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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Blues Insights was out and about downtown Kansas City on Saturday where fountains flowed bright green in honor of the 2017 Kansas City Irish Fest.
Bagpipers warmed up their pipes in the parking garage, confirming for (or warning) visitors that they had arrived at the right location if they were looking for all-things-Irish just up ahead.
On the outside, walls of tall fencing stretched for blocks, surrounding three levels of pure fun from concerts to beer gardens to shops and more entertainers – all on a beautiful, balmy Labor Day weekend opening to the month of September.
On the inside, the ballrooms in the Crown Center hotel hosted Irish dance contests where young laddies and young lassies shuffled their feet outside the hallways as they prepared for their turn in the competitions, the girls with their crowns laden with bouncing curls above their determined faces.
As luck would have it, I got to meet a one such dance competitor, Meagan Bowler, 10, who was outside Crown Center in front of (one of the many) green fountains having her picture taken by her mother, Cate Bowler. Meagan had just competed and won first place in each of her three rounds – and ended up winning 1st place in the under 12 age group for Open Champ dancers at the Kansas City Feis.
“The first thing she did was grab her new friend Claire, from an opposing school, to stand on top of the podium with her for a picture,” said her mother Cate. “That’s what’s great about the sport…meeting new people from different states…competing against each other, but also making friends with them. That is something Meagan’s [dance] teacher instills in all the kiddos at the Clark Academy – good sportsmanship.”
Bowler has only been dancing for two years. Her friend Manuel Meneses, 9, won first in Under 11 Preliminary Champ. According to Meagan’s mother Cate Bowler, Open Champ is the highest level in Irish Dance. Preliminary Champ is the second highest level. The Bowlers and Manuel attend the The Clark Academy of Irish Dance St. Louis.
Bowler said Meagan’s costume was made in Ireland where each costume is custom created for each dancer. The costume arrived two weeks ago and was just finished with final touches of tailoring one week ago.