Fiddler David Ragsdale and guest Steve Morse
When classic/prog rock titans Kansas decided to do something special to celebrate their 35th anniversary this year, “They didn't want to just do another retrospective,” says StarCity Recording's Jeff Glixman, who has worked with the band since the earliest days, including producing most of their best-known works. “We realized one thing we had not yet done was to shoot a video of Kansas symphonic performance, something they have been doing in recent years. But even this we wanted that to be different, so we picked a special place to shoot it, and we brought in Steve and Kerry.”
“Steve and Kerry” are guitarists Steve Morse and Kerry Livgren, two of the band's most famous alumni, who for one night only augmented the solid latter-day line up of original Kansas members drummer Phil Ehart, guitarist Richard Williams and keyboardist Steve Walsh. Twenty-five-year member bassist Bill Greer and 10-year member, Violinist David Ragsdale, round out the quintet. As for the “special place” to shoot the two-hour DVD, they chose intimate White Concert Hall on the Washburn University campus in the city where the group (and Glixman) got their start, Topeka, Kansas — hence the DVD title, There's Know Place Like Home (a variation on the famous Wizard of Oz line). Washburn's symphony performed the gig, and Kansas commissioned Larry Baird, who had created string arrangements for Kansas previously (and has worked with the Moody Blues and others) to score a few songs featuring Livgren and Morse that would be unique to this concert. Baird conducted as well.
“When we did a site survey [at White Concert Hall], we realized it could be a technical nightmare,” Glixman says. “It is definitely not set up to handle a full rock band and orchestra. It's quite small — the ceiling heights were restrictive, the stage size was restrictive — and there are no rigging points in the hall, so there was no way to hang anything. A custom-designed truss that was supported from the ground was constructed to handle the lighting and sound system. There wasn't much room for people to move onstage, so to maximize the available space, we figured we'd move the lights and move the cameras on big jibs to create the motion. This worked really well. [Director] Steve Angus and the Camp Digital team did a fantastic job with lighting and staging.”
To help document the event, which took place on February 7, 2009, Glixman tapped Nashville's Camp Digital to handle the video end. However, there was only room for one truck outside the small hall, so the audio recording equipment, including three Pro Tools HD rigs, came in via flypacks and was set up in an ancillary space near the facility's choir room. It was an eight-camera shoot, and between the band and orchestra, producer Glixman and engineer Zak Rizvi (another Star City Recording fixture) easily filled up 96 tracks of Pro Tools — the second two rigs were for backup, which came in handy once during filming when two of the systems briefly fell out of sync. Kansas production manager Chad Singer handled the FOH mix; Heil Sound supplied the plethora of band and orchestra microphones. Lily Salinas was the key production coordinator on the StarCity side, while Tom Gregory handled that aspect for Camp Digital.
The shoot went amazingly well — the band performed exceptionally before an adoring crowd that responded to every number with a standing ovation. In addition to playing favorites such as “Dust in the Wind,” “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Song for America,” “Miracles Out of Nowhere” and “Point of Know Return,” the band also dipped into their extensive catalog for a few perhaps unexpected treats, such as the Morse-era tunes “Musicatto” and “ Ghosts/Rainmaker.” Morse and Livgren had never played together before, but got along famously. The chemistry in the group as a whole was palpable: “When they were done and the symphony players were leaving the stage, the band suddenly broke into ‘Down the Road’ — it was like they didn't want to leave.”
Despite having both a line edit and a live mix of the show, the audio and video for the DVD were completely rebuilt by Glixman and Rizvi at Star City (in Bethlehem, Penn.). “There are so many tracks of the orchestra,” Glixman notes, “that to get a proper handle on it, we mixed down 8-channel stems in our B room, which we then brought into our A room and added to the [band] mix on the [SSL 9000] K.”
Glixman and Rizvi took some liberties when it came to the surround mix panning — “laying it out so it was more balanced than it was in the hall,” Glixman says, adding, “I also had a Royer stereo mic in the back of the hall and that makes for the best ambient surround material you can imagine; it's real natural.”
Glixman, who truly has seen and heard it all when it comes to Kansas, is effusive in his praise for the band's performance on the DVD: “It was an incredible event. Probably one of the top five Kansas concerts ever.”