An overflow crowd packed themselves in at Knuckleheads’ outdoor stage in what turned out to be a lucky Friday 13th for Kiefer Sutherland and his fans. Dark clouds that threatened to ruin the outdoor stage setting devolved into a few moments of light sprinkles before it turned into a perfectly balmy spring evening.
As famous as Sutherland is for his acting ventures, his music, his band and his songwriting seem to bring him an even greater pleasure. Sutherland was relaxed and gracious and totally in his element as a musician. He looked like he was loving everything about being at Knuckleheads, which may arguably one of the most unpretentious little roadhouses in the country. He must have thanked the fans at least a dozen times for showing up to be a part of the “Reckless” tour.
Sprinkling in just the right amount of anecdotes to introduce some of his own songs, Sutherland appears to be a man who wants to feel all the edges of life – and write about them, which clearly was connecting with the some 1,000 fans last night. While he commands plenty of energy on stage, he also allows himself moments of groove that is the private pleasure of musicians who enter the zone during a performance. And yet he often turned to the crowd and spread his arms, seeming to drink in the energy and love from them.
Somebody yelled out, “I love you!” and he quickly replied, pointing from the stage “I love you back!”
If you don’t believe him, then give him an Oscar – but I don’t think he was acting. The dude truly looked like he was having the time of his life hanging out with a bunch of regular people singing about regular stuff that goes on in any ordinary human life. And, some of that stuff is probably reckless. But, hey, at least we’re all in this together.
Knuckleheads was just the third stop in the Reckless tour, so if you are interested in grabbing a great show and some great merch and CDs, check out the tour dates for the one closest to you. You can also check Sutherland’s Facebook page at Kiefer Sutherland.
Upcoming Tour dates for Kiefer Sutherland “Reckless” tour:
April 14 Bourbon Theatre – Lincoln, Neb. April 17 Bluebird Theatre – Denver, Colo. April 18 Park City Live – Park City, Utah April 20 Crystal Bay – Crown Room – Crystal Bay, Nev. April 21 Fremont Theatre – San Luis Obispo, Calif. April 22 Mystic Theatre – Petaluma, Calif. April 24 Crystal Palace – Bakersfield, Calif. April 26 Coach House – San Juan Capistrano, Calif. April 27 Music Box – San Diego, Calif. April 28 Red Rock Casino Resort – Las Vegas, Nev. May 1 Cactus Theater – Lubbock, Texas May 2 Antone’s – Austin, Texas May 4 Billy Bob’s – Fort Worth, Texas May 5 Island View Casino – Gulfport, Miss. May 7 The Cowan (Topgolf) – Nashville, Tenn. May 10 The Phoenix – Toronto, Ontario May 20 Birchmere – Alexandria, Va. May 23 Bottle & Cork – Dewey Beach, Del. May 25 Stone Pony – Asbury Park, N.J. May 26 Bethel Woods – Liberty, N.Y. May 27 Daryl’s House – Pawling, N.Y. May 28 Stephen’s Talkhouse – Long Island, N.Y. June 7 Kantine – Cologne, Germany June 8 TivoliVredenberg – Utrecht, Netherlands June 9 Parkbuehne – Leipzig, Germany June 10 Gruenspan – Hamburg, Germany June 12 Columbia Theatre – Berlin June 13 Hirsch – Nuermberg, Germany June 14 X-Tra – Zurich June 16 Teatro Barcelo – Madrid June 17 Bikini – Barcelona, Spain June 19 Zappa – Antwerp, Belgium June 21 Electric Ballroom – London June 22 Waterfront – Norwich, England June 23 Black Deer Festival – East Sussex, England June 25 O2 Academy Oxford – Oxford, England June 26 Komedia – Bath, England June 28 Albert Hall – Manchester, England June 29 Queens Hall – Edinburgh, Scotland June 30 The Academy – Dublin
It should not go without mention that two acts that opened for Sutherland for this event on Friday, April 13th at Knuckleheads were two of the most righteous, crowd-rousing performers a headliner could hope for – first Ian Moore, touring for his new EP “Toronto!” followed by Macon, GA singer-songwriter Rick Brantley. Between their two separate performances, they slathered the crowd with tasty tunes that came to a crescendo when Brantley insisted the crowd sing the chorus of “Just a Little Bit More” from his album “Hi-Fi”.
Brantley’s boyish smile and youthful good looks are coupled with stage confidence and enthusiasm as he coaxes the audience into his lair of his superb storytelling lyrics.
