Category: Events

John McEuen Brings “Roots Music” to Knuckleheads with Matt Cartsonis

If there’s a worthwhile storyteller musician, then John McEuen has earned the right to be called one of the best. In an evening that was as much about narrative recollections from a few of his thousands of interactions with the best in the music business, McEuen’s wit and comedic timing charmed his dedicated fans Saturday, January 13, at Knuckleheads.

Opening for McEuen for a few songs was country artist and Kansas City-based Sara Morgan with Carl Butler. A rising star in her own right, Morgan gave the audience a tasty-treat, sprinkled with narrative about her own roots in music. Singer-songwriter Morgan is signed with River Delta Records. Plain Jane, her second LP is set to release January 26.

Kansas City based Sara Morgan performed Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Knuckleheads, opening for John McEuen on his Roots Music: Made in Brooklyn tour. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair

 

After Ms. Morgan, McEuen ambled out to the stage accompanied by the affable and perfectly-matched partner in musical legacy, Matt Cartsonis.

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John McEuen and Matt Cartsonis performed Saturday, January 13, 2018 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City as part of McEuen’s Roots Music: Made in Brooklyn tour.

McEuen digressed with stories about his days with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as well as stories about his buddy comedian (and fellow banjo player) Steve Martin. Rare nuggets, such as the story of how he came to work for singer Andy Williams, were met with appreciation from a crowd who also grew up listening to and watching The Andy Williams Show. It’s quite possible that there may be only a few people with whom John McEuen hasn’t worked in his 50-plus years as a professional musician.

Still as handsome as ever as a silver-haired, neatly-bearded 72-year-old, not only is his music versatility and mastery a part of his legacy – but as much so is his comedic expressions and the flash of a still-boyish ornery smile. Just because he’s a music sage doesn’t mean he had to take growing up all that seriously.

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John McEuen, on his Roots Music: Made in Brooklyn Tour, played January 13, 2018, at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads Saloon. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

Kansas City’s own Riverrock percussionist Daniel Smith was invited to bring his washboard setup on stage to join McEuen and Cartsonis. Smith said he and McEuen have been friends for decades since they met in the 1970s. It was all about the love for music.

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John McEuen played a tune on his SmoothTalker guitar with his longtime friend, percussionist Dan Smith (of Kansas City’s band, Riverrock) on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

McEuen’s recently released CD Roots Music: Made in Brooklyn is lushly populated with accompanying artists such that there is a long list on the front of the cover.  David Amram’s intro reads:

It is not often that  you have the opportunity to spend two twelve hour days recording and at the end of the day (which as become night time0 want to stay and do more. John McEuen’s album is an experience that all of us fortunate enough to participate in will cherish. Every musician played so beautifully – each take was a breathtaking experience.

The performances were all memorable, and we moved along so smoothly that there was not time to relish the experience until trying to remember each tune we did when we thought about it late at night after all was over. It provided us all with vitamins for the soul.

I know this recording will be an inspiration for all younger tiger-songwriteres, musicians, composers and listeners to realize that it is possible today to create work of lasting value that is always musical, soulful and enjoyable. ~ David Amram, Beacon, NY

McEuen, well-known for his banjo and fiddle playing, also brought with him a gorgeous custom Smooth Talker guitar that in and of itself is worth seeing in action. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
John McEuen bends the strings on his banjo Saturday, January 13, 2018, while playing at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

There should be no hesitation for fans to jump on the chance to see McEuen’s tour in forward cities, which span the country from California to the Midwest, to Pennsylvania to Texas and Florida. The music, the narrative and the sheer happiness that comes from spending a couple of hours with this legendary artist are not only reminders of our youth but, for young artists, a reminder that their own musical legacies hold the promise to endure.

One more thing – be sure to reserve your copy of McEuen’s upcoming book. In the final manuscript stages at the moment, McEuen’s book The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey is set to release April 1, 2018. This volume is sure to be filled with a rich history of great anecdotes and uplifting stories.

And, just for the record, we all would have picked you, too, Mr. McEuen.

 

 

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Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City Nominated for Award: Cast Your Vote!

Just a quick note about you getting to vote in a contest that allows the music lovers to have a say in who are your favorite musicians and venues.

