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Symphony in the Flint Hills canceled for first time in 14 years

Volunteers worked Saturday to clean up debris after a Friday night storm tore through the planned site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills. (Photo by Kelly Glasscock)

By Daniel Caudill

High-powered winds in a Friday-night storm tore through the symphony’s planned site in Irma’s Pasture, part of a ranch near Bazaar in Chase County.

For the first time in its 14-year run, the Symphony in the Flint Hills on Saturday canceled its signature event.  

Leslie VonHolten, incoming SFH executive director, said safety and fear of damaging the pasture were the leading motives behind canceling the event.

“Extreme weather is coming again [Saturday night], with more storms with more rain. Not only are we facing further damage of what is already out there, but also parking will be muddy,” she said.

SFH staff anticipated about 7,000 people would have been on site during the symphony, including volunteers and staff.

Early information from SFH said the event would be postponed to Sunday, but after a damage assessment Saturday afternoon, symphony leadership decided to call it off.

“We have been talking about this day from the very beginning,” said Beth Harshfield, a founding SFH board member. “We have avoided the bullet for many years — for every year, so it was a very difficult decision.”

Ben Postlethwait, a volunteer, pulls tent stakes out of a frame. Postlethwait was among dozens of volunteers helping Saturday with clean up. (Photo by Daniel Caudill)

Volunteer crews were busy Saturday with clean-up at the symphony site. Some of the biggest tents, designed to withstand winds up to 65 mph, were blown over and damaged. The bandshell and stage were virtually untouched.

In lieu of a symphony, planned attendees filled nearby Strong City and Cottonwood Falls, visiting local retailers and attractions.

An art exhibit, which was originally going to be set up during the symphony, is currently on display until Wednesday at the SFH office in Cottonwood Falls. A silent auction is accompanying the gallery.

Tickets for the event are non-refundable.

“This is a very expensive project, and we do the fundraising through the year,” VonHolten said. “Unfortunately, ticket sales do not cover the cost of the event.”

SFH leaders explained that even though the event was canceled, vendors and other contributors still have to be reimbursed for their services. This includes the Kansas City Symphony, food and beverage vendors, and the tent company.

“What has happened today will certainly force us to have some tough conversations about this,” VonHolten said. “One hundred dollars a ticket is nothing to sneeze at, and I know that.”

The cancellation will service as a learning experience for the organization, she said, especially in terms of communication.

“We’ve lost a really great event this year, but we’ll bounce back. It’s just part of the tallgrass prairie experience,” VonHolten said.

With many symphony-goers traveling from outside of the county and booking lodging for their trip, outgoing SFH director Christy Davis said ticket holders will only be able to get a refund if their lodging site allows it.

“We don’t make lodging arrangements for folks generally,” she said. “We’re pretty clear that we’re an outdoor event, and when folks come, they’re taking that chance.”

Carol Rauscher, a resident of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has attended the two most recent symphonies. She said she did not know the event was canceled until she arrived Saturday in Chase County.

“I heard it on the phone from my husband because he looked it up. I couldn’t find any signs, … so finally I went to town,” she said after a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Despite the cancelation, Rauscher said she was still happy she made the trip to the Flint Hills.

“My mother grew up in the Flint Hills, and I adore this area,” she said. “I’m not sorry I came. I’m just sad that it’s not going to be held.”

Rauscher said she fully anticipates attending next year’s symphony.

A non-profit organization, the Symphony in the Flint Hills started in 2006. Each year, the organization holds a symphony at various pastures, ranches, and other natural sites in the Flint Hills.

Davis stressed that although the symphony is the yearly focal point for SFH, the organization is busy working year-round. “I hope that people understand that when they contribute to the organization … that they’re contributing to an organization that’s working year-round to advance the mission to heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie.”


S. Faye huelsmann

Tell me when next yes is

Shelley Zipp

What all does ticket sales covers if it it doesn’t cover cost of event? I’ve been to this a couple of times, but every year after it got too expensive and farther away, requiring an overnight hotel stay, so stopped going. And tickets sold out very quickly, like the same day they go on sale! I was always under the impression that bc it costs so much to put together this event (and I get it-it’s a non-profit organization), that was the reason for the ticket price hike and so used sales to help pay for setup, volunteers, speakers, etc. I’m sure inflammation plays a part also, but still! $100 + 1 night hotel /motel stay- another $50-100?! The reason I stopped going, which is a shame bc we really enjoyed it!