And no one can argue that Ian Moore isn’t willing to blur the lines of any music genre he feels like playing. From blues to rock to country, it becomes clear that Moore is one of the rare humans one could call a “true artist”: one who isn’t interested in categories but, rather, in following his own muses. You can waste time trying to fit him into a box or you can just come along with him and enjoy where he takes you.
So, Mr. Sutherland couldn’t have had a better lineup for his Friday 13th night in Kansas City. In fact, for the $25 ticket price, the only thing remotely shocking about it was that concert goers got a bloody bargain.
Any musician who gets credited with being an overnight sensation knows that statement just makes for good headlines. In reality, the backstory for greatness is a road paved with more rocks than a prison quarry.
Even with the rising, seemingly quick success of blues singer/songwriter Orphan Jon English, he still informs his ever-growing fan base upfront from the microphone – “I was an orphan, abandoned as a little boy” – if nothing else, just to clear up how the name of the band came about. But there is nothing overnight about the success of Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and their new CD Abandoned No More. The inspiration for every song was decades in the making. In the words of the late, great Sunshine Sonny Payne: “Ya gotta live the blues before you play it.”
Orphan Jon English’s family, based on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California, was part of a long line of migrant workers who traveled from town to town, from state to state for work. When Jon’s mother was a young teen, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, and soon another and another child was born every year or so until there were four more – all boys. In and out of the family’s life, the children’s father finally abandoned them. His mother, still young and rebellious, had less interest in her children than she did in hanging out in the bars. The State of California was finally called to look in on the unkempt, unsupervised kids. Beginning at eight months old, Jon and his three brothers were sucked into the California Social Services orphanages and foster care system.
Social Services had offered the all the children to their maternal grandparents. But his grandparents only wanted the oldest child, Jon’s sister Georgia, and declined to take the boys. It was three more years before his mother got the boys back. That reunion would only last a few short months.
A Child with No Home: Orphan Jon
Early Years of Abandonment
One day in 1970, a skinny, disheveled four-and-a-half-year-old boy peered out the window of a motel room looking for…waiting for…his mother to return. In tattered clothes and no shoes on his feet, surrounded by his three older brothers, all under the age of 10, the last memory Jon had of his mother was from the night before, when she cupped his face in her hands and kissed his cheek in a rare display of affection, leaving him with some last words: “Don’t you boys go running around all over the place.”
With that, and no warning, while they slept, she vanished and did not return.
That next day they woke up alone. The children had waited, pulling snacks of food from vending machines, running around anyway, barefoot and unattended – and eventually making their way up the road to the house of their mother’s sister.
His aunt took the four boys in, temporarily. But with many children of her own, the addition of four more rambunctious boys was too much for her and, after a short time, she reluctantly called social services – again.
The four boys were split up and taken to an orphanage.
Puzzled and alone again, the scrawny boy Jon, lay in the top bunk in the boys side of the dorm of the orphanage, hugging the emptiness and staring at the neon EXIT sign over the door located on the distant wall.
“Why? Why has this happened to me?” With tears streaming down his face, he waited for some word that their mother would return. Or, that someone…a family…would come forward to take them in.
Weeks went by, which turned into months.
Adopted, at Last
After spending his early years in and out of foster homes and dealing with many abuses by those that were supposed to be there to protect him, a day came when Jon was 10 that he and one of his older brothers got the news that the English family, with whom they had been living, would adopt them.
And that’s when the nightmare got bigger.
“The lady who took us in was very abusive,” said Jon, in a recent interview.
“Looking back, I see there’s so many different paths and directions my life took when I was young that I had no control over,” Jon said.
Because his brother Clarence was older and bigger and had more physical defenses, the younger and smaller Jon took the brunt of the physical and emotional abuse from their adoptive mother.
“When I was young, there were those moments when I hated her. I hated life. I wished for death.” Jon said.
The two brothers became slave labor to serve the adoptive family.
“My life was wrapped around doing chores. That’s all I did as a kid. My brother and I would get up early in the morning, fix our dad’s lunch and do chores before going to school, we never had any play time,” he remembered.
The dad in the family had his own problems and issues.
“He was gone all of the time,” Jon recalled. “He was a workaholic. He didn’t know until years later about the stuff she had done, he had no idea. Of course, when you’re a kid, you don’t think to say ‘Hey, Dad, there’s a lot going on here…’”
There was no one to tell.
