We’re not in Kansas anymore

By Alex Fiore

NIU’s own arena got a taste of classic arena rock Saturday – with a touch of student artistry.

Legendary rock group Kansas performed with the NIU Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night, exploring nearly 40 years of material for a half-full Convocation Center crowd.

Kansas performed hits like “Point of Know Return” and “On the Other Side” with accompaniment from the Philharmonic, which is made up of NIU students.

Longtime Kansas arranger Larry Baird directed the Philharmonic, members of which were clad in all black and performed behind the band with illuminated music stands.

The concert marked a stop on Kansas’ Collegiate Symphony Tour, and proceeds from the merchandise sold at the show will go to the NIU School of Music.

“We’ve been trying to go back and pass the torch to these kids,” Kansas bassist Billy Greer told the crowd. “It’s a pleasure to share the stage with talented up-and-coming musicians.”

The Philharmonic added an additional dimension to Kansas’ live sound, breathing new life into songs generally heard on scratchy vinyl.

“The orchestra adds so much,” said Donna Pettigrew, 52, of Aurora. “The kids sounded great and they made some of my favorite songs even better.”

The highlight of the show was a moving rendition of the ballad “Dust in the Wind,” which Greer dedicated to former Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren, who wrote the song in 1977.

The live orchestra gave the song a full and rich sound, and when Philharmonic violinist Salina Norman came to center stage to trade delicate melodies with Kansas violinist David Ragsdale, the crowd was enthralled.

“I thought [Norman] sounded great,” said Russell Schultz, 51, of Cortland. “It’s nice to see them bringing students in to join in the fun.”

The crowd was mostly older and respectfully watched the show, breaking only to celebrate a particularly raucous Rich Williams guitar solo.

“I’ve been listening to Kansas since I was in high school,” Schultz said. “It’s fun to see them come to DeKalb. They always put on a great show.”