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23 Hours in Pittsburgh and Other Diversions

August 26, 2013

Once again, time has gotten away from me when it comes to posting here, so let’s catch up. This past weekend, I hung out at home catching up on things like laundry (but not sleep, unfortunately) while Mr. K traveled to Illinois to visit his parents. I probably should have gone with him and visited with my mom even though that would have been logistically complicated due to the short time frame and longish distance between the parental households, but I really needed some time at home after several weeks of either being gone or being sick and not having the energy to do much besides drag myself to the office and back again.
The weekend before last, Mr. Karen and I made a quick trip to Pittsburgh to see Kansas play their 40th Anniversary Fan Appreciation Concert and attend some of the Wheatfest 15 festivities. We haven’t been going to Kansas concerts for all of those 40 years but we do have the years since the early 80s pretty well covered. Mr. Karen saw them first in fall of 1980; I went to my first Kansas concert the next summer (with Mr. Karen, of course) at the then fairly new but now long since demolished Poplar Creek Music Theater in suburban Chicago. Since then, we’ve done our best to see them whenever they come to the area, so we were firmly in the target audience for this concert.

We left home Friday night and got to Streetsboro, Ohio, where it was past our bedtime and we grabbed a hotel room. After not quite enough sleep, we drove the rest of the way to Pittsburgh, arriving after the Wheatfest charity silent auction had already begun. We were in time to get our bids in on several items and even empowered ourselves to add one of Mr. K’s old concert tees to the mix (it got a bid pretty much the minute it hit the table, so that was nice to see). We spent the next couple hours chatting with other fans, including the couple we first met at a show in Saginaw early last year, listening to some unreleased tracks by a couple of the guys in the band, and generally hanging out. I walked away from the auction with a Steve Walsh mug that is brightening up my desk at work right now as I write this. We had time to grab a quick lunch before meeting up in front of the theater a few blocks away for a group photo before the people with the extra fancy VIP package went in and started their experience. Instead of going back to the hotel right away for a disco nap, we explored a tiny bit of the city, mixing with some of the crowd that was headed to the Pirates game. We happened upon what I later learned is the country’s largest yarn bombing: the Andy Warhol bridge with many of its surfaces covered in scarfs and blankets and huge knitted panels. I was quite entranced.

Andy Warhol bridge yarn bombed

We did make it back the hotel for a tiny bit of downtime before heading out again for a quick dinner before the concert. This being a special event, there was no opening act, just Kansas, so it was important to get there on time. The first part of the show was the band backed by a symphony orchestra, with special guest appearances by former members Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope. It was a delight to see how happy the guys were playing together again and feel the energy of the crowd, which was amped way up. Robby Steinhardt would have been there, too, but for a heart attack and subsequent surgery the week before. After the symphony set, the festivities continued with the sort of intermission one doesn’t want to leave during; Phil Ehart emceed and there were door prizes of rare Kansas memorabilia, video tributes from other bands and celebrities, a presentation from BMI, and a preview of the Kansas documentary that’s due out next year. The second half of the show was the band just rocking out old school—Rich Williams even wore overalls for this set. Kerry and Dave both joined in for a couple songs during this portion of the program, too. The highlight for me was hearing one of my favorites, Lonely Wind. I’m not 100% sure I’ve ever heard them do that live. Maybe in the very early 80s. After the show, they had an autograph session, for which much of the crowd stayed. We did, too. It took a long time, but people were in a great mood and we had friends to talk to while we waited. I didn’t get signatures but rather snapped photos as Mr. Karen moved along the line (it was made quite clear that this was not a meet and greet so no posed photos would be allowed). After we made it out of the theater, we wandered back in the direction of the hotel with a small group of other Wheatfest attendees. Mr. Karen continued on with them to a bar while I went up to our room, my cold meds and post-show euphoria having long since worn off.

Post-show crowd

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel (23 hours after we’d arrived) and headed home. We got brunch at a local chain along the highway that featured brownies with angry faces on them (we did not partake). In Ohio, we stopped at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to break up the drive and do a bit of hiking. I hadn’t realized there was a national park in Ohio, but there it was, with real park rangers and everything.
The weekend before that, we were also in Ohio, for the Northwest Ohio Ribfest. We weren’t there for the ribs but for the concert, which Kansas was headlining (yes, we saw them two weeks in a row). I wasn’t feeling well, so it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been (especially since the smokers in the crowd seemed especially inconsiderate). I did enjoy seeing the elaborate booths of the national rib competitors—I sort of knew there was such a thing but had never seen one in person, much less a whole row of them set up side by side—the banners and trophies and signs were a visual feast.


The first weekend of August, I was in Illinois to spend time with my mom, much of which we spent at her house to sort out some of her stuff. The timeline on selling the place has slipped to next spring at the earliest. That’s better for her from an emotional perspective but not so great from a financial one. The highlight of the weekend was the baby shower for one of my nieces. It was there that I snapped this photo of her daughter, about to become a big sister at the ripe old age of 18 months (she was watching the dogs next door):

Watching the doggies next door

Will it be another month before I write here again? I hope not, but I’m making no promises.

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