Telling anyone about abuses was double-wrapped in the fear of losing the only real home he had come to know. As a result, Jon did what he hoped would keep him on the good side of his abuser.
“We cleaned the house constantly. We did all the floors and dust mopped them, did the dishes, cleaned the bedrooms, did the laundry. We’d go out in the yard and pull weeds in the flower beds and mow the lawns. That’s all we did day in and day out. Go to school, come home from school, do your homework, do the chores, do the dishes, go to bed,” Jon said.
And put up with the beatings, the ridicule, the loneliness and abandonment.
As Jon related his story, he was able to say that, over time, and from a much older viewpoint, he realized that his adoptive mother was one more link in a chain of child abuse – trapped in a cycle of her own life of abuse.
“I recalled the stories she told me when I was a child – about her stepdad and how he raped her…and just beat the crap out of her with a razor strap. It wasn’t until I was older and had an adult mind and I could look back and say ‘Wow, I see why she was the way she was.’ She was conditioned to do that. I don’t think she could look and say, ‘I can change this’ towards me,” Jon said.
Within the despair, however, were rhythms of hope – coming through the speakers of a record player. His adoptive mother would, in softened moments, invite his companionship to listen to her favorite songs.
“One positive thing she did is she would introduce me to music. I don’t remember truly listening to any music at all in my childhood until she came into my life. She loved Mozart, she loved The Everly Brothers – the harmony – Fats Domino and Marvin Gaye. So, I would listen to these songs – and she would encourage me to sing them.
And I discovered that when I did this, there were moments of affection shown towards me like a mother towards a child.
She liked the Everly Brothers. Those two guys can sing! I love their singing style, their harmony. As a child, I would imitate them, and she would sing with me.
There was just something about it [those moments] – as a child. That there was a peace and comfort, and compassion shown towards me. You don’t want to be left again,” Jon recalled.
Running Into Hope
Another path of hope came, a few years later, when Jon attended high school. He discovered he was really good at athletics. It was also a place where Jon’s adoptive father took notice of him.
“I was extremely dedicated to my athletics – running. I would get up early in the morning and run 10 miles a day. Here was my adopted dad who was an athlete [when he was younger] and it was something we could have in common, we connected with, so he started coaching us. I became one of the top runners in the Valley,” said Jon.
“It helped me channel my anger and frustrations in life at the time. I remember in high school that I never felt accepted because that’s just the way I am – never feeling like I belonged. Athletics allowed me the comraderie where I felt like I belonged because I was excelling in the sport that I was in.”
Orphan Jon English as a young athlete in high school found acceptance by excelling in sports. (submitted photos from Jon English)
Finding a Voice
Also, as a young teen, Jon found himself attracted to a young woman who was in chamber choir at his high school. In yet another fateful twist, he joined the choir to be near her.
“I was only in it for one semester, but it was enough to learn from an outstanding choral director in Mr. Mike McQuerrey. I learned to sing a capella, I learned pitch. I learned how to properly warm up your vocal chords And that was part of my life where I rediscovered that I had a voice,” Jon remembered.
Jon said that he still didn’t do anything with his singing until a bit later at the age of 16 when his adoptive grandmother – even more mean and abusive towards him than his adoptive mother – insisted Jon go to church with her…and sing. For Jon, in his never-ending effort to weave threads of obedience entwined with strands of abuse, a tapestry pattern was firmly set by then.
“I would do anything in my power to win over her affection and gain her acceptance,” Jon said.
The church was Jon’s first experience singing before an audience. In front of the tiny Pentecostal congregation of 10 or 15 people, his grandmother had asked him to sing “Why Me, Lord?” by Kris Kristoffersen. (shown here with grateful acknowledgment to the inimitable Kris Kristofferson.) (1)
Jon said the song was something he felt he could connect with, emotionally. His rendition apparently conveyed that emotion to the audience.
“People reacted so positive,” Jon said. “I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m liked by these people.’”
While his rendition of the Kristofferson song was well-received, his life was still void of true acceptance. He soon parted ways with his adopted grandmother and her church, and eventually found another church, one that was more conservative and was overwhelmingly immersed in old-time country gospel. The singing ministry in the new church offered something they called “Specials” wherein they would feature different singers from the church congregation to solo their favorite country gospel songs.
At some point, because he had become known for his singing voice at the previous church, all eyes turned to Jon to contribute his gift of voice.
