At The Wichita River Festival

19 May 96 - West Bank Stage - Wichita, KS

by Danl Blackwood

Additions made June 30, 1996
Updated scrapbook with pics from Jon Hilton
Added CyberFan Group Photo

Kansas at the Wichita River Festival

This review page is dedicated to the fans of Kansas, especially to the members of the Kansas Mailing List, People Of The South Wind (PotSW).

Sound ClipClick here for welcome message from Rich Williams

The Wichita River Festival was celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. For the occasion there was a special Silver Celebration concert at the West Bank Stage on the last night of the festival, Sunday, May 19, 1996, sponsored by the Boeing Company and Wichita Festivals, Inc. In the official booklet of events, it said talent undecided at press time, but we PotSWers knew in advance it would be one of the greatest rock bands in the world. Immediately I saw an opportunity for a PotSW get together. I contacted PotSWer Bryan Jennings of 96.3 KRZZ radio, and we began the planning. It wasn't long before Bryan started running into brick walls. First of all, we had a difficult time even finding out who was sponsoring and promoting the concert. Bryan Jennings 96.3 KRZZ Finally Bryan found out and quickly tried to see how he could help with the promotion. Boeing was being very stubborn about accepting any help and was very reluctant to let Bryan and the radio station get involved. Bryan didn't let that stop him. KRZZ immediately began running spots promoting the concert, and it was a good thing, too. There was virtually no other ads about the concert at all. A very small note in the entertainment section of the River Festival home page, one little clip in the local paper, and a brief mention on the local news was all there was. Right up to the day of the show, KRZZ was receiving dozens of calls like, "What's this about Kansas playing here?" Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised to see all the people that showed up at the concert. In fact, it was apparently a record breaking crowd with an estimated attendance of 33,000. The West Bank Stage, which was built in one day in 1988 by volunteers, is a wooden outdoor venue right across the river from downtown Wichita, and holds many events throughout the year.

There were quite a few members on the mailing list who expressed an interest in a get together before the concert. In fact, I assumed some would be coming from a fair distance, and invited anyone interested to make it a weekend, and meet at the Saturday evening concert and fireworks finale. Allen Wisbey from Hutchinson, KS, and his wife Nancy, and son Bill made the short trip. Amazingly, one couple even came from Shreveport, LA. Jonathan Carver and his wife Cindy, decided to make it an anniversary outing away from the kids. I got them connected with an old fashioned bed and breakfast, and they met us at the river for the big show (along with several members of my family). We had a great time visiting, as well as being truly amazed that we were able to even pull off a rendezvous like this; only because of the Internet and PotSW. Cannons Unfortunately, the wind was greater than 15 MPH into the evening, and the fireworks were canceled. At least we got to see the B-1 bomber flyovers and the 105mm Howitzer cannons shoot off from the Douglas Street bridge during the 1812 Overture.

Earlier Saturday, Bryan was scheduled to interview Kansas on the air, and invited me to come out to the station to join him. I went out and it was actually our first face to face meeting (having previously only met on PotSW). The interview didn't happen though because of a miscommunication, and was rescheduled for the next day.

The next evening, the plan was for everyone who could get there early to meet at the East India Trading Company, a restaurant/bar close to the West Bank Stage. Jake Livgren came over to my house that morning to visit, and then we both headed out to the radio station right after lunch to join Bryan for the interview. There was another delay, and we all then headed for the West Bank Stage. Later that afternoon, Bryan headed to the airport to interview Phil Ehart, and Jake and I headed for the restaurant for the pre-show get together.

Click here for a transcript of the radio interview by Bryan Jennings with Phil Ehart

We met up with about a dozen or so PotSWers and other friends who knew about the gathering, but didn't stay too long. Even though some front row seats were being saved for us, we were getting anxious to get over there. We got back to the West Bank Stage at just before 5pm; in time to hear the last few songs of the blues concert that was going on there from 3pm to 5pm. Kelly Hunt, a local Kansas rhythm and blues artist who recently just finished a short tour with Mike Finnigan, was really cooking on stage. Backstage Pass

We waited the two hours before the concert with prime right-next-to-the-stage seats courtesy of my old friend (and former fellow Topeka musician) Mack Smith, and PotSWer Tony Barilla from Manhattan, KS, who got there with their group about 2:30pm to save seats. I first met Tony at the Topeka concert last summer at the first of my PotSWer parties. As we waited, more Kansas cyberfans showed up. Some just saw the date on the Kansas Page, and John Matthews (and his daughter Kaely) from Littleton, CO, whose brother had just been to the Wisconsin show the night before. Except for a few, most everybody came from around Kansas.