Kansas City’s Knuckleheads Saloon has been nominated for Venue of the Year in The 5th Annual Ameripolitan Awards Productions 2018  (Ameripolitan is a non-profit organization that supports classic-styled country music.)

If you want a chance to participate, cast your vote for your favorite performers and support your favorite venue, then here’s the list and here’s where to vote.

For what it’s worth, my pitch on this particular contest is that I grew up listening to old style country music (and a ton of other types of music) and I have a deep respect for the genre and its roots. To me, it’s as ingrained as the church hymns I also grew up singing.

I also believe that music is like a big web and all things are connected. If you pluck one strand, it effects all the others. I don’t know about you but, for me, I enjoy exploring the many facets of our music heritage.

Thankfully, Knuckleheads embraces a wide range of genres, so there’s always something that appeals to a variety of musical tastes. The main focus is to have safe, fun places to get out away from the house, the television set and the pressures of life and enjoy a few hours of live music.

Knuckleheads – and I’m sure the other nominees as well – have worked hard to keep live music reachable and fun for all of us. If there’s ever a chance to say “thank you,” it’s when nominations come along that invite music lovers to come together and voice their support. Again, here’s where to vote.

Samantha Fish Rings In 2018 at Knuckleheads in Hometown KC

©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

Wrapping up a grueling but fruitful concert tour for 2017, Samantha Fish came home to Kansas City to put on her last show of the year, packing a Knuckleheads Garage crowd willing to drop $90 a ticket for the evening, which included complimentary champagne and a balloon drop at midnight.

The show also included access to two other acts: the crowd-pleasing Atlantic Express gushing the best of the 60’s top hits (“My Girl”; “Chain of Fools”; “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”) and The Belairs out of Columbia, MO, who can put a blues spin on any music genre.

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Delynia Brown with Atlantic Express Band sings “Chain of Fools” Sunday night as the band performed on Knuckleheads indoor main stage for the New Years Eve party. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

It was a little tricky to move between simultaneous shows inside on Knuckleheads‘ main stage and the Garage but once I soaked up several irresistable performances by Atlantic Express, I moved over to the Garage to cozy up to some Belairs blues.

After watching the brothers for several songs, I made up my mind that there comes a time in your life where you appreciate a sharp-dressed man who can handle an axe.

Brothers Dick and Dave Pruitt – who took on a 90 minute set Sunday night for the Knuckleheads’ New Years Eve concert – played everything from slide guitar blues to Johnny Cash.

..and they did so with a style that showed off what 30-year career musicians learn only from gigging all over the country for three decades

“From Austin to Boston” sums up the range these brothers bring to the stage – with Dick’s on-point range of vocals and bass guitar coupled with brother Dave’s gleeful command of lovingly-seasoned instruments that have clearly been distressed the old-fashioned way: by years of beating millions of notes through them.

If it’s the brothers’ style to bring a nod-to-the-sixites, sharp-dressed man look, they do so with the cool and confidence of the Rat Pack. But it’s their command of blues notes which permeates their music and their songs – whether soul, country, southern blues or rock -that satisfied the blues-discerning fans at Knuckleheads this New Years Eve.

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Dave Pruitt performed with the Belairs Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 for the New Year’s Eve event at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Bluesmen, The Belairs, entertained a NYE crowd at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights.

Just before 11 p.m., Ms. Fish came out on stage in a mini-dress that look audaciously like it was coated in glittering mermaid scales (fish…mermaid scales…get it?). The dazzling dress was complimented by knee-hugging black boots which covered what has become famously-known as a pair of the best gams in the music business. Her gorgeous shock of oversize blonde curls above the winged eyeliner and capacious smile finished off the allure to her fans to join her down to the floor – closer to her – in front of the stage for the next two and a half hours.

But everyone who comes to see Samantha knows the essence of her gifts lie in her mastery of and fearless attacks on the strings. While we love her presentation, we love her songwriting and delivery even more.

The show seemed to be a perfect wrap up to one of Samantha Fish’s best years ever as her Chills and Fever album made the New York Times best pop albums of the year list (at #22, alongside such names as Jay-Z, Taylor Swift) just six months before Rolling Stone named Samantha Fish as one of the “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” in its November, 2017 issue. Perhaps best of all – to her fans – was coming home to Kansas City to let her hometown crowd share in her triumph and ring in an even better 2018.