“They sang something they called ‘Specials’ – songs by The Hansens, The Goodmans, The Bill Gaither Trio, etc. All country gospel artists,” Jon added. “So, I come along, and they came to me and they encouraged me. ‘You should sing a Special’ but I would respond to them ‘I’m not gonna sing a Special, I’m not a singer like that…a country gospel singer. It’s not me.’ But still they would insist ‘Oh, you are, too.’ So, finally I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.'”
“Well, I’m not going to sing country gospel,” Jon said he thought to himself. “I’m going to sing what I love, which is Black spirituals. There was something about the heart and soul in those gospel songs that hit home with me. And because of my love for Motown music. That’s what made the most sense to me as a singer.
“Thankfully I was encouraged by some of the young people in the church; because they remembered me from our high school Chamber Choir days. And by not singing what was expected, it was our way, the youth, of rebelling against the older, more conservative elders in the church. That was as rebellious as you could get. Forsake the normalcy of the country gospel and sing something completely different.” Jon let out one of his deep-toned, infectious laughs at the remembrance of those times.
One of those spirituals came from a Reverend FC Barnes’ songs called “Rough Side of the Mountain.”
“I wanted to do the song,” Jon said. “So, the pastor’s granddaughter – she was an amazing pianist – and was a year younger than me. So, I said, I want to sing this song. And she was like ‘Whoa. That’s not like the Hansens or the Goodmans.’ I said, ‘No, but I think this is a song you would like.’
So, she was like, ‘okay, let’s try it.’
But I said, ‘I don’t want to sing it just like FC Barnes.’ So, with her help we devised my own style and interpretation of the song.”
The stakes were high. The two young people – Jon and the minister’s granddaughter – knew the congregation would only accept Jon’s selection if the minister, himself, heard it and responded with approval – AND – the congregation would be looking to the minister before they decided how to react themselves.
“So, I get up there and I sing the special, ‘Rough Side of the Mountain'” Jon recalled, “with everybody in the congregation on pins and needles, waiting for Pastor, Rev. Jimmy S. Davis’ reaction. He just LOVED it!” Jon said.
(2)(youtube link with grateful acknowledgement to Rev. F. C. Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown)
Jon felt he had followed an inner spirit, taken a chance and won over a skeptical audience. That cemented a connection for the former orphan – that his voice was a way to amplify his feelings but also gain acceptance. That experience became an inner vow.
“If I’m going to sing a song, I’m going to sing a song that is true to the heart. I’m not just going to go through the motions just to sing it. I never sang any song that I wrote or cover song that didn’t affect me.
Because singing is such an emotional expression,” Jon said.
Parting Ways with his Adoptive Family
By the time Jon was 17, his adoptive family life had devolved into an unlivable chaos. His adoptive mother left his adoptive father when he was 14 and the home lost what shreds of stability it had. He left to live with his adoptive mother’s sister, Vickie, who had also attended the previously mentioned church with him along with his adoptive grandmother. She was a woman who was very kind to him. “She was the polar opposite of her sister,” Jon recalled.
Jon graduated high school and began his own life while continuing to attend the new Pentacostal church pastored by the Rev. Davis for the next 18 years. Through the church, he met his first wife, the mother of his children. During that period of years, Jon became a youth minister. He continued to sing in the church.
“I learned so much back then, especially how to sing and connect with the audience,” he said.
Though Jon and his first wife divorced in 2001, they made a joint decision to parent closely with their children. As a result, Jon and the mother of their children have a good relationship and their children grew into successful adults with loving parents.
The abandoned boy had grown into a man who turned a life of loneliness, bitterness and loss into a thriving family of his own and a large group of people at a church with whom he developed his gift of singing.
“It’s all based on acceptance,” Jon admitted.“Acceptance from my adopted mother; acceptance from my church; acceptance as an athlete from my peers and classmates. Everything I poured my heart and soul into because I always wanted to be accepted. That’s how it is for an abandoned kid. I feel like everything I went through as a child, as a young adult and a husband and a father, brought me to where I am today.”
Thankfully, the story does not end there but merely began new chapter – of songwriting, singing and an even more expanded family of musicians.
OJATA is appearing once at Knuckleheads on Friday, April 20, 2018 on the north side of Kansas City and then once again at BB’s Lawnside BBQ April 27, 2018 on the south side of Kansas City. Orphan Jon and the Abandoned has whipped up a fresh batch of emotionally-charged blues lyrics by heralded songwriter Jon English with hypnotizing guitar licks by his bandmate and blues brother, Bruce Krupnik.
