Back At It

Oct 17, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Greetings blog faithful. I apologize for the weeklong gaps we’ve had to go through lately, including this past week when it took me more time than usual to fully get over the jet lag after three weeks on Kauai. It’s not that hard going west. You just power through the long flights and get there in the afternoon, island time. If you can stay up until 9:00 you’re on your way. Eastbound, though, is a different story. Those red-eye flights back to the mainland are not fun, especially for a guy who rarely sleeps on overnight flights. That guy would be me.

About a month from now. We will celebrate Radar. (Click on any image to enlarge)

I did my best to catch up and get back on Central Time after we got home, but frankly the whole week was kind of a blur. Falling asleep too late, getting up too early, taking too many naps. I think I’m pretty well set now. And no travel for at least a few more weeks. We do have some more trips on the docket, and one of them will be in mid-November when I head down to St. Louis for a “Celebration of Life” to honor my former roomie and teammate Bob “Radar” Ricker. I’m sure it will be emotional, but I’m equally sure a lot of our teammates and friends will be there to share it. Lance and I will be meeting up at the St. Louis airport and staying in the same hotel in downtown St. Louis. It’s an easy drive over to the gathering, from there.

The celebration will be in Pocahontas, Illinois, the little town where Radar lived. He lived right outside the actual town on a nice piece of land with a wonderful home and a Man Cave any guy would envy, out in his shop/garage. Plenty of sports were watched out there, year ’round. Apparently, according to the invitation, there’s a winery in Pocahontas, as well. We’ll be having the get-together there, and we’ll also be celebrating the 34th birthday of Radar’s son John. We will come armed with gifts. John is currently living with his godparents, and from what I’ve heard he’s doing about as well you could hope.

Just a few days after that trip, Barbara and I will be heading to New York to meet up with the Orlando gang, including the twins Bella and Stassi, for Thanksgiving. Why New York City for Thanksgiving? Because we were able to reserve a hotel room right above the street where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade goes by. The one with the huge balloons that traverse right down 6th Avenue. Should be fun!

Fun stuff!

So back to last weekend…  Way back in April (I think) I bought two tickets to see the band Kansas at the State Theater in Minneapolis. And I didn’t fool around. I bought the VIP package, which included a whole array of gifts and memorabilia, a Meet & Greet with the band before the show, and great seats. That was such a long time ago I pretty much forgot about it until I started getting emails from the promoter and packages in the mail a couple weeks ago. Then I discovered the seats were actually in Row 2 right in front of the stage.

Barbara knew she’d probably not be able to go to the show even then, when I bought the tickets, so way back in April I asked my buddy Joe Gillis if he’d like to come with me. He likes a lot of the same music I do, and he was thrilled to say yes. Just like I had needed to be reminded of the mid-October date, I had to jog his memory a little as well, but we were all set on Saturday and left way early so we could eat dinner downtown before going over to the theater.

I write about music a lot, and write about some of my favorite artists probably more than most people would like. I rarely write about Kansas, and I’m not sure why. They have been one of my all-time favorite bands since their first album was released in the spring of 1974.

They are called Kansas for a reason, since nearly all the original members were born and raised in Topeka. There’s a fabulous documentary about them, which you can find on YouTube and I’d heartily recommend it, called “Miracles Out Of Nowhere” (which is also the title of one of their songs) and that title could not be more appropriate. How six guys from Topeka ever got signed to a record deal, not to mention a deal with the legendary Don Kirshner, borders on being a miracle. They went on to sell tens of millions of records and pack arenas around the world. I probably saw them in concert five or six times during college.

Time to be a fan boy at the Meet & Greet!

They were no simple band. They were basically all musical geniuses, and the addition of Robby Steinhardt on violin gave them a very distinctive sound. I couldn’t get enough of Kansas back in my college days. They went through a number of changes over the years, and currently Phil Ehart and Rich Williams are the only two original members in the band. Ehart, the drummer, is roundly considered the guy who formed the band in the first place, enlisting the best of the best of his friends in Topeka.

As the concert date approached, I was just hoping the mostly new lineup would be OK. They were more than OK. They were brilliant. And at the Meet & Greet they could not have possibly been more gracious. Friendly, engaging, willing to chat a little and shake hands. Phil Ehart was the last one in the line, and all I could think to say when I got to him was “This is truly an honor.” In the group photo, Ehart is at the far left and Rich Williams is third from the left. Legends, in my book.

The show was amazing! The “new guys” (a few of whom have “only” been in the band for about 30 years) were spectacular. The sound, at the fabulous State Theater was impeccable. Our seats rocked. The big “if” in my mind was going to be the vocals. Back in the original lineup, a guy named Steve Walsh was the lead vocalist, and his range was truly off the charts. He was clearly one of the bests singers I’ve ever heard. It’s one thing to replace the violinist, the guitarists, the keyboard player, and the guy on bass. How in the world were they going to replace Steve Walsh? And that’s kind of important. Walsh’s voice was the sound of Kansas, to many fans.

Fantastic show, with stunning musicianship.

As it turned out, by the first few notes of the first song, I could tell we were in for a magical show. Everything about the group was spot-on perfect, including the vocals. I can’t necessarily say this group is better than the original lineup, but they are absolutely just as good.

They played a bunch of hits to start it off, including my all-time favorite Kansas song “The Wall” and even played a few new songs they just released on a new album, and those tracks were great too. Then they played the album “Point of Know Return” in its entirety. And yes, they spell it “Know” in the title. When they came back for the encore, the singer said “We’ve got one more to play for you. Do you know what it is?” The entire sold-out crowd yelled “Yes!” and the band launched into “Carry On Wayward Son.” The whole crowd was singing along. Me included. I apologize to Joe and anyone else who could hear that.

All in all, it was everything I dared hoped for and a whole lot more. I’m so happy we went, and glad Joe got to experience it with me. Dinner and drinks were great too. And Joe was happy to be the driver, so I could relax and just soak it all in. Thanks, my friend!

And I’ll leave with this cute little detail.

My autographed drum head will be going up on the wall in the theater room this weekend.

Any of you who are NHRA fans and have ever gotten Pro Stock driver Jason Line’s autograph, you know how he signs it. He signs Jason and then draws a line next to it. Get it? I always found that funny. Well, Phil Ehart does something very similar, as you can hopefully see in this shot of the drum head I got autographed by the whole band. As the founder of Kansas, he gets the prime spot in the middle. He signs it with a “P” and then writes an “E” before drawing a heart. Made me smile…

So that’s about it for this week. I’m glad I got back here and back in the saddle. It felt good to write this blog once again.

I promise I’ll be back next week!

And, as always, if you just read this and thought it wasn’t terrible (even if you’re not a Kansas fan) I hope you’ll click on the “Like” button at the top. After doing that, you can feel free to carry on wayward son (or daughter).

Bob Wilber, at your service and still singing.

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