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Samantha Fish brought hometown fans a high energy show for NYE at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Samantha Fish performing “Somebody’s Always Trying” for a New Year’s Eve show at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2018 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

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Yonrico Scott quickly became a favorite with the NYE crowd as he brought his inate enthusiasm to the Knuckleheads performance with Samantha Fish. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

 

Coyote Bill’s Blues Christmas at Westport Saloon

Naught shall keep the blues from its appointed rounds, apparently, so even though this past Monday was Christmas, it was still Coyote Bill’s Monday night Open Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. Plenty of local KC talent braved the 21 degree weather to show out and warm up a dedicated crowd of holiday revelers.

Among the musicians who came out were Koolaide and Miss Bea of Koolaide Exact Change Band – their first time at Westport Saloon – bringing good tidings of great vibes accompanied by John Paul Drum on harmonica. Will Hawkins stepped in on drums and Rick Symmonds on keys.

Blues Jam host William “Bill” Bartelt has had a version of Coyote Bill band for the past 10 years, he said, and has hosted the Coyote Bill Blues Jam at Westport Saloon for the past four years. The current lineup of Coyote Bill includes Bill, Patricio “Pato” Lazen, who joined the band about a year ago, and Kris Schnebelen, who joined in October, 2017, on drums.

Westport Saloon is a cozy, friendly place boasting “live, independent roots music” in the heart of Kansas City’s Westport. There’s a decent size dance floor, two bars and lots of live music variety.

The blues jam has been on Mondays since July but will go to Tuesday nights starting on February 27, 2018 at Westport Saloon. Here’s the upcoming full schedule of events at Westport Saloon.

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Koolaide played at the Westport Saloon during the Coyote Bill’s Monday Blues Jam, Dec. 25, 2017. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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John Paul Drum played Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 during the Coyote Bill Monday Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Miss Bea, bassist with Koolaide Exact Change Band, played Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, during the Coyote Bill Monday Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Bassist Russell Niccum played Dec. 25, 2017 during the Coyote Bill Monday Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Rick Symmonds played keyboard Dec. 25, 2017 during the Coyote Bill Monday Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

Mike Zito and Jeremiah Johnson Deliver a Red Bull Blues Show in Kansas City

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Mike Zito, left, performed with Terry Dry Dec. 9 on bass at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

When Mike Zito puts on a concert, he only knows full throttle. When he came to Knuckleheads Dec. 9 with special guest Jeremiah Johnson Band, the energy couldn’t get any higher on a ride that lasted even longer. It felt like like doing shots of Red Bull.

With two bands each this good, either one could have packed a Knuckleheads stage house – each of them has before. Together, they sent Kansas City fans scrambling for tickets.

Zito showed off his star quality by goading an already hyped-up, on-their-feet crowd into staying for a pairing of both bands well-into a three-song encore. Sharing the stage with the already popular Johnson, was fine with Zito, who seems to thrive on choosing to play with the very best. After all, not only is Johnson an award-winner also but he brings Frank Bauer’s dipping, back-arching saxophone performance, the personable Benet Schaeffer on drums and seasoned bassist Tom Maloney keeping everybody on track.

And Zito’s band is one of the best anywhere with Terry Dry on bass and Matt Johnson on drums. Plus, they can all sing and are performers who carry an intuitive showmanship into Zito’s performances.

These two bands are clearly among the most audience-satisfying acts touring right now. They easily interact with and take charge of the audiences who clearly are pumped and energized by these performers. When Zito took his wireless guitar out into the audience, exposed as he was, the fans cleared the way and egged him on. Well, let me just show you Mike Zito untethered:

Wait. There’s more:

Are you listening Texas fans? Zito is coming your way in Port Arthur at Dylan’s with Scott McGill; Austin on Dec. 29 at Antone’s, then in Dallas, at The Kessler on Dec. 30 and a New Years Eve Party in Spring, TX at Dosey Doe.

After that, Zito is off to Germany for what looks to be a six-week tour which you can follow Mike Zito’s Event page.

In the Midwest and still want a taste of St. Louis blues?

Jeremiah Johnson Band is homing in on the St. Louis venues at Hammerstone’s on Dec. 21 and 28 and at Moonshine Blues Bar on Dec. 30th.

