If you want to find a band that epitomizes the American rock ‘n’ roll dream, you couldn’t do a whole lot better than Kansas, six guys from Topeka who made it big. At some point, most red-blooded, musically inclined American teenagers fantasize about getting out of that no-account town and reaching for the stars, a concept that’s fueled countless garage bands and a handful of superstars. With iconic songs “Carry On Wayward Son,” and “Dust In the Wind,” prog-rockers Kansas are still living the dream, 40 years later. Drummer Phil Ehart tells the Current how the band is using its continued success to give flight to the dreams of a new generation of musicians with their collegiate orchestra benefit tour, in which each orchestra receives up to $3,000 worth of D’Addario strings and accessories. This weekend, the UTSA orchestra joins Kansas onstage.
Forty years ago, did you imagine that you’d still be playing drums for Kansas?
Not even close. We figured we’d get to make one album and get to tour a bit, and probably have to find a way to make a living after that. Then we hit 10 years, then 20 years, then last year was our 35th anniversary of the release of the first album. It’s nothing we’d ever take for granted, that’s for sure.
Having done this for decades, does there get to be a point where it really just feels like a job?
I’ve never had a job.
Is there an extent to which it almost feels surreal?
It does at times. Sometimes because you’re touring, playing every night, doing interviews, back at the hall — it can go so fast every day that, after a year of it, you kind of go, “Wow, where did the time go? Was I really in Paris? I don’t remember Paris.” Surreal is a good definition, definitely.
Speaking of touring, on this tour, you’re playing with a collegiate symphony, right?
On this college run, there’s about eight to nine shows, so it’s a very limited tour that we’re just doing here to launch this concept of Kansas playing with university symphonies. We have about 40 schools right now that want to talk to us about 2011-2012.
How did that idea get started?
On our 35th anniversary, we went back to Topeka. We wanted to do a symphony date and make a DVD out of it. The best place to do it was at White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University there in Topeka. The student orchestra joined us for an evening of Kansas music with the orchestra. We started sending out feelers, and it took us a while, but eventually schools started stepping up and saying we’d like to do this.
How much re-arranging had to be done to fit the songs into this format?
Actually, our conductor, Larry Baird, is also our arranger and scored the music. Because the music is so orchestral in a lot of ways, he didn’t have to shoehorn the orchestra in there to fit with our songs. Some of the more rocking songs, the orchestra might sit out on a couple passages, then come back in on the chorus.
Do you think playing dates on college campuses will bring in a younger audience than what you guys usually see at your shows?
We don’t really know. We’ve seen our audiences outside of university concerts get much younger. I don’t expect our audiences to be packed with college kids. I think there’ll be some there. Really, the main thrust of this is that we’re coming to help these music programs and do a great show.
Do you think this sort of concert series is something you guys would have entertained 30, 40 years ago?
Oh no way. We weren’t that bright. Back then we were just all about going out and playing. In the past 10-15 years, we’ve had to kind of reinvent ourselves. You can’t just be a jukebox for your own music. It’s another facet of Kansas. •
8pm Fri, Sept 17
715 Stadium Drive