Fort Riley is “the greatest place to come home to in the world,” Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general at Fort Riley, said as he opened the eighth annual Symphony in the Flint Hills on Saturday at the historic post.
With that, the concert was a go, despite threats from surrounding weather.
More than 5,000 people gathered on the artillery parade field to learn about Fort Riley history, gain awareness of the tallgrass prairie and enjoy a sunset concert by the Kansas City Symphony.
After three years of volunteering in pastures and hills, where the concert has been held in previous years, Linda Hanney of Barryton said she was exposed to all new territory this year.
“We’re just amazed at how beautiful this is,” Hanney said of her surroundings. “So this is a smart thing to do.”
Marty White, board chairwoman for Symphony in the Flint Hills – a nonprofit organization dedicated to heightening appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie and that plans the concerts – helped bring the symphony out of pastures.
“They were really interested in showcasing this part of the Flint Hills and letting people know about the fort and what an important part it’s been in the history of the region and the state and the country,” White said Saturday morning before the concert.
Setup for the event started Monday. Tents went up. Volunteers put out hay bales to create walkways, set up tables for dining and positioned lights for late-night dancing. More than 700 volunteers from 124 Kansas communities and nine states made up the team.
“Can I say enough about (the volunteers)?” White asked. “The event couldn’t happen without them.”
Fort Riley invited Symphony in the Flint Hills to host its eighth event on its artillery parade field, said Linda Craghead, a member of the Symphony in the Flint Hills site committee.
“That’s what most people do. They drive by it on I-70, and they say, ‘Oh, there’s Fort Riley,’ ” Craghead said. “And Fort Riley really is the people’s fort.”
Fort Riley’s Col. William J. Clark, garrison commander, has spent many years living and working in Kansas. On Saturday afternoon, Clark said he was pleased to bring the concert to the Big Red One territory.
“This is something the Army doesn’t get to see every day,” he said of the concert. “This is America’s installation, America’s Army. So what a great way to bring the community here to show that to them.”
Fort Riley offers a different look at the Flint Hills and allows the public to see the post – some for the first time, White said.
Others, such as Dave Davis of Olathe, are accustomed to the fort.
“Years ago I was in the National Guard, and I came here for summer camps, so I’m kind of familiar with it,” Davis said. “We were on the post for two weeks at a time.”
Davis was happy to see a change in the symphony’s pace but is anxious to see it back in a pasture in the heart of the tallgrass prairie.
“I like it when it’s in the natural terrain, when we get the steep slopes down into the stage,” he said.
Despite the public’s worries on the symphony’s location, White said the fort was just as stunning.
“There are people who said they would miss the cows and the pastures,” she said. “But when the color guard came in, presented the colors and the symphony performed the national anthem, it made a different impact. But it did make an impact.”
The Flint Hills Media Project is an experienced-based learning project at Wichita State University. For more coverage from Fort Riley and Symphony in the Flint Hills, go to www.flinthillsmediaproject.com.