Tallgrass Express String Band

Kick off our Big Read Celebration of True Grit with the Tallgrass Express String Band, “Pride of the Flint Hills.” A free concert will be held in Marvin Auditorium Sun. Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.

Just like Mattie and her crew, balladeer Annie Wilson and her band will lead you on a wild musical chase through the Old West.

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The band’s songs will illustrate True Grit, including such elements as:

  • Early West history
  • Texas cowboys
  • Brave Western women 
  • Tragic heroes
  • Even snake bites!

They’ll also include the beautiful early hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” – the main theme of the 2010 film version soundtrack. These, along with some of their original Flint Hills cowboy songs, will give listeners an entertaining musical interpretation of this classic novel of the American West.

About Tallgrass Express String Band

Formed in 2004, Tallgrass Express is a truly regional band, staying close to their roots and performing mainly at community events in the Flint Hills region. Their mission is to provide local entertainment, and through their recordings, share with a broader audience their celebration of the beauty and wonder of the Kansas Flint Hills and its ranching culture. The band has recorded four CDs, including a unique album series of 46 all-original Songs from the Kansas Flint Hills. The new 2014 double-CD album of 30 songs, entitled: “Sky & Water, Wind & Grass”follows the 2010 “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky.”

In addition to their original songs about the land and life of the Flint Hills, they perform fast-driving old timey and bluegrass favorites, folk ballads, Western swing tunes, beautiful Celtic melodies, early American gospel hymns, and beloved Cowboy and Western standards.

In historic western dress, they share their musical skills on fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, guitar and bass and specialize in lyrical vocals and harmonies. Concerts include brief stories on the background of songs, humorous observations on rural life today, and frequent references to the heritage, land and culture of their home, the tallgrass prairie of the Kansas Flint Hills. It’s all delivered with a sparkle they hope shows how much they enjoy making and sharing their music with others.

With over 250 performances, their experience includes community festivals and concerts, gallery openings, historical events, organization dinners, parties, weddings and receptions, church programs,and dances.

Founding member Annie Wilson says, “We feel incredibly lucky to live amidst the splendor and wide open spaces of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie. Through our music, we celebrate this land and its people.”  Find out more on their website.

Annie Wilson (on guitar) helps her husband on their ranch in Chase County where they raised
three daughters.  An award-winning Flint Hills songwriter, Annie taught English for many years, managed a rancher-owned grass-fed beef coop, and has been active in conservation issues. She frequently plays at the Friday night Emma Chase Cafe jams in Cottonwood Falls, and enjoys pasture walks with her dog where she gets ideas for her songs about the Flint Hills.

tallgrass2Carl Reed (on bass and guitar) lives in Manhattan and worked in the international programs of KSU Grain Science for nearly 30 years. He now has his own grain scouting company in Buhler. He learned guitar while in the Peace Corps and bought a bass 15 years ago for bluegrass jams. Carl has written songs recorded by groups such as Special Consensus and Continental Divide.

Jim Versch (on mandolin) is a graphic artist and an awesome mandolin player! He taught art and coached volleyball at Marion High School for 31 years. Jim acquired his versatile improvisational skills playing in numerous bands including a Celtic band in Nebraska and the ragtime-classical Prairie Goose Stompers. Jim and his wife Judy enjoy their children and grand-children.

Kim “Smitty” Schmidt (on fiddle and vocals) is the most recent band member to join, starting in early 2014. Kim contributes his rich talents from over 30 years of performing with top-notch Kansas bands including the Greenhorns and Cactus Jack. Kim is a true musician and brings both his classic fiddle technique and vocal versatility to the band. He is a finish carpenter and lives near Goessel on his grandfather’s farm.

Mark Rustman

Mark has been the library's music specialist for 30 years. He also enjoys movies, TV, fiction, and even an occasional biography (especially if it's about a movie star!)