Emancipation Proclamation

I’m a big fan of proclamations. I can’t say I care much for the Proclaimers — I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more to be the man who never heard that fucking song again — but proclamations kick serious buh-buh-buh-booty. Simply put, they make plebian ‘clamations — claims, declarations and the California Raisins included — their bitches.

Proclamations are noble. They are official. And they should be proclaimed by ruddy, sharply dressed Welshmen named Nigel from behind lecterns carved out of mastodon ivory and perched on the gleaming marble steps of very important buildings filled with very imporant people doing very important things.

“I hereby proclaim,” Nigel would begin, “that there is a party in my pants. And everyone is invited.”

I didn’t anticipate any proclamations or any parties in anybody’s pants when I arrived at Liberty Hall for the first induction ceremony of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. I had the utmost faith in and respect for Bill Lee — former radio DJ, author of Kansas Rockers … the First Generation and driving force behind the KMHF — but Kansas is a state where everyone has an ode to something. There’s the Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse. The World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City. The World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well in Greensburg. And then — a personal favorite — Prairie Dog Town in Oakley, humble home of the World’s Largest Prairie Dog.

Most of those have, like, buildings and shit. The Kansas Music Hall of Fame is, for now, an amorphous attraction, an idea put in motion a few months ago by Lee and a small group of supporters dedicated to recognizing the musical history of the Sunflower State. A noble enterprise, sure. But could something that exists on a cognitive plane alone really compete with the carnal lust for carnies exhibited at the Carnival Hall of Fame in Kinsley?

Shockingly, yes.

Liberty Hall was packed to the gills. Sold out. Teeming with excitement and anticipation as the Kansas Music Hall of Fame class of 2005 — Chesmann Square, Blue Things, Brewer & Shipley, Rodney and the Blazers, the Fabulous Flippers, the Red Dogs, Big Joe Turner, Mike Finnigan and (surprise) Kansas — prepared to step into state history.

They were welcomed by Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who strode to the stage before the inductions alongside her husband, the self-proclaimed First Dude of Kansas — very Big Lebowski of him — and fervent music lover Gary Sebelius.

“One of the things you get to do as governor is make proclamations,” Sebelius said. “I have a proclamation for Bill Lee — it has a lot of whereas in it. Whereas … I, Kathleen Sebelius, do hereby proclaim January 15, 2005, Kansas Music Hall of Fame Day.”

Change of plans, Nigel. The party is in my pants.

And there was no better place for it to happen than Liberty Hall, the former site of the Red Dog Inn, where — back in the day — most of the honored musicians got their start.

“The beginning part of [our] dream was to play at the Red Dog,” Kerry Livgren of Kansas said during his acceptance speech. “I wish these walls could talk.”

If they could, they would probably have said that Robby Steinhardt (Livgren’s one-time bandmate and current Kansas violinist/vocalist) arrived at the ceremony, after playing in Atlanta the night before, looking like George Clinton — if Clinton had forsaken P-Funk for the Hell’s Angels.

“It’s always the first blood that tastes the sweetest,” Steinhardt said creepily before hoisting his drink. “Here’s to Lawrence, here’s to Bill Lee, here’s to Kansas and here’s to the Kansas [Music] Hall of Fame. ”

Most of the inductees had bid professional music adieu long ago. But the live acts hardly missed a beat, even though most hadn’t played together in a decade or four.

“It means a lot to us old guys to be up here,” said Rodney Lay of Rodney and the Blazers. “We haven’t played for a live audience in 40, 42 years, so we’re a little rusty. We appreciate you forgiving us the rough parts…. It’s a real honor to be up here.”

But it was also an honor to be down there — in the crowd and on the dance floor — for many in attendance. Cliff Wise among them. Wise had made the two-hour trek from Chanute for the event, though he needed creative philanthropy to actually get inside the building.

“This is a great night for Kansas music,” Wise told me. “When I learned that all the tickets were sold out, I volunteered to help run the merch table so that I could get in … although I haven’t actually worked at the merch table yet.”

Probably because everyone was too busy dancing. And I mean everyone. The first couple cut rug as Rodney and the Blazers — decked out in suits and smiles — blazed through Junior Walker‘s “Shotgun,” Little Richard‘s “Lucille” and an impromptu “Georgia on My Mind” tribute to Ray Charles. The guvnuh was pretty good on her feet, too, not entirely fluid but also not thrashing around like a sorority girl on Bourbon Street.

As hot the Blazers were, though, it was clear which group she was pining for.

“The [Fabulous] Flippers played at my inauguration,” Sebelius told me after I ambushed her outside the bathroom. “A lot of people who didn’t care about me were like, ‘If the Flippers are going to be there, I’m coming.'”

The Flippers were at Liberty Hall, all right. The group closed out the event, alongside several fellow inductees, with a tribute to Big Joe Turner. But even as the musicians and the raucous crowd saluted midnight with a rousing rendition of Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” it was something Flipper guitarist and vocalist Dennis Loewen said earlier in the evening that encapsulated the night in a way Nigel could not.

“Every time, we say this is the last time,” Loewen proclaimed. “But if this is the last time we play … it’s perfect.”

Categories: Music