Kansas – 50th Anniversary Tour – Another Fork in the Road-Mayo Performing Arts Center – Morristown, NJ

Kansas – 50th Anniversary Tour – Another Fork in the Road
Mayo Performing Arts Center – Morristown, NJ – April 26, 2024

Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf

Fifty years is a long time. A 50th Anniversary is considered (at least in marital terms) a Golden Anniversary. That’s because staying together 50 years is a rare milestone, it’s precious like gold and not easy to achieve. It’s just as special and likely more unique when a rock band reaches it’s 50th Anniversary. After half a century most bands have had a significant change in their line-up and in some instances only one or two original members remain. These members, along with those who’ve joined along the way, some with the band for decades, now carry the torch, taking on the responsibility of keeping the heart, soul and music of the band alive. This is what the members of Kansas are now doing as they celebrate this rare 50th Anniversary and tour the US on their 50th Anniversary Tour – Another Fork in the Road.

Kansas, founded in Topeka, Kansas in 1973, has released 15 studio albums, eight live albums, and 10 compilation albums. Of these, nine have gone gold and three multi-platinum, including their 1976 album Leftoverture, which included “Carry On Wayward Son,” the band’s first Top 40 hit, reaching No. 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1977. This was followed by their 1977 album Point of No Return, which included the band’s only single to make it into the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978, a song that rang out across the radio airwaves throughout the late 70s, the million-selling single, “Dust in the Wind.” Hearing that song title can still instantly open the floodgates and bring back a multitude of memories and emotions to those from that era.

While Kansas had a broad fanbase in the 1970s and 1980s, one might wonder how many fans would remain connected and continue to be interested in attending a live performance after 50 years. Well, if a sold out performance at Mayo PAC on April 26th is any indication, there are many. As the enthusiastic crowd filled the seats a bright, towering, lavender number 50 illuminated the stage backdrop, reminding all of the band’s momentous accomplishment. As the house lights dimmed, the stage turned to black before suddenly becoming flooded with brightly colored spotlights. The deep blue backdrop twinkled with stars, and a spectacular, golden 50, with abolitionist John Brown, from the band’s debut album cover, stood triumphantly inside the 0, above the name KANSAS, seeming to proclaim …. “Kansas has triumphed and is standing strong after 50 years!”

As applause and cheers rang out through the crowd the band members energetically arrived onstage. Currently, the band is touring with only one original member, Rich Williams, on electric and acoustic guitars. Kansas’s original drummer, Phil Ehart, remains with the band but is off the road as he recuperates from a heart attack, with Eric Holmquist filling in behind the drum kit. Billy Greer, the band’s bass player since 1985, is also temporarily off the road, attending to family issues, and was replaced by Dan McGowan from The Tea Club, who’d unbelievably only rehearsed with the band once prior to that evening. On lead vocals and keyboards since 2014 was Ronnie Platt. Platt entered his professional music career later in life, by way of driving a truck. His first stint as lead vocalist began in 2007, for Shooting Star. Having a later start did nothing to stop Platt from becoming a perfect frontman for Kansas, with his rocker attire, shoulder length blonde hair and spirited energy; he emanated the perfect vibe for a band born in the era of classic rock. Platt’s passion for the music was clearly evident by his emotive facial expressions, which were perfectly matched with his fiery, soaring vocals. Platt’s enthusiasm was equally noted as he sang and played keyboards from his elevated perch at the back of the stage.

Joining Platt on keyboards and vocals since 2018 is Tom Brislin. Brislin, studied classical and jazz piano performance and has an impressive musical resume. He’s performed with an array of bands and musicians including, Meat Loaf, Yes, and Debby Harry, in addition to creating his own bands and solo projects. Brislin’s talent has now led to his expanded role as Kansas’s musical director beginning with this tour. April 26th at Mayo PAC was an especially exciting evening for the band as they welcomed back Zak Rizvi on lead and rhythm guitars and backing vocals. Rizvi previously played with Kansas from 2016–2020 and wrote, co-produced and performed many of the songs on 2016’s The Prelude Impact and 2020’s The Absence of Presence.

