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The sounds of the prairie

By Corene Brisendine

FORT RILEY — More than 5,000 people converged on the parade grounds here to hear the Symphony in the Flint Hills Saturday.

The summer performance was the eighth annually by the Kansas City Symphony, which chooses a different Flint Hills locale each year. Fort Riley, with its rich history and its status as home base to the 1st Infantry Division, was both the most historic and most populous performance site yet in a series that has allowed concert-goers to enjoy concert music in singular outdoor settings.

The concert itself culminated a day’s worth of events centered on the various museums and historic sites linked to Fort Riley.

Connie and Ron Crabbs drove from the Kansas City, Kan., area to see the concert. Ron Crabbs said this was the first time they had been to the fort in 40 years. He said they enjoyed the choice of the fort because they were able to tour the historic buildings in addition to stay for the concert that began as the sun was setting and ended at sundown.

Volunteers helped guide people from the parking to the parade fields where tents were pitched offering everything from T-shirts and art to wine, beer and cookies. Two of those volunteers were Brent and Jan Gordy from Topeka. This was their second year volunteering. Brent said last year the symphony was set up on the prairie, and while the wide open spaces gave the vendors and people more room to spread out, the fort was a more accurate representation of Kansas.

Manhattan was represented by Mayor John Matta and several of his friends. Rob Westing, a Manhattan resident, said he had never been to the symphony and was looking forward to seeing and hearing the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra perform.

Gov. Sam Brownback also made an appearance, and Sen. Jerry Moran stayed for the concert. Brownback asked everyone give a special “thank you” to the men and women serving at Fort Riley. The crowd started with a polite applause, but everyone slowly stood and continued applauding.

On par with Kansas bi-polar weather, the clouds rolled in just before the concert started, but only a few drops of rain fell and the cool air blew them away.

The symphony’s first piece definitely represented Kansas. The movements changed rapidly and unexpectedly from slow and sweet to loud and violent until reaching the apex of a crescendo before its abruptly end.  The second piece built upon the rhythmic clopping of horses as the music took listeners on a steady ride along a cow trail. The Ride of Paul Revere brought to mind not the war of Independence but the Pony Express galloping across the prairie.

After the concert, some event goers stayed to gaze at the stars with telescopes, and traditional western acoustic music played for dancing. Food and drinks were also served until 10 p.m.

In its eighth year, the Symphony on the Flint Hills was created to “heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie.” 

This year, the events started at 1 p.m. and included a prairie walk, river walk, and tours to the First Territorial Capitol, the Cavalry Museum and Custer’s House. Each year the site for the symphony changes, but always remains somewhere within the Flint Hills stretching from the northern to the southern borders of eastern Kansas.

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