Here’s a little taste of where the Krupnik blues zone can take you (from the 2017 OJATA performance at BB’s Lawnside BBQ):
Fair warning: For blues fans who relish being able to say they were among the first to see a hot band’s debut, these two appearance dates in Kansas City on the CD release tour for Abandoned No More are not only full of promise of great new original from-the-heart lyrics and music, but also a promise to be a part of a sweet niche of musical history. Fan-tastic tees will be available also featuring Heather June’s original graphic at the top of this story. Don’t even wonder: you will want one – and for now, that’s the only place they will be available is along the tour.
Blues Insights acknowledgements for contributions to this story:
Payne was best known as a radio personality who hosted King Biscuit Time at KFFA 1360 in Helena, AR for over 50 years – broadcasting his love for the blues which in turn influenced millions of others throughout his career.
As a teen, he had worked for KFFA 1360 AM radio station in Helena. King Biscuit Flour had a commercial spot on that station and, once, Payne was asked to step in and read some copy over the air. This led to getting to read for some more commercials where he found he had a voice for radio.
At the same time, Payne began learning to play upright bass with a band, the Copeland Cowboys, who often played at the studio.
He joined the Army in 1942 WWII, and during some of that time, he sought out USO clubs where he could play and learn from some of the other musicians.
After getting out of the Army in 1948, Payne toured for a few years with Harry James and Ted Williams, among others. But by 1951, Payne became tired of road tours and went back to the radio station in Helena. He was hired on and began hosting the King Biscuit Time blues music radio program.
That show became the longest running blues radio program in the world and Payne the longest running blues show host.
Payne acquired the nickname “Sunshine” because of his attitude one day while assigned to host a live, remote-location, all-day broadcast in Marianna (Lee County) called “Marianna Calling.” It was a cold, miserable, rainy day, and Helena disc jockey Bill Fury “threw” the live broadcast over to Payne in Marianna. When Fury announced Payne’s name to switch the broadcast over to him, Payne did not answer right away. After Fury’s second attempt to rouse him, Payne grumpily returned the hail over the air, and Fury asked Payne, “What’s wrong with you?” “Nothing wrong with me,” Payne replied. “But it’s cold and rainy here, with ice and snow.” “Well, boy you’re just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” said Fury. The next morning, when Payne walked into the Helena station, everyone greeted him saying, “Hey, Sunshine.” It might not have stuck except that Robert Lockwood Jr. kept it going to get a rise out of Payne. ~ (directly quoted from:) The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Payne was the recipient of many awards during his career. He was an inductee of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame and received the George Foster Peabody Award in 1992 for outstanding achievement in the field of radio and broadcast journalism.
According to a 2014 article in Arkansas The Natural State, musical legends B.B. King and Levon Helm gave credit to Payne as being an influence in their music careers. Music legends Robert Plant and Elvis Costello were among the throngs of legendary musicians who visited with Payne on the set of “King Biscuit Time.”
He has twice received the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award and is the recipient of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association’s Pioneer Award. In 2010, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. On May 13, 2014, Governor Mike Beebe declared May 13 to be “Sunshine” Sonny Payne Day. He also received the 2015 Cecil Scaife Visionary Award, given annually to an individual whose work has helped others achieve careers in the music industry.
The Blues Foundation mourns the passing of Sonny Payne, who was a two-time Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipient and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010. He was the host of the legendary “King Biscuit Time” program on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas for over five decades. We join the rest of the blues world in sending condolences to his family.
To all the blues fans and musicians out there today who would like to check out some wonderful blues history, and appreciate one of the industry’s most iconic figures, you won’t regret taking a few minutes to have a listen:
(1) Full credit is also extended to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture for their information contained within this article. The organization is a project of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, Arkansas with major funding provided by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and additional funding from the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas General Assembly, the Arkansas Humanities Council, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as donations from individuals, foundations and organizations. Blues Insights extends its utmost gratitude to these entities and individuals which make it possible for stories of our rich history of American citizens to be told for the education and betterment of our society.
This is just a short post and a shout out to all of you out there who have been touched by depression or tragedy in your lives.
Here at Blues Insights, we know how the down and lowest times, when you feel like you are losing someone or when you’ve lost someone or you are facing what appear to be insurmountable problems (there are ALWAYS solutions) or other people are judging you for living your life and you don’t feel good enough…how those times hurt, so badly.
