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Percussionists camp under the stars, weather the storm

From left, Spencer Jones, Kevin Kosnik and Daniel Morris work to assemble one of their tents for the night on the Obermeyer ranch. (Photo by Easton Thompson)

By Easton Thompson

As the sun set on a little nook of Kansas ranchland just off the beaten path, three small camping tents were strung up, one-by-one, as a group of percussionists rushed to beat the sun past the crest of the sky. Daniel Morris, Spencer Jones, Kevin Kosnik and Elizabeth Kosko worked to ensure that they had shelter for the night. The fluorescent camping tents offset the vast green prairie and small tufts of trees surrounding them.

The land, owned by Brian and Gwen Obermeyer, will be a temporary home for the four percussionists moving through the hills under the stars. The Obermeyers built their home in the Flint Hills, a region named for the rocky terrain that makes for good ranchland, but is too rough to plow for crops. Over the years, towns around the area have dwindled due to ever-expanding cities in the periphery.

Brian had recently finished building their small home just inside a thin wall of trees on their land. The house, decorated with a clever blend of rustic, minimalist and antique mood, was a quaint two-story. The four percussionists had arranged their make-shift camp about 100 yards from the front of the house.

Kansas City Symphony Orchestra percussionists were staying in the Flint Hills for just a couple of days to relax and perform, then they would be off again to their next gig. They were scheduled to play on stage at the Symphony in the Flint Hills on June 15. 

Brian Obermeyer watches as his guests set up one of their tents for the night. (Photo by Easton Thompson)

Earlier that day, they had all been in Kansas City for rehearsals.They then moved to the Cottonwood Falls area to locate the Obermeyer homestead. They needed a place to stay after their campground, reserved a week prior at Council Grove Lake, was flooded by recent heavy rains.

“Gwen, she grew up in Ohio, the same as me, in Lakewood, Ohio,” Morris said, “I mean, what are the chances of that?

“When I called Gwen, she said ‘I’ve heard about you, come on out,’ so it’s been unbelievable.”

To Morris, camping would make the experience in the Flint Hills more immersive.

“The idea was to turn one very long day in a passenger van into a relaxing weekend with symphony colleagues and new friends,” Morris said.

Morris, a principal percussionist for the Kansas City Symphony, had worked at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida about two years ago.

“I did three seasons there and had an awesome time,” Morris said, “and in a lot of ways, my work in Kansas City has been a really awesome continuation of that experience.”

Morris found the drums around the fifth grade and ran with them ever since.

Besides driving through the region on his way through the state, Morris had not visited the Flint Hills. That was until he performed in 2018 at the Symphony in the Flint Hills on Rosalia Ranch just northeast of Rosalia.

After setting up their tents, the percussionists visited with the Obermeyers, who had prepared a meal for them, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

The weather picked up later in the night. While everyone slept, a relatively small area nearby was hit with what meteorologists have described as a microburst, a localized column of sinking air which can produce winds up to 100 mph winds.

This microburst also caused the destruction of the Symphony in the Flint Hills site which was set-up just 10 miles away from the Obermeyer ranch.

“It was devastating to hear the news from Gwen on Saturday morning that the event was postponed resulting from damage to the site,” Morris said. “At that point, I had a bad feeling that there was no way the event could go forward on Sunday.”

Morris did say that the experience that night was “wild.”

“It was no doubt the biggest storm I’ve weathered in a tent,” he said.

The percussionist’s tents kept them dry and safe through the strong winds, rain and loud-cracking thunder.

“It felt at times like we were approaching liftoff,” Morris said.

The symphony percussion section, with the help of Morris, Kosko and Kosnik, did get to perform a cover of “Dust in the Wind” by the band Kansas on June 15 at Pioneer Bluffs.

“It was an absolute joy,” Morris said. “I forgot some of the words, but I think our gift of music was still received.”

Elizabeth Kosko, Daniel Morris, Spencer Jones and Kevin Kosnik stand together in front of a recently assembled tent on the Obermeyer’s land. (Photo by Easton Thompson)