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KANSAS - The Prog Rock Wizards of Ahs Celebrate a Major Milestone in Music City

by Rich and Laura Lynch

You could forgive Dorothy if she was to say, "Oh, Toto, I'm not sure who is in KANSAS anymore" because at their 50th anniversary tour stop at the revered Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on August 19, 2023 there was a cast of relatively new members strutting their stuff on stage. But, collectively the legendary heartland rockers showed a lot of heart, brains and courage as they delivered an impressive set of songs for an audibly appreciative and attentive audience who left the building awed and slayed by these giants of long-form progressive rock.

KANSAS meet "Another Fork in the Road" head on in Nashville.

The fact of the matter is KANSAS are in top form on this 2023/2024 run propelled by the powerful presence of founders Richard Williams (guitar), Phil Ehart (drums) and longtime member Billy Greer on bass & vox. Along the way on their winding path that has now spanned more than a half century the group has acquired some capable companions to help them continue on their legendary journey of musical discovery.

Singer Ronnie Platt (keys/lead vox) came on board in 2014 having been plucked from near obscurity playing in local bands in his Illinois hometown. The former truck driver became a different kind of road warrior in KANSAS and quickly began delivering the goods with a vocal delivery that slots in nicely somewhere between the stylings of former band singers Steve Walsh and John Elefante.

Ronnie Platt of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

Tom Brislin (keys, vox) joined KANSAS in 2018 and hasn't looked back since quickly becoming a force in the group with his songwriting and prog rock chops coming to the forefront. Brislin is no stranger to high-profile gigs having done stints with YES and Meat Loaf. But, he never looked as comfortable or right at home in any band as he did standing behind his keyboard set-up at the Ryman.

The really new guy is violinist/guitarist Joe Deninzon who came over from the progressive rock band Stratospheerius in May 2023 to replace the departing David Ragsdale. Watching Joe was nothing short of magical and the injection of energy he brought to the fold was palpable. He received many loud ovations for his numerous engaging solo spotlights during the evening's two hour and fifteen minute performance.

Joe Deninzon of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

Formed in 1973 in Topeka, KANSAS is now an iconic group with a lot of gold and platinum to their credit. Plus, some of their hit singles remain in heavy rotation on classic rock radio to this day. In the summer of 2020, they released The Absence of Presence their sixteenth studio record, which debuted at #10 on Billboard's Top Current Albums chart proving these prog rockers still got it.

And, just like Dorothy's friends in the famous movie the band is also showing they have a lot of heart, brains and courage on their current outing. Heart - because they are clearly offering shout-outs and thanking every member who has ever been in their ranks during the course of their show. Brains are working because the group has made some incredibly smart moves by putting the pieces in place that have some fans saying that this unit might be the tightest one yet to showcase their vast catalogue in a live setting. And, courageous because they are digging into that back catalog to play deep tracks never presented before in concert.

Tom Brislin of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

KANSAS also proved that they still got it at the Ryman as they played a career spanning set of melodic progressive rock. Like many in that genre KANSAS' music is complex yet KANSAS also has commercial appeal. Songs like "Point of Know Return" and "Fight Fire With Fire" are excellent examples that came up early in the band's show. They also presented plenty of pieces from their early days including the intense and intricate "Icarus-Borne on Wings of Steel" flowing into "Icarus II". KANSAS also threw in "Throwing Mountains" (2020) which had plenty of notes and nuances giving a nod to their distinctive past.

The sound at the Ryman was well mixed so that the keyboard and violin parts which are so important were prominent, crisply blending with the potent rhythms and guitars. Ronnie Platt has the voice of classic KANSAS so although the group is not all founding members they do sound like they did during their peak periods. Lighting was also well utilized adding to their polished presentation.

Rich Williams of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

The acoustic portion of the concert was reflective. Bass player and the night's emcee Billy Greer included a short story explaining that the guitar part for "Dust in the Wind" was really just a finger picking exercise. He described how when writer Kerry Livgren's wife heard the section she convinced him to write a song based on the pretty pattern - and the rest is history. "Hold On" and then "Down the Road" from their second album which was dedicated to Robby Steinhardt were more big moments in the night as was the encore - a winning version of "Carry On Wayward Son".

In addition to celebrating their founding in 1973 which they did in fine form at the Ryman, KANSAS released Another Fork In The Road - 50 Years of KANSAS (InsideOut Music). The set features carefully-selected tracks from the band's lengthy career. It also has an updated version of "Can I Tell You" (1974) that is played by the current line-up - thus giving a full-circle perceptive of their catalogue.

Billy Greer of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

Phil Ehart comments: "We are really honored by the commitment that InsideOut Music has put into Another Fork in the Road. This is far more than just another greatest hits album. "It is an in-depth representation of the evolving and winding musical journey of the band KANSAS that's been 50 years in the making." The 3CD Digipak includes archive materials, liner notes by Jeff Wagner and pictures of rarely-seen memorabilia. So, check out Another Fork in the Road and KANSAS when they come to your town.

In Nashville, fifty years on from their founding we intently watched a band who has consistently followed a golden path and a fortuitous formula that they have rarely strayed from over the years even as members departed and new ones entered the fold. When the final note was played and the house lights went up every fan at the Mother Church realized they had just witnessed another dream concert in Music City.

Phil Ehart of KANSAS at the Ryman Auditorium.

Related Links: For more information on KANSAS and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - KANSAS | Ryman Auditorium


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