Remember, your life does matter and there is hope ALWAYS.
We want to give out a link to a song that is being so generously share by the young blues band: Southern Avenue. Just go get this free download from their site: “Don’t Give Up” We are also going to share it here, right now:
Hey, you, yes…we are talking to YOU: Listen up…
You matter. You have a purpose.
More people love you than you think. In times of hardship, you may often underestimate how many people count on seeing you and interacting with you because you make their days better and brighter.
If you feel like you have no one right now, then remember that there is someone out there waiting for you to find them in the future. Yes, there is. You are here to make a difference for another person or many.
Your life is working out exactly as it is supposed to.
Did you make a mistake? EVERYONE makes mistakes. So don’t judge your insides by everyone else’s outsides. People who judge other people and point fingers at other for making mistakes have often made the most mistakes themselves.
Can you take a moment to write down your hopes for the future? Chances are you have already achieved some of those goals already – so give yourself credit for how far you have come.
Wherever you are and whatever you do: Don’t Give Up.
When the Universe conspires to push you into your purpose, you answer the call. It was when the venerable James Harman didn’t take no for an answer that pushed seasoned Kansas City bassist Patrick Recob to get up in front and sing at BB’s Lawnside BBQ one night.
“Nah, James, I ain’t gonna sing no songs.” Recob recalled telling Harman. But Harman wasn’t listening…he was already conspiring, as if an ESP moment had descended upon him – and the scene of Recob’s next career move had just unfolded in front of him. He insisted not only that Recob sing…but also start writing songs and come to California and make a record.
As Recob entertained a crowd at his Perpetual Luau CD release party Oct. 11, 2017 at Knuckleheads Saloon, he provided proof of his songwriting and entertainment chops with diversity that ranged from deep blues in “Dark Night of the Soul” to the love song “We Have Got It Going On.”
Let’s have a listen to how Patrick recalls the Harman encounter (he’s going to follow his story with “Frustration Blues”) from his CD Perpetual Luau:
When an artist writes from the heart, anything and everything can happen. When he pulled out “We Have Got It Going On” – a love song he wrote for his wife, Lisa – Recob rolls out that youthful love feeling, producing a catchy, foot-tapping retro beat reminiscent of the very early blues emergence later termed “Rock and Roll” – stuff that came out the 1950s Sun Records in Memphis with the likes of Kings of Rhythm and Elvis Presley.
Have a listen:
More to come about this artist as we interview him going forward about the distribution of this tasty collection of songs from heart of a true Kansas City bluesman bringing us the pleasure of Perpetual Luau.
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
There may have been some who were disappointed about cloud cover during the much-publicized and hyped solar eclipse – but from the optimist’s point of view, the planning, preparation and excitement was a day for science to earn a place in the hearts of everyday people.
In Dearborn, Mo., a sleepy little town off I-29 on the way north from Kansas City to St. Joseph, Mo., Mike and Susie Lyon stood out on their front step in downtown Dearborn and caught the first glimpses of the eclipse as the moon appeared to slip in front of the sun. They wore their eclipse glasses they got from attending a class earlier this month from a local astronomer. “I’m just waiting ’til it’s totally dark so I can take a nap,” quipped Mike.
A bit further down the road, in downtown Plattsburg, what looked like a class of amateur astronomers was actually retired aerospace engineer Tom Killgore and his family and friends from Tulsa, OK, staked out in front of a home he rented for the event.
“I’ve been planning for this for 10 years,” said Killgore. Over a period of years, Killgore purchased enough telescopes and setup for the group to be able to individually enjoy the experience. “We found the house about a year ago and rented it.”
His own setup included several cameras on tripods, but a special setup involving a telescope that automatically recorded timed captures for a time-lapse sequence and a wide angle bubble-front lens that took in a super wide scene of its entire surroundings.
His wife Connie Rush and her friend Diana Barbee helped the grandkids and the rest of the group keep their equipment setup – and protected when some rain droplets fell during the coming and going of cloud cover.
Killgore explained his telescopic photography setup:
Killgore also had a cool project he created, which he explains here:
Today, we witnessed license plates from as far away as Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – to name only a few – who came to Missouri to be a part of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse event here.
Everywhere we went, we observed people in good spirits, joining together in parking lots and camping sites…enjoying not only a fun science event, but also a peaceful human event.
For a day or two…a few hours or so…a powerful and wondrous event in the sky seemed to bring us all together with one word in common: