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Kansas rocks back to second home: Pittsburgh

October 3, 2018
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Pittsburgh promoter Rich Engler (fourth from left in blue shirt) with Kansas in 2016 after presenting them at the Benedum in Pittsburgh. Enger, a native of the Alle-Kiski Valley (Creighton, East Deer Township), first presented the band in 1974 at the Stanley, now the Benedum.

Kansas originally was hoping one day just to “make the minor leagues,” says their original guitarist Rich Williams.

After all, he explains, even that would have been a major step up from the bar circuit in their Topeka, Kan.

What actually happened, he reflects about six years shy of half a century later, was absolutely mind-blowing. The band went on to become arguably America’s preeminent progressive rock group.

“It’s been an amazing journey, so many positive moments, so many wow moments,” Williams says over the phone from his home in Atlanta as his band prepares to return to what he refers to as their “career second home,” Pittsburgh.

They will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their landmark hit album, “Point of Know Return,” which contains their iconic song, “Dust in the Wind,” at 8 p.m. Oct. 6 in Heinz Hall.

For the first time in its history, the band is performing the album in its entirety.

The repertoire

Kansas will also play classic hits, such as “Carry on Wayward Son,” deep cuts and other fan favorites.

The band has not publicly performed some songs in this two-hour-plus musical event in decades, if ever, says its management.

Chart climbers

“Point of Know Return” became the band’s greatest selling album, peaking at number 4 on Billboard’s Album charts, reaching sextuple-platinum status with more than six million copies sold, and had three Billboard Hot 100 singles. “After the success of the album ‘Leftoverture,’ it was hard to imagine when we released ‘Point of Know Return’ that this album would be even bigger, but it was,” Williams says.

The group’s catalogue includes 15 studio albums and five live albums. The work brought eight gold albums and three sextuple-platinum albums, as well as two one million-selling gold singles, “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.”

Career longevity

Kansas appeared on the Billboard charts for over 200 weeks throughout the ’70′s and ’80’s and played to sold-out arenas and stadiums throughout North America, Europe and Japan.

“Carry on Wayward Son” continues to be one of the top five most played songs on classic rock radio, and “Dust in the Wind” has been played on the radio more than three million times.

Induction into the Rock Hall of Fame would be great, he acknowledges, “but I don’t need that.” “But for the legacy of what we have done, it would mean a lot, and for my grandchildren, it would mean a lot.”

“Supernatural” experience

Williams believes a lot of the growth is due to the long-running dark fantasy CW television series, “Supernatural,” for which he says “Carry on Wayward Son” has become an unofficial anthem.

“That’s what we hear from young kids. I see a sea of people in front of me at concerts, and they are all young people 13, 15, 16 year old kids. It didn’t make any sense to me,” he says. “They will sing along with everything. I don’t even know lyrics to everything. I’m not a singer. I play guitar. It’s surreal to me. They slowly discovered us on their own journey and then find out more about us via YouTube and other ways.”

Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh proud

Once their debut album was released in 1974, Williams says, Pennsylvania was one of the first states to embrace the band outside of Kansas. “We did a tour of Pennsylvania playing different colleges. The crown jewel of that was probably Pittsburgh, playing the Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum).

“The headliner (Queen) had to cancel and it became our first big headlining show. We were like the Beatles there, coming from Kansas bars. It was a shocking experience to us,” he recalls.

“That’s why Pittsburgh is very much kind of home for us on a career level. It’s where we were most loved and accepted first.”

Pittsburgh promoter Rich Engler, then of DiCesare-Engler Productions, booked that show and is presenting the Heinz Hall concert.

Love at first listen

“When I received Kansas’ first album I really loved it. I talked to the folks at WDVE and asked them to please go on this record,” he recalls. “The response was so great the request lines lit up for the song, ‘Can I Tell You.’ I knew at that point I had to bring them in so I was able to book Queen and Styx, and it was a perfect time to introduce Kansas to the Pittsburgh audience.”

When Kansas hit the stage people were going “bonkers” Engler says. “They played two encores and came off and the crowd was still going crazy. I ran back and said you gotta do your big hit. And they went, ‘What is that?’ They did not know it was ’Can I Tell You,” a giant hit in our city.”

The band returned to the stage, played the song and blew everybody away, Engler says.

“This was the making of a future super group for our city.

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