Click here for the list of cyberfans who attended the show

Bryan tried very hard to get a meet-and-greet setup before the show, but it never materialized. I was, however, able to get back and say hello to Rich Williams. We first met many years ago (when they were still White Clover) while frequenting the same bar and playing fooseball. He is always cordial and easy to talk to. Rich told me about the airline damaging their equipment. After the Wisconsin gig, they drove to Chicago, and slept a few hours before flying to Wichita. Apparently many of their road cases were smashed in transit, and included in the casualties were Phil's brand new drums. We had to cut our visit short, as he had to get on stage and get familiar with his loaner amp for the concert. As Bryan had mentioned in a post to PotSW, "Billy used my brother's bass rig (my brother owns GMI music, the biggest music store in the area)...and a good friend of mine I used to play in bands with, Steve Knowles ... loaned Phil his entire drum kit." Very cool! When they got started, you sure couldn't tell that they were playing on unfamiliar equipment. I guess that comes with being true professionals as long as they have, and I'd bet it wasn't the first time they were in this situation. They really seemed to be having a blast, despite the equipment problems and the almost unbearable heat and humidity that day.

The concert got started promptly at 7pm, and an acquaintance of Bryan's, Bill Smith (former owner of the Aviator Live in Old Town, and Boeing representative), came out to MC the show. He told us this might be the biggest crowd he'd ever seen at the West Bank Stage. Then, because this was the last official event of the River Festival, they brought out Admiral Windwagon Smith (the ceremonial figurehead and compatriot of the festival) to give his official howdy and introduce all the Prairie Schooner Mates (15 high school juniors who assist Admiral Windwagon Smith as civic ambassadors throughout the festival). It seemed kinda cheesy at a rock concert, but then on with the show.

Kansas came out rocking! While visiting before the show, we had already heard through the cyber-grapevine that they would be opening with "I Can Fly". That was exciting news. We could only assume that we might also hear some other tunes new to the set. I had forgotten that Steve had surgery on his knee, and was a little surprised to see the brace on his knee. It seemed to slow him down a bit, but he was still pretty active. We were not treated to any handstands this show. Another surprise was Steve was wearing glasses. He looked real different with glasses and his scruffy beard. One of the other things that became apparent to us was how strong Steve's voice was. After a few songs, the theory was offered by Dave Lundblade that one possible factor contributing to Steve's superior vocal performance was the fact that he wasn't doing his usual aerobics, and was therefore afforded better breath control. It made sense to me. He was hitting all the high notes and sounded better than I've heard him since the '91 tour (I should qualify that by saying I've only seen them four times since then). The set was very strong and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. Steve sitting with young fans One new crowd-pleaser was during "Hold On". Steve sat down right at the edge of the stage, and while singing the chorus, he pointed the mike at Mack's son Willie (who was sitting practically on the edge of the stage with a his sister, Liane. Willie turned around to dad, like "What do I do?!". Mack says, "Sing!" It was pretty funny. When they started "All I Wanted" and "People Of The Southwind", Dave and I looked at each other in surprise. I don't think I've ever heard either of those live before. Another variation was the beginning of "Carry On Wayward Son". It started out with a slow acoustic accompanied first couple lines of the first verse, and then stopped. Then Steve counted off the normal acappella intro. At the end, it was almost as if Steve was looking for Jake. He went all the way over to stage right looking at the crowd, and then all the way back over to stage left, and found Jake. He reached out and handed the mike to Jake, and Jake started wailing (Jake got to sing the chorus on "Carry On" in Topeka last summer, too). Tony was upset. The whole concert he kept telling Jake, "I get the mike on 'Carry On' this time", but Steve handed it right over the top of him to Jake. It was pretty funny ... later.

Afterwards, we waited at the side of the stage to see if the guys were going to grant a meet-and-greet, but no such luck. There were too many people (mostly friends and family of Boeing employees I assume), so that it was too crowded to pull it off. Brian and I visited backstage a little with Billy Carbone (Production/Tour Manager). Steve, Phil and Rich had gone back to the motel, but Greg, Billy, and David were still signing autographs and visiting with fans and PotSWers. As we hung around and visited a little more and said our good-byes, I realized I hadn't gotten a PotSW group picture, and was out of film. Jon Hilton had some shots left, so we all got together in front of the stage for one last picture (check out the Cyber-Attendee List for the group shot). Before we left, I gave Allen's son, Bill, a drum stick autographed by Phil that I had caught when it was thrown from the stage. The look on his face was all I needed for a reason. I just love meeting and making new friends!

Jake and I met Brad Duren and John d'Andriole (from OKC) for a bite to eat afterwards, discussed music 'til too late, and then it was the end of another day in Kansas with Kansas.

Rich and me

Here's Rich Williams and I goofing off back stage,
obviously before I gave the drum stick to Bill Wisbey.
(I have know idea who that kid is.)

Click here to see the set list and more pictures

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Last modified: June 30, 1996