September 30, 2010

Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone - Bonner Springs, KS

On Tuesday, I told you about the amazing concert I went to see. Today, I decided I would tell you about the great venue, Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone.

Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone is an open-air performance venue located in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Opened in 1984 as Sandstone Amphitheater, it is a place where concert fans have been going for over twenty years. The amphitheater can currently hold 18,000 people, including approximately 3,100 box and reserved seats. Lately there have been some renovations. The front seats have been removed to make room for the crowd, which really adds to the experience at an outdoor concert. On Saturday, people had spread out blankets to relax until the bands took the stage. When the headliners performed, the open space became a sea of bodies pressed together, hands waving.

Another interesting renovation has been making the Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone a green concert venue. The Green Initiatives Project is implementing an on-site recycling program, reduced energy consumption policies, and partnerships with eco-friendly, artist-driven organizations. Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone is taking steps to become the only LEED Certified Amphitheater in the Midwest. (LEED is a green building certification program encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through a suite of rating systems that recognize projects that implement strategies for better environmental and health performance.)

The Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone is an amazing place for a concert. If you're looking for an opportunity to check it out, there are always great shows on the event calendar.

Total Distance Traveled: About 60 miles
Total Time Traveled: A little over an hour
Soundtrack: "Comfort Eagle" Cake


September 28, 2010

96.5 Buzz Beachball Festival - Bonner Springs, KS

I rarely listen to the radio when I'm in the car. I usually have a new playlist or CD to listen to when I'm driving. That's probably why I didn't hear about the 96.5 The Buzz Beach Ball festival until the last minute. The lineup for this mini-festival includes: Smashing Pumpkins, Anberlin, Limosines, Civil Twilight, AM Taxi, the Beautiful Bodies, A Silent Film and Six Percent. But none could have made me leave the comfort of my home and drive through the perpetual traffic jam on I-70 except for...(drum roll, please)...Cake!

I was late to the Cake party because I didn't start listening to them until after college, though this alternative rock band has been around since the 1990's. But once I started listening to them, I was hooked. So when I heard they were playing at Buzz Beachball, I paid for my overpriced ticket (and my equally overpriced parking pass), queued up the Cake albums on my iPod, and hit the road!

The crowd at Buzz Beachball ranged from the very drunk preople from small towns, the indie/alternatives showing their piercings and tattoos, teen girls sneaking alcohol, and the occassional thirteen year old who had probably been dropped off by his mom. Luckily, most of the less-than-devoted crowd had been driven away by the bad weather. It wasn't the ideal weather for an outdoor concert. It was the coldest night we have had yet and after an afternoon of rain, it was dark, damp, and cold. It actually made me a little concerned I had only just recovered from allergies to put myself in the perfect situation to catch a cold.

But I forgot all about that when people started screaming and in the dark I could see Cake taking the stage. They opened with "Comfort Eagle," a great song. The lyrics, "We are building a religion," captured my mood as I stopped feeling cold and forgot that I had to keep wiping my nose on my hoodie sleeve because I forgot tissues. Because I was seeking Cake live. And they were awesome. We were building a religion of Cake fandom!

They played some music from their upcoming album that drops 1/11/11, and, as always, it sounds great. Which once again proves that Cake will always continue to produce great music (even if Comfort Eagle will always be my favorite Cake album).

In honor of this amazing musical experience, I though I would share my top five Cake songs for road trips. But if you're also a Cake fan, feel free to comment and suggest your own!
1. The Distance
2. Long Line of Cars
3. Stickshifts and Safetybelts
4. Race Car Ya-Yas
5. Satan in My Motor


September 21, 2010

We Will Return September 28th!

The Yellow Brick Road Trip will return Tuesday, September 28th!

My apologies for the lack of posts the past few days. I have been suffering from the pure hell of seasonal allergies. I've spent the past several days confined to my couch making a cocoon out of tissues and blankets. But never fear, the Yellow Brick Road Trip will return with posts about my road trip to Kansas City to see a concert at the Record Bar and my upcoming trip to Bonner Springs for the Buzz Beachball Concert at the Sandstone Amphitheater.

So I'll see you on September 28th and in the mean time, I raise my bottle of cough syrup to you!


September 14, 2010

Road Trip Music - "Away We Go" (100th Post Soundtrack)

Well, it's official! This is the 100th post on The Yellow Brick Road Trip! And in honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I would share my new road trip soundtrack.

I haven't made a road trip soundtrack in a while, just soundtracks to long hours of studying evidence procedure. So it was nice to think about the music I want to listen to while driving as quickly as I can away school. Some of the songs are repeats from previous mixes, but I think this is a nice way to celebrate 100 posts of vagabonding!

