionally as the eras roll by. According to Fritz, whose skin is probably inches thick from spending a lifetime as a player in the fickle world of contemporary entertainment, the entire concert industry hit an unforgiving economic wall in 2010. The visionary—and vigilant—entrepreneur, brushing off one challenge and seeking another, Fritz took the modern-day music festival trend and blueprinted it for the Kansas Speedway. “We established critical mass during Kanrocksas,” says a confident Fritz. “The amenities of the multi-million dollar facility, the energy of the crowd and the vibe couldn’t have been better.”
Just like musicians busy reinventing themselves for baby boomer audiences, Fritz is like a stubborn bullfighter in the ring. “Look for us next year,” he says. “Kanrocksas will be bigger and better.”
POKER FACE: “The music industry is like playing poker. It’s risky.”
ROAD TRIP: “There’s no secret to success in this business. You pick a path, and hope you’re moving in the right direction.”
ARTWORK: “Getting the mix of acts and attractions for Kanrocksas was art. It was brilliant.”
CHART TOPPERS: “Besides Kanrocksas, my best shows were the Stones, Pink Floyd and when Peter Frampton was at Arrowhead.”
DOWNBEAT: “Just because you lose money on a show doesn’t mean it’s your worst.”