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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kansas 150 Fest finds statewide support

BY ANNIE CALOVICH
The Wichita Eagle

The sesquicentennial invitation went out to all Kansans, and they have responded.

On Oct. 8, people from all four corners of the state and in between will come to Wichita for a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime event, organizers say — the 150th birthday party for Kansas that is finally happening.

"We have just been astounded at the response from people all over the state," said Jan Hiebert, director of visitor services for the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The celebration is the culmination of efforts by civic and community leaders, organizations and businesses statewide, she said.

What is being called the Kansas 150 Festival will encompass a parade with more than 120 entries, an encampment with 65 booths, and a multimedia concert of 120 performers that will feature a

sesquicentennial symphony of regional musicians and videos of Kansas and storytelling.

"Every Kansan should see this show," said Martha Slater Farrell, owner of First Generation Video in Wichita, who is producing it. The show will be called "Kansas: Home on the Range."

"This is basically our love letter to Kansas in music and dance and poetry and stories," Farrell said. The city of Wichita has contracted with the Kansas chapter of the Western Music Association to present the show.

The Kansas 150 Festival was hatched after an original "Home on the Range" concert in March in Hutchinson featured 65 performers and drew 600 people, some of whom were so inspired that they wanted to expand the event and try to get everybody to the party, Farrell said.

Many in Kansas were already chafing that the state's sesquicentennial was getting short shrift because of a lack of money. The state government had announced that it was leaving it up to people and localities to do their own celebrating, giving them a website through which to share news of their parties.

So underwriters in the form of companies large and small, mainly in Wichita but also in other parts of the state, have come to the rescue, to the point where tickets that cost $25 for the smaller Hutchinson show are down to $5 for the larger Wichita concert, Hiebert said.

Each part of the Kansas 150 Festival will flow into the next. The parade will start at 11 a.m. at Central and Main and proceed down Main to Douglas and then west to Century II, where the encampment of informational, shopping and food booths will last outside until the 2:30 p.m. concert inside Convention Hall. If you go to all parts of the festival, you can expect to be there from about 11 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m.

"It is going to be a fabulous parade," Hiebert said. "It's got such a grassroots feel to it that I don't know that you could compare it to anything else. It's just going to have a real hometown Kansas feel to it."

Among the eclectic participants: nine marching bands, an Amelia Earhart re-enactor, Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, women's suffrage marchers, a stagecoach, a two-thirds-scale model of the "Home on the Range" cabin, representatives of the Kaw Nation, children in period costume portraying the Eisenhower family from Abilene, a truck carrying the Smith Center Redmen football team, antique fire trucks, a golf cart made out to be a cast-iron pot representing Erie's Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunion bean feed, the Wichita City Council, Girl Scouts in 1870s costumes, a calliope, the Sedgwick County Commission and a Native American honor guard.

Hiebert estimates that half the entries are from Wichita and half from other parts of the state.

The encampment will have, "again, a real variety," she said, with information about communities, tourist spots, schools and other organizations in Kansas; shopping, including jewelry, candles, books, beef jerky, T-shirts, posters, prints, journals, cards and home decor; and food, including hot dogs and hamburgers.

Then, inside Century II, the "Kansas: Home on the Range" show will begin at 2:30 p.m.

"It's much more than a concert, it's a multimedia experience," Farrell said. "We'll have things going on all around the room, things you can see, things you can't see. It'll be very stimulating."

The concert is expected to last about two hours. Tickets can be purchased at www.wichitatix.com or at the door. The hall seats 4,500.

The show will include the best western singers in the state, the African-American choir Arise from Wichita, dancers and drummers from the Mid-America All-Indian Center, Asian dancers and a symphony of regional musicians put together for the occasion, Farrell said.

"We're embracing the total picture of Kansas. It's all woven together with fantastic narration" by Bill Barwick, western singer and host of the Encore Westerns cable channel.

Among the videos Farrell's company has produced for the show will be a rundown of 104 famous Kansans.

"You get a sense of contributions Kansans have made throughout time" by the end of the show, she said.

"It's just been a joy to work on something that lifts the state up in this way," said Farrell, who is a fifth-generation Kansan and wife of Diamond W Wranglers member Jim Farrell. His group will be among the performers. "This is going to come around once in our lifetime."

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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