The band’s newest member, since 2023, is Joe Deninzon, on violin, guitar and backing vocals. Deninzon studied classical and jazz violin and is known for his performance using a “Viper” seven-string electric violin (an amazingly cool, futuristic looking instrument.) Deninzon is also lead violinist and vocalist of the progressive rock band, Stratospheerius. Deninzon was impressive to watch and listen to on the Mayo PAC stage. While most don’t think of string instruments as fitting into the rock and roll schemata, Deninzon does just that with his incredible V-shaped violin. Not only did Deninzon and his electric violin produce a rich, powerful melodic sound but that beautiful sound added an incredible layer of dimension and texture to the music.

The energy of the evening’s opening number “Belexes,” from the band’s 1974 debut album Kansas was an immediate indication that even after 50 years the power of Kansas’s music has not diminished. The crowd’s excitement reached the next plateau as the band moved onto fan-favorite “Point of Know Return,” the title track from the band’s 1977 album, showcasing Deninzon’s wizardry on the violin. It was in this moment that Deninzon first captivated the crowd and where it became evident he was going to be a star of the performance…. commanding centerstage attention along with Platt. The electricity of these musicians was exhilarating and helped project the spirit of classic rock and roll throughout the theatre….further invigorating the crowd.

The evening’s 2-hour set included a broad range of numbers from the band’s expansive catalogue, from 1974’s debut through their most recent album The Absence of Presence, released in 2020. While decades have gone by, there’s a flow from old to new, a continuation of the classic Kansas sound, performed by incredibly talented musicians who remain true to the band’s legacy.

Many of the individuals who are familiar with Kansas know their hit singles and possibly the albums which they come from, A Point of Know Return and Leftoverature. However, there are legions of fans who are knowledgeable about the band’s entire catalog. This evening’s setlist was a thrill for these loyalists as the band played numbers from albums performed less frequently, including songs from 1974’s debut, numbers from 1975’s Masque and 1975’s Song For America, several from 1979’s Monolith and a few from the 80s albums. “We’re going to play you some deep cuts, some songs the band hasn’t played in 40 years,” shared Platt. Performing “A Glimpse of Home,” from Monolith, Rizvi showcased his dynamic guitar skills, while Deninzon jammed alongside on violin. Deninzon’s violin prowess was again highlighted during “The Pinnacle,” from Masque, as he performed a phenomenal solo, on a darkened stage, under a single bright spotlight.

Mid-way through the performance the band transitioned to an acoustic set, performing Monolith’s “People of the South Wind,” and not surprisingly the iconic “Dust in the Wind,” with Platt giving credit to original member and songwriter, Kerry Livgren. While Platt’s vocals on “Dust in the Wind” were beautiful, it was Deninzon’s extended violin solo that was truly mesmerizing. The acoustic set concluded as Williams, Rizvi, and McGowan stood across the stage front, on their guitars, joined by Deninzon and Platt, and performed “Lonely Wind,” a touching number with beautiful harmonies, written by original member Steve Walsh, for their debut album.

We’re going to play our most important song. It’s the most important because it got Kansas its record deal with Don Kirshner,” shared Platt, as the band began “Can I Tell You.” Continuing to pay homage to the original members, the band dedicated “Down the Road,” from Song for America, to violinist, Robby Steinhardt, who sang the song’s lead vocals. This high energy piece, showcasing jams between Williams and McGowan and vigorous drum work by Holmquist, gave way to Platt’s passionate, heartfelt voice on one of the band’s most melodic power ballads, “The Wall,” from Leftoverature. “Thank you guys! You’ve been so great!!” Platt shouted as the crowd cheered and whistled. The set ended with “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” a fantastical number that showcased McGowan’s smooth, rich vocal tone, exquisite harmonies, and exceptional instrumentation, combining synthesizer, drums, violin and guitars, the combination of which created Kansas’s quintessential prog rock number.

As the band exited the stage the patrons were on their feet but no one left the theater; it was clear the evening would not end without the band returning for an encore of “Carry On Wayward Son.” Anticipation rippled through the crowd as the musicians returned to the stage. As the band burst out with the song’s opening lyrics, the crowd joyously joined in, immediately connecting to a song that after 48 years remains as treasured. Fifty years is a momentous milestone to celebrate. How special for these musicians to carry the torch and keep the heart, soul and music of Kansas alive. And, how special that Kansas’s music continues to mean so much to so many. Here’s to Another Fork in the Road!