This past weekend, a memorial service was held for former Wichita State University professor Robert Town, who died in December. Town was professor of organ at the university from 1965 - 2006 and played a major part in the university's acquisition of the great Marcussen organ, which is housed in Wiedemann Hall and was the first such organ built in North America.
Steve Hatfield is a drummer/educator based in Wichita, Kan. He has shared the stage with artists such as Joe Williams, Martina McBride, Glenn Alexander, Bob Florence, and Jerry Hahn. He currently performs with The Bodo Ensemble, The Elemental Trio, Cabaret Oldtown, Music Theater of Wichita, and leads the aptly named Steve Hatfield's Band.
I’m Steve Hatfield. I’m a freelance musician in the Wichita area. I also teach at Wichita State [University] and I have my own private studio here in town.
Did you ever notice that “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” has the same tune as the “Alphabet Song?” It’s also the same as Baa, Baa Black Sheep, and, slowed down, it becomes "What a Wonderful World."
A song with new lyrics given to an existing song is called a “Contrafactum.” This is a great way to express a new perspective, even if it’s just satire, like singing “Batman Smells” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”
Phil Ross is a founding member of the instrumental duo Cricket Wand. A 10-year veteran of the Wichita music scene, he has performed in a variety of bands including Arms For Hands, the experimental noise project Leavenworth, and Low Oriole. He is also owner of 5nakefork Records, co-owner of both Spektrum Music and Straight Screen Printing. Ross counts Primus bassist Les Claypool as his main inspiration for picking up the instrument. Cricket Wand’s current release is called Mega Series Fantastic.
Wichita-native Aaron Wirtz is an electronic music and video performance artist whose stage persona, Cutter J the Absurdist, combines the phases of his life into a living collage of music, technology and dance. By combining traditional American folk arts such as tap dancing and spoons playing with an ever-evolving approach to DJing, turntablism, and interactive video art, he seeks to explore the emotional vocabulary of digitally influenced consciousness. Aaron is married to singer Reby Wirtz, recently graduated from Wichita State with his MFA in creative writing, works full time as a social media manager, and contributes to F5, Wichita’s weekly alternative newspaper.
Market forces have made it hard for musical innovators to succeed. And then there are The Flaming Lips, who have been able to thrive in the post-digital landscape while creating and delivering music completely on their own terms.
Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy’s 2010 self-titled debut featured mostly songs about fun and friendships, but when you listen closely to the band’s new record, Hatchetations, you see stark images of American life in the wake of the Great Recession.
Vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Jarrod Starling says the music now has a narrower lyrical focus, which provides even more emphasis to the social commentary.
“It’s a much darker album," he says. "But I think it explores themes that are universal at least to Americans trying to make a living."
One of the most important expressions of local musical culture happens every third week in September, when thousands become willing refugees from the city and head south to live in a shanty town founded on bluegrass. It's called the Walnut Valley Festival, but the regulars just call it “Winfield.”