"Away We Go" (100th Post Soundtrack)

1. "Hell on Wheels" Betty Blowtorch
2. "Thelma & Louise" HorrorPops
3. "The Get Away" Pretty Girls Make Graves
4. "Highway 55" HorrorPops
5. "Satan is My Motor" Kaiser Chiefs
6. "Oh My God" Kaiser Chiefs
7. "Take Me Anywhere" Tegan & Sara
8. "A Change Would Do You Good" Sheryl Crow
9. "I Saw a Cop" Jill Sobule
10. "God's Country" Ani DiFranco
11. "All American Girl" Melissa Etheridge
12. "North Carolina" Melissa Ferrick
13. "Everyday is a Winding Road" Sheryl Crow
14. "Nowhere to Go" Melissa Etheridge
15. "LA Song" Beth Hart
16. "Westbound" Melissa Ferrick
17. "Giggling Again For No Reason" Alanis Morissette
18. "I Drove All Night" Cyndi Lauper
19. "Vegas" Sara Bareilles


September 9, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Mourning the Decline of Roadside Attractions

When I was a kid, my family took a lot of road trip vacations. For spring break, we usually drove from Oklahoma to Colorado to go skiing. When we drove through Kansas, I always remember we passed a sign from the World’s Largest Prairie Dog. I would beg my father to stop so we could see it, but he always refused. “It’s not really a prairie dog,” he said. “It’s made of plastic.” I didn’t care and I still don’t. I may be in my twenties, but to me a giant plastic prairie dog is amazing and I want to see it.

Unfortunately as time goes by and we march into the future, more and more people are losing interest in the weird roadside attractions of my childhood. Eccentric Roadside recently posted an article about roadside attractions for sale. It reminded me of my trip to see the Sinclair dinosaur only to find out the gas station had closed down and the dinosaur had been stolen.

Kansas – land of wheat fields and weird things by the road – seems to be particularly susceptible to the decline. The Prairie Dog Town of my youth is now for sale for $450,000. Some say it is the change in travel habits – more people fly than drive long distances now. Some say it is the inability to compete with other forms of children entertainment – a kid isn’t going to be amazed by a giant plastic prairie dog after seeing 3D cartoons.

But I think it is a lost sense of childhood wonder that is really endangering America’s roadside attractions. When I was ten-years-old, I knew that prairie dog wasn’t alive. I didn’t care. It was amazing to me that a giant prairie dog existed. It was amazing because I was willing to be amazed. I was willing to be swept into the childhood wonder.

Roadside attractions may not live forever. The giant prairie dog may not be around for my children, grandchildren or great grandchildren. But what concerns me more is that this is a symptom of a greater disease afflicting our great nation – a cynical unwillingness to be impressed. An unwillingness to be childish and absurd is more troublesome than the loss of a giant prairie dog.


September 7, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Five Rules of Road Trips

In addition to traveling and writing about traveling, I also like reading about traveling. (I’m sort of one dimensional that way). One of my favorite blogs to read about traveling is Vagabonding Life by Greg Rodgers. Back in 2005, Greg quit his corporate job and took off for the wild blue yonder. Since then, he’s been sharing his amazing stories with us.

One my favorite posts by him is Unofficial Rules of Vagabonding. He offers brilliant advice, such as: “When life gives you lemons, throw them back at the harlot!” Inspired by him, I thought I would share my five rules of road trips.

1. Bring a Map or GPS…

Before I take a trip, I map it out on Google Maps. I figure out all the possible roads I could take there and back, what towns I will pass through along the way, and anywhere I might want to stop on the road. Once I’m on the road, I keep my Garmin GPS handy and a back up map in the glove compartment. Kansas is full of one lane highways that pass through fields without anywhere to stop for hours. One bad turn and you’re heading through Western Kansas for hours before you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. Also, some roadside attractions are small and not advertised. You have to know what you’re looking for and where it is if you’re going to find some roadside attractions.

2. …But Plan on Getting Lost Anyway!

A common mistake about GPS is that it will always work. But I can guarantee when you are out on that one lane highway that runs along the railroad tracks, you’re going to hear that annoying little chirp and monotone voice saying, “Lost satellite reception.” This also assumes that your GPS is completely updated, which also seems to rarely happen. Roads change over time and there will always be construction and detours blocking your path. You can keep your GPS on and try to negotiate around it, but it will keep trying to take you back down the road you can’t take and all the while saying, “Recalculating… Recalculating…” At that point, the only sane thing to do is turn it off.

