An event that is pleasing to the ears and eyes, the seventh annual Symphony in the Flint Hills featured symphonic melodies in a green pasture near the tiny town of Bushong.
The Kansas City Symphony performs once a year on a different site in the Kansas Flint Hills. The Symphony in the Flint Hills organization sold 5,000 general admission tickets to its concert Saturday, and viewers were treated to a concert, breathtaking scenery, education about the Flint Hills, the option of a hearty barbecue meal and more.
“Basically the Symphony in the Flint Hills does a really simple thing: celebrating beauty with beauty,” said Emily Hunter Connell, director of the event. “It’s beautiful music and beautiful tallgrass prairie. We take those two things, and we pair them together.
“There are lots of different ways of looking at beauty. Our culture is full of a marketing mess, and we have lots of people telling us what beauty is, but we know what true beauty is. And we gravitate toward true beauty, and that is why people come here.”
The symphony site in Lyon County offered views of rolling hills in every direction. The land filled quickly Saturday after gates opened at 1 p.m. Attendees listened to educational presentations about history and nature, and rides were available in horse-drawn carriages.
More than 750 volunteers helped make the event possible, and in turn they received a free ticket to the concert. Jake Vail and Susan Hazlett, of Lawrence, have volunteered at the event since the it debuted seven years ago.
“It’s gotten a little neater, cleaner and tighter,” said Hazlett, who helps direct members of the media during the event. “We’ve learned through the years how to do this thing.”
Vail noted the surreal experience of listening to a symphony perform in a natural setting.
“You don’t often get the chance to listen to a concert outdoors, and the fact that this event is out in the Flint Hills is even better,” Vail said. “After the busy-ness of the day with the carts driving around and the bustle of the people, the concert starts and sun sets and the night hawks come out, and it’s a neat experience.”
Hazlett said she and Vail attend each year because they believe it is important to preserve the natural resource of the Flint Hills.
“We thought the whole concept was really intriguing,” she said. “It’s a nice way to educate people about the Flint Hills.”
Education is a large part of the Symphony in the Flint Hills organization’s mission. Brandon Cole, Symphony in the Flint Hills’ site manager, said he hopes no one leaves without a greater appreciation for the land and its history.
“The Symphony in the Flint Hills’ main objective is to heighten the appreciation and awareness for the Flint Hills of Kansas,” Cole said. “What we do is use the Symphony from Kansas City as an attraction to see the real attraction, and that is the Flint Hills.”
Much of the remaining 3 percent of what was once millions of acres of tallgrass prairie lies in Kansas.
Early in the day Saturday, people’s biggest concern was the robust wind that swept the concert site throughout the afternoon.
Alan Van Loenen, of Lawrence, has worked at the symphony for five or six years with the Third Kansas Battery B Light Artillery Civil War re-enactment group, which uses the event as a fundraiser by selling beverages. Because Van Loenen has to work throughout the concert, he listens to the music from a tent.
“The Flint Hills is part of Kansas history, and for the symphony to come out here and do this is fantastic,” Van Loenen said. “But if the wind keeps blowing like this, we aren’t going to be able to hear it up here.”
Symphony in the Flint Hills Board Member George Terbovich of Kansas City, Kan., was pleased with this year’s site and the way staff and volunteers worked to get it to all come together.
“The success of this venue is due to the fact that everyone puts such great effort into respecting the reverence of the Flint Hills,” he said, “and that ultimately speaks in how well the event is carried off.”