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Tale of a traipse across those musical Flint Hills

Published on -6/26/2013, 9:45 AM

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Symphony in the Flint Hills is a spectacular event. On June 14, Esther Littlechild and I traveled east on Interstate 70 to meet my son, Steven, and her daughter, Brenda, at Crackel Barrel in Junction City. They came from Overland Park to take us to the event on June 15 at Fort Riley.

The Symphony in the Flint Hills has always puzzled me. Where are the Flint Hills? How is a symphony connected? I'll try to give a short explanation of what I found.

The Flint Hills region is the name given an area in central Kansas that ranges from northern counties Pottawatomie and Riley southward to Greenwood and Butler.

The mission of the Symphony in the Flint Hills is to heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie.

The first annual event was in 2006 in a tallgrass prairie pasture in Chase Country. Each year, a different location has hosted the event. Fort Riley was chosen this year to help the fort celebrate its foundation 160 years ago in 1853. The fort was founded in the Flint Hills to protect the settlers and traders moving across Kansas to the west.

That's your history lesson -- let's get back to our trip. Not knowing what to expect, we were happy to follow the leader. While we followed Steven on our way to Manhattan, we were in a one-way traffic line going 60 mph. I must have been too close to the construction side when my mirror clipped a big yellow barrier cone, popped the glass out (cost $375 to replace it after I got home). We made it to the motel without any more problems. I parked my car, and we rode with the kids from then on.

Friday evening, we ate at the Hy-Vee grocery store. They have a super-good food court -- many, many items to pick from. We ate family-style in their dining room; it was very good. Before we went back to the motel, we stopped at the DQ -- a mini frozen goodie really satisfies the craving for ice cream on a hot day.

Our granddaughter Andrea sent us wishes for a good time with a handmade and surprisingly clever card -- a never-ending card that you fold and fold and fold again, each fold brings forth something new. So neat.

The next morning, we studied the schedule for the day. The kids came prepared for everything. They brought sun tan lotion, insect spray, bandages, wet wipes, umbrella, rain gear, jackets, hats, water, snacks and seats.

You can never trust the weather forecast.

When the entry gate opened at 1 p.m., Mother Nature began to give us an impressible range of weather. We had parked, rode the access van to the parade grounds, stopped into a large tent when it poured rain for a while. Then it was humid. Next the sun was shining bright, wind blew and it was hot -- 90 degrees. But, by concert time, it was overcast with a light breeze and comfortable temperature -- perfect.

The kids had taken our chairs to the concert area to save our spot. We bought coupons $1 each to buy our barbecue meal. Everything had a tent, souvenir tent, cookie tent, drink tent, etc. We walked through the Kansas Art Silent Auction tent. Beautiful art -- the lowest starting bid I saw was $250.

Went to the instrument petting zoo, where you could touch and even try to play musical instruments on display. I sat in the shade while the others went to see Custer's House.

I noticed many recycling barrels, plastic or aluminium only, but very few trash cans. Strange.

People began to gather for the concert, a well-behaved crowd. I understand there could be 10,000 people seated on the Artillery Parade grounds. The large white tents with tall peaks on top were at the back, everyone faced a huge white band shell.

Very impressive: A feeling of grandeur came over us when the music began. The 1st Infantry Division Band Brass Quintet opened the concert. The Kansas City Symphony conducted by Aram Demirjian preformed beautiful music.

Two hours ended with the crowd standing in appreciation and singing "Home on the Range."

The orchestra has 80 full-time musicians, and during its 42-week season, the symphony preforms a variety of concerts, as well as Flint Hills.

Following the concert, we went to the story-telling tent. Gen. George Armstrong Custer (portrayed by living historian Rick Williams) told what it was like in 1853 when they came to Kansas to set up a fort. Wide-open spaces, tall grass, no trees they could see for miles and miles. A very interesting history story.

I now have G.A. Custers autograph in my program book.

We also enjoyed early Kansas music by the Territorial Troubadours. The groups were in costume and played very well. It was fun and easy to sing along with tunes such as "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymm of Republic."

Esther and I had a wonderful time. We are back home safe and sound, tired but smiling with memories of the special gift we received from Steven and Brenda.

Opal Flinn is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.

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