This is the fellas having a good time at Knuckleheads in Kansas City.

 

Mike Zito and Terry Dry performed Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights.
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Jeremiah Johnson performed Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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St. Louis-born bluesman Jeremiah Johnson performed Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City.
Mike Zito, left, performed with Terry Dry Dec. 9 on bass at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Mike Zito and bassist Terry Dry brought plenty of enthusiasm to their Dec. 9 performance at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights.
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Jeremiah Johnson and saxophonist Frank Bauer performed Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City, ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Saxophonist Frank Bauer performed with the Jeremiah Johnson Band Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Matt Johnson performed with Mike Zito Dec. 9 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Bassist Tom Maloney performed Dec. 9 with the Jeremiah Johnson Band at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights
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Benet Schaeffer performed Dec. 9 with the Jeremiah Johnson Band at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights

Southern Avenue: Young, Hip Blues – Served Hot on a Platter

A lot of people who love the blues know that Southern Avenue is a street in Memphis, TN.

But it’s also the name of a young blues band with a namesake debut album Southern Avenue.

Coming back for another run at Kansas City’s great roadhouse Knuckleheads Nov. 30, those who didn’t catch Southern Avenue the first time around this summer are going to get a second chance – which is a coup for the fans who recognize they are lucky enough to still get in to see this band’s star rise at a smaller venue.

The band quickly got snapped up by Concord Music Group’s Stax Record label where, among many other venerable artists, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Elvis Presley have pressed recordings. Concord Group Music has produced and released Gregg Allman’s final album ‘Southern Blood’.

Just a refresher of Southern Avenue’s July 14, 2017 appearance:

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Vocalist Tierinii Jackson performed July 14, 2017 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City with the band Southern Avenue. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair – Blues Insights LLC

The band lit up the Knuckleheads outdoor stage Friday, July 14, 2017 – on a beautiful summer night in front of a standing room only, overflow blues crowd. Opening for the TUF (Trampled Under Foot) Reunion, sisters Tierinii (vocals) and Tikyra Jackson (drums) along with Israeli-born Ori Naftaly on guitar and keyboardist Jeremy Powell, coaxed the crowd into filling their cups with a fresh brew of youth-infused blues – a special blend of blues tones, youthful lyrics, gospel and Tierinii’s arousing delivery.

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Guitarist Ori Naftaly performed July 14, 2017 at Knuckleheads with the band Southern Avenue out of Memphis, TN. Knuckleheads is a famed roadhouse in Kansas City, MO. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair – Blues Insights LLC

Like a choir director stirring up a congregation, vocalist Tierinii kept up an unrelenting invitation to jump into a groove with an energetic lineup of original songs like “Don’t Give Up” and “Rumble” – all while heel-stepping, hip-gyrating and swinging her long, brilliant red locks. The band broke out in several solos by Powell, Naftaly and Tikyra, creating a bubbling cauldron of excitement inside the ever-more hyped up crowd.

Keyboardist Jeremy Powell Southern Avenue ©2017 Blues Insights Peggy Stevinson Bair
Keyboardist Jeremy Powell performed July 14, 2017 with blues band Southern Avenue at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair – Blues Insights LLC
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Tikyra Jackson performed with blues band Southern Avenue July 14, 2017 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City.

The set wrapped up with the wave-inducing “Don’t Give Up” that would have gotten the band elected to Congress if it had been a political rally. You can get a free download of the song if you sign up with your email here. If you don’t get anything else out of this article, I recommend getting that song. It has a great mantra that is at the heart of how Southern Avenue connects with their fans.

Let’s have a listen to Music City Roots‘ video of Southern Avenue’s “Don’t Give Up”:

Outside the Knuckleheads front entrance during the intermission (Trampled Under Foot Reunion was up next as the headliner), the newly-minted fans were able to snap up CDs of the Southern Avenue namesake debut record – also available on LP vinyl for those who like to take their music for a vintage spin on a platter.

Southern Avenue debut album available on vinyl or CD. Memphis, TN band on Stax Record label, a division of Concord Group Music.

The Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 show opens at 7 p.m. with Quinn DeVeaux

Heather Newman “Burn Me Alive” – Dec. 1

I didn’t know what to think this past summer when this little pint-size pixie sidled up to the microphone on the stage one Wednesday night during the 2017 Levee Summer Blues Jam. Jam nights are pretty laid back…Newman, casually bespeckled – but even so, nothing could obscure those big eyes underneath. I thought right then, in fact, that she was reminiscent of one of Margaret Keane’s paintings – waif-like and barefooted. I squinted a bit wondering what this gal was doing in a blues jam.

But, then…something about how she wore that big ol’ bass like a comfortable accessory and how, with a smile and flick of her locks, the fellas around her took que and struck in. I quickly surmised I’d better pay attention: she wasn’t there to follow.

She was there to LEAD.

Sure ’nuff, after her step up to the mic, out came a big woman voice that boomed a whole lotta blues outta seemingly nowhere.

Yeah. Fool me once. Never again. Welcome to my first experience of Heather Newman.

I got a chance to catch up with her after her set and found her very down-home friendly. From Omaha originally, Newman has made Kansas City home recently but, clearly, she has that Midwestern approachability. I promised to catch her one of her professional appearances in the future and as luck would have it, the next time I got to connect with her was at Knuckleheads with her own band, The Heather Newman Band.

After waiting around for her to greet her fans before the show, Ms. Newman said she was excited because she had written a new song the day before and run the band through the new tune in less than a day to try it out this very next night. To understand this level of ability, one first has to know that, even though she is only 23 years old, she’s been performing since she was 10, so in Heather Newman years, she’s a seasoned pro.

With the debut of “Burn Me Alive”, it’s easy to see how she taken her raw talents to bolder levels.

Keith Ladd, Lee’s Summit, played guitar with The Heather Newman Band Nov. 16, 2017 at Knuckleheads. Ladd has opened for such bands as Molly Hatchet, The Romantics and Blackfoot. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair.
Ryan Matthew is a classically trained musician who played keys with The Heather Newman band on Nov. 16, 2017 at Knuckleheads. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

With Lee’s Summit’s Keith Ladd on guitar, classically trained Ryan Matthew on keys and Cole Dillingham (formerly with Amanda Fish band) on drums, Newman is clearly comfortable as a leader of the band (more like keeper of the band’s happiness.) Coaxing her guys through songs with smiles and attention, she never misses a beat while doing what it takes to make sure the sounds are on track. Talent builds talent and begets talent so Newman surrounding herself with such a worthy crew has clearly served to put her at the helm of a great sound at an opportune time in her career – and theirs.

Okay, I’ll stop yammering so you can have a listen to The Heather Newman Band

Coming up Dec. 1 at Knuckleheads, The Heather Newman Band will perform at the CD release party of their debut album: “Burn Me Alive” and if you click this link, you can pre-order the album and/or a tee-shirt with the band’s cool logo on it. Get your Heather Newman Band Knucklehead’s tickets

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One more from Nov. 16 at Knuckleheads: “You Mean to Tell Me”

2017 – Great Summer of KC Blues

Rollin’ through on electric grooves this summer from California was Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – partnered up with Johnny Main and The 44’s. Hitting Kansas City twice in their tour of the Midwest, I first encountered OJATA at BB’s Lawnside BBQ – and was caught a bit off-guard when this beatnik looking daddy-o strolled up from out in the audience to grab the mic where the band had already fired up their first number. Jon English commenced to jiving and crooning, swaying a backside and raising his eyebrows invitingly at the audience over a pair of dark glasses – while a slim and seasoned Bruce Krupnik coaxed an electric cigar box guitar into a string-bending blues whine.

It became clear that we were all there to witness Orphan Jon having a good time and we could either join in or not – it was gonna happen…and it did happen. Everybody got bitten by the groove and pretty soon the place was hoppin.

