A prairie symphony
Flint Hills ranch comes alive with the sound of music
Eskridge On Saturday night the population of Wabaunsee County nearly doubled as about 6,000 guests visited a 640-acre section of the Schwarting family ranch for the Symphony in the Flint Hills concert.
For two years, the Kansas City Symphony has played to packed crowds on the rolling grasslands of the Flint Hills, filling the air with music specifically chosen to match the scenery.
"Last year was so good everyone felt that we had a real hard act to follow," said Patty Reece, site chair for the Symphony in the Flint Hills board of directors. "The comments from people who were there last year and this year really felt they liked this one better. They were certainly very pleasantly surprised that it did live up to expectations."
The event sold out in one day as compared to the month it took to sell out last year. Reece said she and the other board members were amazed at how fast the tickets sold. She said even the Kansas City Symphony box office couldn't keep up with the calls for this year's concert.
Mary McCarthy, from Leawood, tried to get tickets for last year's event, but they were already sold out. This time she was prepared, but she was still running into some jammed phone-lines.
"I called every five minutes until I got the tickets," she said. "It took two hours."
Other first-timers also got creative and used the Internet to get tickets.
Ann Trusty and John Hulsey lucked out and found their tickets on Craigslist, a Web-based classified ads site, from a person who couldn't attend the concert.
Yet others got tickets by filling one of the approximately 500 volunteer positions available for the concert.
That is how Cheryl Hanback, co-president of the Tonganoxie Chamber of Commerce, got her tickets. She and her husband made a weekend of the symphony by volunteering for the concert and then driving around the Flint Hills on Sunday.
"It was beautiful, it was so incredible over there," Hanback said.
During the concert, Hanback had to walk around, but at one point she stopped to listen to the music and gazed out onto the hills.
"No matter where I was I could hear it," she said. "It was just so magical. It was like watching the opening of a movie with the beautiful music and the horses coming up on the hill."
Hanback said she definitely would want to volunteer for the event next year.
While many guests came early to get seats close to the stage, many turned around to face west after intermission to watch the sun set over the hills.
"At first everyone was so wrapped up in the music. Then the big red ball started to descend, and the cowboys started to move up on the hill," Reece said.
Reece, who had moved to the back of the crowd for the second half, started noticing many people getting out of their chairs and taking a photo of the sunset.
This would usually irritate her, but not this time because she knew people were giving a "standing ovation," a recognition of a really special moment that they wanted to capture and hold."
The concert was only a single part of a whole day's worth of events at the concert grounds and in nearby Eskridge. The events revolved around the fine arts and the history of the Flint Hills.
Covered wagons took guests on a short trip on the hills while re-enactors from the Frontier Army Living History Association showed people what life was like in those days.
For music lovers, there was an assortment of live performances and even a hands-on music exhibit from the Kansas City Symphony's instrument "petting zoo" where guests tried out symphony instruments such as a cello, oboe or French horn.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, also honorary chair for the Symphony in the Flint Hills board, attended the concert for the second year.
"We contacted her to be our honorary chairperson last year. She only does about three to five chairmanships a year, so we felt very honored she could do this," Reece said. "She loves the Flint Hills; she recognizes that it is such a terrific treasure for the state."
Although there has been strong showing of support and a high demand for tickets to the outdoors concert, Reece said the board will probably not increase the number of available tickets or volunteer positions in order to keep the same laid-back atmosphere during the concert and to minimize the impact on the land.
"We feel it's very important to leave good feelings behind and to treat the land with respect. That is one of our main goals. One of our motivations is our love of the Flint Hills," Reece said.
Next year's symphony will be Saturday, June 14, in Morris County.