Without a GPS, you can turn to your map or just trust your inner sense of direction (both of which are highly fallible). On my way back from Oklahoma to Kansas, I spent a good half hour driving around little towns, following a detour that never seemed to end through a torrential downpour. It was unpleasant, but it was an adventure. And isn’t that why you take a road trip in the first place?

3. Talk to Locals…

When you stop in a town of less than 1,000 people, you have to ask yourself one question: Where can I eat that I won’t get food poisoning? Food poisoning and even indigestion can make a long car ride pretty awful for you and anyone who might be in the car with you, so I always take some care with where I eat. But at the same time, I don’t really want to go to a fast food chain. I may know what I’m getting, but where is the fun in eating the same thing at the same place you could go to at home? That’s when its time to talk to locals. There’s always someone friendly around who will tell you where the good greasy spoon diner is. Locals are tour guides: they know what there is to see and how to get there. And you can make some interesting new acquaintances.

4. …But Know When to Keep Your Mouth Shut!

The first time I drove through Atchison, Kansas, I was shocked at some of the bumper stickers. It seems someone had been handing out bumper stickers that expressed political views in the most volatile and violent language possible. That was one of those moments when I knew it was best to keep quiet. If you are on a road trip to voice your opinions and beliefs and every stop, then you’re taking a road trip for the wrong reason and you’re going to spend most of your time in heated arguments. At a certain point, you have to know when to shut up and keep your head down.

Also, know when to walk away. I met a very friendly guy in St. Joseph, Missouri who gave me directions to some places I was looking for and told me a great place to grab dinner. Of course, then he wanted to buy me a drink and wasn’t too interested in taking no for an answer. I made some quick excuses and then I made my escape. Locals are friendly…sometimes too friendly. So know when it’s time to walk away.

5. Be Flexible!

This is the greatest rule of road trips. No one likes the driver on a road trip who won’t stop for food or bathroom breaks, who keeps insisting on sticking to some pre-ordained schedule, and who won’t let you turn the radio up as loud as it goes. Also, if you’re not willing to stop or explore now and then, you’re missing out on some great adventures! My best road trip stories with friends all came about because we were willing to stray from the narrow path. Be willing to take the risk or the long road or the short cut. Be willing to have something go terribly wrong because at least then you’ll have a great story to tell when you get back on your way. As Greg Rodgers would say, “When life gives you lemons, throw them back at the harlot!”


September 2, 2010

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve – Strong City, KS

Most of my posts have focused on roadside attractions in towns both large and small. But I can’t neglect the natural beauty that is so evident when driving on the open road in Kansas. Many people have the pre-conceived notion that the Kansas landscape is nothing but flat wheat fields as far as the eye can see. But while we have plenty of wheat fields, the state is full of beautiful natural wonders. Perhaps the most majestic are the Flint Hills and at their heart – the last great stretch of prairie in the country.

At the heart of the Hills is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County, the only preserve in the National Park system dedicated to grassland. Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres but now only 4% is left and almost all of it is in the Kansas Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve. The preserve is home to 500 species of plants, nearly 150 species of birds, 39 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 31 species of mammals. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve also honors Kansas history with the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch. There, you can tour the historic buildings that made prairie life possible in the 19th century – including, the spring room, the curing room, the ice house, the ranch house, and others.

To get to the preserve, I first drive west from Lawrence until I start to see the majestic Flint Hills from the flat, empty fields and then its two miles north of Strong City on K-177. To many, a large plot of grass may seem rather boring. But try living in Chicago for a few years, surrounded by concrete below you and steel above you. No matter how amazing the architecture may be, you are still living in man-made contraption that has swept away all of nature’s wonders to make room for the latest skyscraper.

Now stand in the Flint Hills and see the prairie in all of its luscious greens stretch out before you. The green ocean stretches out over the hills, seeming to rise and fall in green waves, as the clear, cobalt blue sky promises eternity. There is nothing to impede your vision. Only open land and open sky as far as the eye can see. It is freedom. Perfect freedom as nature intended.

These hills have inspired many tributes – such as Verlyn Klinkenborg’s article “Splendor in the Grass” for National Geographic. But there is more to the nature preserve then just grass. But perhaps the only person who comes close to capturing the awe-inspiring majesty of the prairie is William Least Heat-Moon when he said:
Whatever else prairie is – grass, sky, wind – it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness

Total Time Traveled: 3.5 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 200 miles
Soundtrack: "Middle Cyclone" and "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" Neko Case

Signpost Image from Kansas Travel and Tourism.
Aerial Image from The Nature Conservancy.