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Jon English introduced himself to the Kansas City audience at BB’s Lawnside BBQ June 02, 2017 while touring with the band Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and Johnny Main’s The 44’s. His interactions with band members are contagiously enthusiastic – but his vocals bring a hot new blues sound to the fore. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

Then, Jon English stepped back as guitarist Bruce Krupnik entered a zone and took everyone into it with him. Fortunately, I managed to gather myself enough to capture a goodly clip of it. Grab your favorite beverage, close your eyes and have a listen – I promise you, he’ll be gentle but you are gonna feel it:

That song, “Leave My Blues Alone,” is on the Abandoned No More CD coming out on Rip Cat Records after the first of the year (2018) – so you get a first taste of here. Thankfully, my unprepared backside got a second chance to video this number entirely and live when OJATA did a loop back around to KC on the tail end of their Midwest Tour and graced the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads a few days later. You want more than just a taste of this song? Well, here’s the 16 minute live version – with special guest Johnny Main injecting extra energy and mojo:

A lot more is coming here on Blues Insights about OJATA in the near future – as I truly believe in the amazing songwriting matchup of Jon English and Bruce Krupnik. But, yeah, even though the weather was balmy in the summer of 2017 – the Kansas City blues scene was hot, hot, hot.

Stay tuned (ha! get it?) for more as we will soon be discussing the upcoming CD:

Great Year for Kansas City Blues Scene

I thought I’d coast into this fall by bringing you a retrospective of some of this summer’s sizzling events in the Kansas City Blues scene. A beautiful summer for weather in ol’ KC town, there were plenty of balmy evenings to enjoy a great lineup of blues concerts.

First up, Kansas City’s own Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, perfunctorily known as Danielle Nicole.

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Danielle Nicole performed July 11, 2017 at Knuckleheads, opening for The Robert Cray Band. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

Danielle Nicole holds a powerful blues presence as evidenced by her vocals-only performance Tuesday (July 11, 2017) at Knuckleheads where she wow’d an overflow crowd in opening for The Robert Cray Band. Kansas City loves Danielle Nicole and it’s easy to see why – not only is she a riveting guitarist, her vocals hit every note with an emotional barb that hooks her fans into feeling the core message of the lyrics. Plus, she’s beautiful. There’s that.

Danielle Nicole is well-paired with the handsome and talented Brandon Miller who can go toe-to-toe with Danielle in a frenzied instrumental duel – or back up her vocals with harmony on solo acoustic. His smile and good mood contagiously amps up the on-stage vibe between the two, making them one of Kansas City’s great blues combos.

Brandon Miller, left, performed May 6, 2017, with Danielle Nicole, right, for the MerleJam benefit on the Knucklehead’s outdoor stage. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair
Brandon Miller played and sang with Danielle Nicole July 11, 2017 at Knucklehead’s where the two were opening for The Robert Cray Band. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

 

Gift of the Grinters: Acres of Happiness at Tonganoxie Farmers’ Sunflower Utopia

Small Town Tonganoxie Family & Friends Set the Pace for Visitors Seeking a Quiet Reprieve

As the cool air of autumn slips through the closing door of summer, plumes of dust rise along a narrow country road just outside the town of Tonganoxie, KS.

Rows of vehicles from distant counties and towns have their turn signals on for the same turn off, pointing their now-dust-powdered grills at a set of gentle slopes plump with thick nubby green stalks shoring up massive heads of bright yellow sunflowers.

The mostly-city-folks who pull into remarkably neat rows of parking in one of the five mowed spots around the sunflower fields, saunter slowly towards various accidental gaps between the yellow-headed stalks – wandering in and disappearing to no place in particular, sometimes stopping to take pictures and sometimes ducking and squealing at the urgent buzzing of  pollen-laden insects diving into the blooms.

They’ve arrived to capture the fleeting pleasure of a gentle brush with nature at the sunflower fields of Grinter Farms

The cooperation level among the visitors is something in itself to behold. There is no competition or me-first attitude to be seen anywhere this particular day. Visitors will spend the next hour or two not thinking much about what they left behind them – only the fact that they are surrounded by acres and acres of what some feel is just…sunshine and happiness.

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The heads of sunflowers bloomed in the field of Grinter Farms on Saturday, Sept. 2, near Tonganoxie, KS (©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair)
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Powdered with yellow pollen, bees, along with other insects feasted on the fat sunflower blooms. (©2017 Peggy Stevinson-Bair)
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Kourtni Freemyer, longtime Tonganoxie resident and student at St. Mary University in Leavenworth, KS, worked to assist visitors with water and t-shirts Sat. Sept. 2, at Grinter Farms. (©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair)
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©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

A Family Tradition Born Out of an Oil Crisis

Every story has a beginning and this one started with Tonganoxie farmer Jim Grinter, who had a vision for making alternative fuel to run his farm. His daughter-in-law, Kris Grinter, shared what Jim started out to try and do during the 70s to fight the cost of rising gas prices:

When the idea of using sunflower oil for fuel became impractical financially, he decided to keep growing them anyway, which, as Kris Grinter said, over the years, turned into a family tradition.

