Courtney Crain
Special to the Gardner News
BAZAAR, Kan. — The population of this small, central-Kansas town increased almost a hundredfold in a matter of hours on June 12. Nearly 7,000 people gathered in a pasture eight miles east of Kansas Highway 177 to celebrate one of nature’s fleeting wonders: the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills.
This was the fifth year for the Symphony in the Flint Hills. This year’s theme was ranching.
The daylong event included educational sessions about life on the prairie, locally prepared food and a prairie art auction, culminating with a 90-minute performance by the Kansas City Symphony. Grammy winning singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett accompanied the symphony during three of the songs.
While the symphony does draw people to the event, site manager Linda Craghead of Alma said the concert is about much more than the music.
“This is an event like nothing you have ever experienced before,” Craghead said. “Our event is not about the music that takes places on the stage. Our event is about the music that takes place in the prairie. It’s about education, it’s about teaching, it’s about learning, it’s about experiencing.”
The mission of Symphony in the Flint Hills is to “heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie, by providing opportunities to experience symphonic music and place-based education in the Kansas Flint Hills.”
This sense of urgency is rooted in the dissipation of the tallgrass prairie. At one time, the prairie stretched from Canada down through the United States. However, only 2 to 3 percent of the original land area remains.
“The Flint Hills are special because they have the only remaining virgin tallgrass prairie that exists in the North American continent,” Cragheadsaid. “If we are not careful, we will lose the 3 percent that we currently have, and we can’t ever replace it.  What I want to do is give people the opportunity to come out here and see why it’s so important to this world.”
Gov. Mark Parkinson, who spoke briefly to the crowd, said the event was about “a synergy that can’t exist anywhere else in the world.”
“It’s about what happens when you combine the best of what man has to offer — talented musicians — and you pair them with the best that God has given us — the Flint Hills,”  he said.
Volunteers and ticket holders alike agree that the Flint Hills are special.
Chris Edmonds and her husband of Lawrence have attended Symphony in the Flint Hills four of the five years.
“We love the Flint Hills,” Edmonds said. “We use any excuse we have to come out here.”
Alice Lickteig of Garnett has volunteered during the event all five years.
“I love the performance and the atmosphere,” Lickteig said. “It is a very good cause.”
Symphony in the Flint Hills board member Dale Correll of Abilene said the organization has hopes for expansion in the future.
“I would like to do more art showings and educational sessions throughout the year,” Correll said. “I would also love to see a youth symphony camp to get kids more involved.”
Plans for next year’s event are already being made for June 11 in Wabaunsee County. Craghead said it is all to open eyes to the beauty of the Flint Hills.
“That’s what this event is really all about: to be able to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It makes people aware of being alive.”
Parkinson told the crowd that the gathering was special.
“It’s a night about a synergy that can only happen here, now, tonight, in Kansas, in the Flint Hills, with you, me and everyone else here,” he said. “It’s a synergy that I can only describe as a ‘pure Kansas night.’”