Utah Symphony will take audience to Kansas
The rock group Kansas formed in Topeka, Kan., in the late 1960s and became an FM radio staple in the 1970s with the hits "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind," "Point of Know Return" and "People of the Southwind."
Blending the styles of progressive rock with a Midwest work ethic, Kansas is still playing the hits for its fans.
When the band vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh, bassist Billy Greer, drummer Phil Ehart, guitarist Rich Williams and violinist David Ragsdale plays at Deer Valley Saturday, it will be accompanied by the Utah Symphony.
Ragsdale, who replaced original Kansas violinist Robby Steinhardt, said playing with a symphony is quite natural, because of the band’s original orchestral-type arrangements.
"The songs translate well in a symphonic environment because of the band’s nature," Ragsdale said.
The songs were arranged by Larry Baird, who has worked with the Moody Blues, Three Dog Night, Alan Parsons and former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung.
"Larry, who will be conducting the show, did a great job with our music," Ragsdale said. "There are a lot of rock bands playing with symphonies and sometimes there is an element of the symphony being jammed in there with a crowbar every once in a while, but it flows pretty smoothly with us."
Ragsdale started playing the violin because of his mother.
"I didn’t have of a choice really," Ragsdale said with a laugh. "I didn’t want to play the violin at all, but she was bigger than me."
Ragsdale’s ears were more attuned to rock ‘n’ roll, and once he grew taller than his mom, he switched to guitar.
"At that time, it became apparent to me how many thousands of outstanding guitarists there were," he said with another laugh. "It was then I began to think that maybe the violin wasn’t a bad idea after all. So, I maintained my guitar playing to a certain level and honed my violin skills and applied them in a jazz and rock way to stay in that world."
Ragsdale immersed himself in the music of Jean-Luc Ponty and Kansas.
"The first Kansas album came out when I was sophomore in high school and I was floored by it," he said. "I also loved Stéphane Grappelli, but he was way out of my league."
When Ragsdale was able to join Kansas in the mid 1990s, he felt honored.
"When I came into the band I really didn’t feel any pressure because Robbie left the line-up in 1983 and the band went through a period with no violinist for a while," Ragsdale said. "I knew I could play the parts, but I also knew there was a lot resting on my shoulders to do a decent job and that’s how I approached it."
Steinhardt returned to the fold for a few years and then left again in the mid 2000s.
"So, you can say I joined the band twice," Ragsdale said.
These days the band is content playing the classic songs for the fans.
"That’s pretty much what they want to hear," Ragsdale said. "And that’s fine with us."
One of the songs, "Dust in the Wind" celebrated its 35th anniversary this year, and to commemorate the band has released a 32-page, hard-cover gift book that features song lyrics, a foreword by original guitarist and "Dust in the Wind" composer Kerry Livgren and stories submitted by fans.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.
The books will be on sale at the concert.
"The funny thing was the song almost didn’t make the record (1977’s "Point of Know Return")," Ragsdale said. "The song’s main lick came from a finger-picking pattern that he warmed up with and was a last-minute things."
While Ragsdale loves playing the signature violin part in "Dust in the Wind," he said he doesn’t have a favorite Kansas song.
"There are so many songs that are so much fun to play that it would be an injustice to single out any one of them out," he said. "It’s a challenge to play all of the fans’ favorites in a set, but we do the best we can.
"We’re looking forward to playing for the fans in Park City," Ragsdale said.
The Deer Valley Music Festival will present Kansas with the Utah Symphony at the Snow Park Amphitheater at Deer Valley on Saturday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $32 to $85 and available by phone at (801) 533-NOTE (6683), in person at the Abravanel Hall ticket office, or online by visiting http://www.utahsymphony.org/tickets. Discounted general admission tickets are available for students with a valid student ID for many performances. Tickets are also available at Deer Valley Signature stores (please call (435) 649-1000 for store hours). Ticket prices will increase by $5 the day of the show.
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