The Flint Hills symphony was canceled as severe weather loomed | Kln
BAZAAR – Ironically, the theme of the 2022 Symphony in the Flint Hills Signature Event was “Weather in the Flint Hills”.
More than 7,000 people gathered Saturday on the emerald green Irma’s Pasture west of Bazaar in Chase County. Just hours later, the crowd became a seething exodus into the parking lots when the symphony performance was canceled just before intermission due to weather conditions.
Peggy Bellar of Howard, Kan. waited patiently in the pickup line for a ride up the hills to the venue. She was a first time SIFH volunteer and was celebrating the occasion in honor of her late father’s 98th birthday.
“It’s too wet for farming,” she said, “so here we are. My father would have loved that.”
Many in Kansas rue the near-constant summer wind. On this hot 90 degree day, when the humidity also hit the 90 percent mark, the steady breeze was a blessing.
Outrider Josh Patry, originally from Willowdale and Zenda, Kansas, now has 400 cattle on his heifer calf farm near Dwight, Kansas. His daughters, Nichole and Heather, also rode and rappeled for the event. Saturday was Josh Patry’s eighth year as a SIFH Outrider. Patry graciously greeted the participants who hiked up long hills on a rutted and sometimes muddy path to the event site, encouraged the children to pet his horse and answered questions. A young girl asked the name of her horse.
“We call him Trigger today,” Patry replied laconically.
“I’m amazed at the logistics,” noted Overland Park’s John Ritz. “We’ve been here before and seen Lyle Lovett. At the end my wife cried. I can’t believe how they timed it. We are happy to be back here.”
Pierre Thientont comes from southern France, near Bordeaux. He first attended the concert with his friend Mo Mbogori from Shawnee, Kan., and Mbogori’s parents.
“There’s so much activity,” they noted. “We’re looking forward to the concert, but everything else is a bonus.”
The Art Tent, which has always been a mainstay of the event, has introduced a new concept for 2022. The Prairie Art Exhibit featured the work of nearly sixty artists. Reproductions of the artwork, including “Deep Prairie Roots” by 2022 winner Suzanne Southard, were displayed on display panels throughout the tent. Artists were present to visit concert-goers and discuss their works.
“We used to have the live art in the tent,” explained longtime volunteer Susan Mayo. “The microburst that canceled the 2019 event right here on Irma’s pasture made us reconsider that part of the event. It’s going really well. People meet the artists and chat, and no one worries about damaging expensive original artwork.”
Art lovers can see the original pieces at the Symphony at the Flint Hills Gallery, 313 Broadway, Cottonwood Falls. The online art auction lasts until Tuesday, June 14, 7 p.m. There is still time to bid on this prestigious prairie art kcauctioncompany.com. Minimum bids range from $100 to $4,250.
Artist Louis Copt has exhibited with SIFH Prairie Art for many years.
“I’ve been exhibiting here for at least a dozen years since the event started,” he said. “It’s different when you don’t have the original art – there’s no substitute for having the original here for people to see and appreciate its size.
“I understand what they’re trying to do,” he continued. “2022 will provide a benchmark for past years.”
“I’m glad they do,” Copt concluded.
The presentations, in the aptly named Sunflower, Purple Coneflower and Butterfly Milkweed tents, were themed around the theme of Weather in the Flint Hills: Weather Stories, Weather and Science, Weather and the Country. Mike Holder, retired Kansas State University advisor, chaired a panel entitled “Unusual Weather We’re Having, Aren’t We?”
“We grow beef here in the Flint Hills,” Holder explained.
“The weather goes in cycles, I think,” said rancher Frank Hinkson. “I know that man has not done an excellent job of taking care of the environment. Here in the Flint Hills, for the most part, people have been fine stewards of the land.”
Hinkson is a third generation rancher. He and his wife, Marilyn, met in high school in West Texas. Partly due to water problems, they began prospecting for land in Chase County. The place they liked best was auctioned off in the early 1980s and the young couple was able to purchase the ranch. 35 years later the family runs a herd of 400 registered Angus cows and another 200 heifers. The Hinksons’ son, Trey, and his family now live on the ranch and run the business, which includes over 7,000 acres of owned and leased land.
“Tallgrass prairie is our passion,” said Flint Hill rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe. “The greatest threat to the tall grass prairie is the cedar. When the pioneers came through, there were no trees here. This grass sequesters carbon at a rate similar to that of the rainforest. Cedar trees are not good here.”
Gov. Laura Kelly greeted the crowd attending the 17th annual event with a standing ovation.
“The last time we were here at Irma’s Pasture in 2019,” Kelly said, “a microburst canceled the event. Appropriately, this year’s theme is the weather.
“We cannot control the weather, but we can be good stewards of this country. The Flint Hills is the highest quality rangeland in the world,” continued Kelly, thanking the Joe Stout and Mike Stout families for hosting this year’s event.
“It is remarkable that 85% of the farms in Flint Hills are family owned. They feed the world,” she concluded.
Jason Seber is the David T. Beals III Associate Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. He opened the concert by exclaiming, “We are so excited to have the FULL Kansas City Symphony here for you again this year! There may be thunderstorms tonight, but there will be no thunderstorms.”
As the symphony captivated audiences with the meditative beauty of its second number, Claude Debussy’s Clouds, the clouds proper rolled in from the north across the prairie. Children danced improvised jigs on hay bales to the “summer” movements from Max Richter’s “The Four Seasons Newly Composed”.
To the haunting strains of Minhye Helena Choi’s fiddle, Outriders strolled south over the bright green hills behind the stage. Max Richter’s minimalist rendition of Vivaldi’s Summer of the Four Seasons moves provided a perfect accompaniment to the cowboys, who herded frisky cattle back north across the pasture as more clouds appeared on the horizon.
Dave Kendall, known to many as the face of the long-running public television series Sunflower Journeys, was serving in his tenth year as concertmaster of the ceremonies.
Just before the concert began, Kendall admitted, “You sweat a bit to see the beauty out here. It’s not always convenient. The event simply brings people IN to the mountains to experience the mountains.”
Ninety minutes later, Kendall took the stage to announce the concert’s cancellation due to weather concerns.
Symphony in the Flint Hills issued a formal statement confirming the cancellation. “During the sunset concert tonight, our onsite meteorologist determined that the risk of severe weather in the area would exceed the safety threshold for our guests. It was then that we made the decision to clear the site and get people to their cars as safely and efficiently as possible. We appreciate everyone’s patience, cooperation and understanding.”
Musicians, concertgoers, volunteers and staff philosophically packed chairs and picnics for the long trek back to their cars. This walk was enhanced by the beauty of a golden sunset on the Flint Hills prairies and dramatic blue-grey mammatus clouds, followed closely by an ominous supercell descending from the north.
As the huge crowd quietly made its way across the prairie hills under an ever-changing summer sky, many sang parts of “Home on the Range,” the traditional closing song.
“Next year we’ll be back in the Wabaunsee district” was a refrain that was often heard.
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