Friday, December 28, 2007

A Walnut Valley Love Song

"There is a friend by my side walking
There is a voice within me talking
There is a song that needs a singing,
Carry it on, carry it on ..."

Rik and Brenda's story is a Winfield story if there ever was one; a story about how that one week in September can bring profound changes to all the other weeks, to all the months, and on to all the years a body can string together.

Rik Stevenson is originally from up around Shenandoah, Iowa, a little diamond in the Loess Hills. Rik was born into music, his mom was a musician and he still has a little banjo-uke that she played in a swing band in the thirties. Rik is a championship fiddler, an impassioned songwriter, and a very tasty guitar player. He can play that old-time hill-country music or his rough-and-tumble country blues with equal passion. He can also make a digeridoo vibrate your very soul. Rik spread his music far and wide - he played whenever and wherever he was asked. He once opened for John Hartford steaming up the Missouri River on The Brownville Riverboat. He played frequently around Kansas City and was involved with the beginnings of the now-famous "Tick Fest". It was natural that he would drift on down into southern Kansas for "Bluegrass" in Winfield.

Some people are just natural-born residents of the Pecan Grove. I imagine the first time Rik pulled his '49 Chevy panel truck into the ticket line with the gods-eye and the 'coon tail swinging from his rear-view mirror, no one even bothered to inform him that there even was a Walnut Grove. And he went on like that for awhile, coming down on the good years, staying home in the lean. His little farm in the hills and his music were all he really needed. He raised up a son and a daughter, and watched a marriage go by the wayside.

It was 1999. As can happen to anyone, Rik met some folks from the Walnut Grove, and decided to pay a visit. He bravely trod across the bunker with only his old Martin and a few Coronas for protection. He located his new friend, Wichitan Kelley Slack, and ambled into the campsite with a new version of "Rank Stranger" on his lips. Well, it was Rik's first and only trip to the Walnut Grove, and it was Brenda's first time in Winfield, come down to see what all the fuss was about. I wish I'd have been there when she first spotted that quiet farm-boy strolling into their camp. I know they were never strangers (rank or otherwise) again after that, never really left each other's side for any length of time. Falling in love to the plink of a mandolin and the draw of a fiddle bow, beneath those massive walnut trees, under that warm fall sky, would have to be a glorious thing. You only have to visit their home and gardens now to see that glory still alive.

Under a canopy of cottonwood and pecan trees, they married during the Walnut Valley Festival in 2000. Rik became one of a rather large group of people who have made Wichita their adopted home, and he showered his love of all growing things over every square inch of the home he shares with Brenda up on North Oliver. He also gave his musical gifts to the wider community, gaining accolades on the didgeridoo with the Native American group "Passing Through", and finding musical cohorts in both the blues and folk music scenes in Wichita.

Early in 2006, doctors discovered a tumor alongside Rik's left occipital lobe. In March, a large cancerous tumor was successfully removed from Rik's brain, and he began the tedious radiation and chemotherapy treatments needed to keep the cancer at bay. Rik has also gone under the "cyber knife" with some success, but continues to struggle with the effects of the steroids necessary to prevent the swelling that could seriously affect his vision and other brain functions.

On January 19th, at the Murdock Theater in Wichita, the KAAA is sponsoring an event that will not only raise the money to cover a very special pair of glasses for Rik, but will also serve as a kind of musical celebration of Rik's phenomenal successes against this very difficult disease. And, at the Stevenson's insistence, a portion of the proceeds will also go to the P.A.T. Fund for it's continued support of Wichita musicians in need.

We are honored to have as one of the featured performers a rising star in the roots revival movement: Matt Cox, from Rik's hometown of Shenendoah, Iowa. One short visit to his website will certainly be enough to entice most "Winfielders" to come out to hear Matt's gutsy-sweet offerings. ( There is a rumor that Matt's good friend, Ben Green, will accompany him. Cross your fingers.

Local blues legends, Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle, musically and spiritually wise way beyond their years, will join the bill with one of their trademark kick-ass acoustic sets.( Helping to kick everything off will be a whole host of Rik's friends, including Wayne and Artheta Long, Trevor Stewart and the Free Staters. Tickets are $10, available at the door or from KAAA board members. Special V.I.P. seating is available. Please help us pack this place to the rafters on January 19th.

Now, the days are getting longer and both the pecan and walnut trees bide their time along the river. A whole new year of new songs is upon us, and there may not be a better way to keep the Winfield spirit in our hearts than to come and share some music with great folks like Rik and Brenda. We hope you can join us.