It’s the music, of course.
The 11th annual Celebration at the Station, the Kansas City Symphony’s free concert at Union Station, turns regular folks into human pack animals hauling tents, lawn chairs, plastic tables and multiple coolers onto the vast lawn of Liberty Memorial — and all around it. They began arriving early Sunday afternoon and continued to gather until their numbers were in the tens of thousands.
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They came for the fun and the fireworks at nightfall, yes, but mostly for the music, which in turn excites, soothes and inspires.
For some it brings back fond memories of military careers. For others, it’s way to introduce youngsters to the symphony. The latter is what Jessica Riley of Kansas City specifically had in mind. She was wearing her red, white and blue Cat-in-the-Hat-style hat, having snagged a spot not far from the stage in front of the station with friend Carolyn Lovelace and their youngsters.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to hear some great music they normally don’t listen to,” Riley said, nodding to her daughter, Alexandria, and Lovelace’s son, Phillip.
“And it’s free,” Lovelace said. “We love it. We’ve been coming since my son was 3, and he’s 10 now. To us, this is the official start of summer.”
Early on, the Fountain City Brass Band entertained the crowd, and the symphony’s program included an array of patriotic music, Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” Singer Oleta Adams also was on the program, and accompanying the symphony were musicians from Musicorps, an organization that uses music projects to help wounded soldiers recover.
Eric Price of Leavenworth was in the crowd with a group of friends who are all retired members of the U.S. Army. Price and his wife, Judi, have been coming to Celebration at the Station for several years. They recall well the “1812 Overture” from one of those earlier years, when their son, now 6, “had a little accident” in his diaper as the first cannons sounded.
“I love hearing all the military music,” said Price as he pointed out fellow retired military members Jim Lourentzos of Lansing and Shawn Cupp of Leavenworth. “All of these songs have memories for us because we’ve all marched in parade to them.”
After playing Frisbee with the kids and listening to the symphony, the fireworks cap off a great day, he said.
“You have to stay through the fireworks,” Price said. “That’s why you bring four coolers of food.”
Antonia Vaiskunas and Nancy Laughlin, both of Olathe, were among 10 friends who grabbed a spot on the grassy area directly in front of Union Station, ready for supper with their fried chicken and macaroni salad.
Vaiskunas said she had several reasons to be drawn to the symphony’s program. Next month, she retires after 33 years as a reservist in the Army National Guard, and she’s a first-generation American. Her father is Lithuanian, and her mother is from Germany.
“My parents are very proud,” Vaiskunas said. “I”m excited to hear the patriotic music.”
Celebration at the Station’s lead sponsor, Bank of America, donated a home to Army veteran Mark Lupatsky, who suffered traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The donation is part of the bank’s program to make 1,000 properties available for homes for veterans.
Lupatsky and his family received the keys Sunday to a mortgage-free home and three years of family and financial mentoring.