The Grinters have profitable row crops of corn and soybeans – although, for a few lucky years, there was enough demand that the family grew more acres of them. Apparently, in spite of Kansas being known as “the sunflower state,” it’s actually the Dakotas that grow the majority of sunflowers.

The family currently have about 40 acres planted in sunflowers (that’s still about three million plants, according to Grinter Farms worker Curt Somers.) Kris Grinter, known also as “the farmer’s wife,” explains:

Feeding the Masses

Besides a great walk through the sunflowers, visitors this year can also enjoy home made pies, cookies, and cinnamon rolls thanks to the new food kitchen that was added this year. It’s first come, first serve though – on Kris’s baked goods – and they sell out fast by 10 a.m., depending on the crowds. (Food trucks with additional lunch options have been added this year, though. Check Grinter Farms for serving times and details)

On his most recent visit out at Grinter Farms September 8, Blues Insights’ videographer Terry Bair happened upon Ted out among the sunflowers and had a chat with him about how the operation is going now and how it has evolved this year from previous years:

New this year also is the addition of food trucks. We caught up with Debbie Robinette, a longtime friend of the Grinters, (who grew up with Ted), as she manned one of the new concessions. She said that this year, more fields were mowed for visitors to have places to park and more workers were on hand to help visitors get oriented and provide them with water – so visitors will have an easier time doing what they came to enjoy.

Local Artisans at The Store

The store has been expanded and is a place where local artists and vendors have their wares for sale – leather crafts, quilts, metal craft, jellies, and local honey. Friends and family pitch in to help keep the operation running smoothly for the two or three weeks of blooming season. And Ted knows plenty of friends:

Paul Van Cleave sells some of his exotic jellies (Cabernet, Champagne, Sunflower) at the Grinter Store during the sunflower blooming in the first couple of weeks of September. Van Cleave, who grew up on a farm in Tonganoxie, KS, is one of the many local artisans selling their wares to visitors at the farm prior to the seasonal sunflower harvest. Van Cleave owns and runs Imbibe Jam’s LLC. Local artisans sell their wares in the Grinter Farms Shop.

Happiness and Hope

For one visitor at Grinter Farms this year, the sunflowers represented more than a family outting. Not only was it a place for Isabella Gamino’s senior pictures, but it is a place that represents happiness …and hope. Gamino, 17, who lives in Topeka and traveled to Grinter Farms with her mother Tracy Gamino for the photo session, said she is now at ease discussing the depression she struggled with as a young teen.

Isabella
As a young teen, Isabella Gamino, 17, suffered from depression and spent years working with medical teams to recover and regain a positive lifestyle, she said recently, while visiting Grinter Farms. The sunflowers, said Gamino, represent hope and happiness. (Sept. 5, 2017 © Peggy Stevinson Bair)

She advocates for young people to talk more openly about how they are feeling and being honest about their intentions with their families to get the help they need for depression.

“I’ve had a lot of struggles throughout my entire school life. And just thinking about how the sunflowers come back every year, their faces look up towards the sun…they are always so positive…it’s just something that I really relate to and feel within my heart. [Sunflowers] are happiness…positive…very much an optimistic thing.”

 

 

This weekend, as we visited, many blooms were just starting while many others were beginning to wither. The crowds were still strong but the fields are still far larger than the number of people visiting. As the sun lay down at the edge of the hills below a pink and purple sky,, and the last of the day’s visitors packed up and headed home, a peace and calm settled over dotted landscape. (©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair)

 

 

The sunflowers are in full bloom right now at Grinter Farms and, according to the website, the blooming season is about 2 weeks or less before the heads get heavy with seeds and start to droop. Harvest is at about Halloween. The photos for this article were taken September 2nd, 5th and 8th – for more information and store, bakery and food truck hours, contact: Grinter Farms

©2017 copyright Blues Insights LLC @Peggy Stevinson Bair ©Terry Bair All right reserved.

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