Saturday Night Special

There are infinitely worse ways to spend a Saturday night in Kansas City, and not many better ones, than to spend it with Robert Day and the Kansas City Symphony at The Writers Place.

On Saturday, September 13, Bob Day and members of the Kansas City Symphony’s Community Connection presented a night of music and literature that was by turns stirring, comic, haunting and quirky. Co-sponsored by New Letters and The Writers Place, the performance was a delight from start to finish.

A quartet of string players started the evening off with an original piece composed by one of the chamber musicians. “Celebration Fanfare” by Michael Kimber was a joyous welcome to the eager audience and was greeted with great applause. The four musicians then launched into a buoyant Scott Joplin ditty, “Country Club Rag.”’ It’s no stretch to say the instruments were smiling as broadly as the musicians as the last note was zinged around the small room. Then something completely unexpected happened—a chamber group “took a request” from the crowd. It wasn’t an unusual number, and it was made by the evening’s headliner. Bob had asked the chamber to please play “Shaker Hymn” before he began his readings and the mini-KC Symphony were happy to oblige with a soulful rendition of the sweetly familiar tune.

Kansas Poet Laureate, Denise Low, introduced Robert Day with great affection, first by informing the audience of his latest endeavor. Mr. Day has accepted a challenge, she stated in serious tones, to mud wrestle Sarah Palin. The named prize was drowned out by the uproarious laughter of the audience, many of whom wanted to place a wager on Mr. Day. Ms. Low continued her introduction by reading her tribute poem “The Last Cowboy Writer”.

Bob Day strolled to the front of the intimate room and pulled up a chair. All that was missing was the fireside. He tossed a wily grin at the audience, warned that his life frequently masquerades as fiction, and vice versa, and then read the Afterword to his literary cult favorite novel celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Last Cattle Drive. The lively story of how Mr. Day’s debut novel ostensibly became the reason MGM went bankrupt as the movie studio tried in vain to make a film adaptation was told with wry wit by the author and marked with bursts of laughter from the audience. That story alone serves as the perfect coda to the adventures of Spangler, Opal, Jed and Leo.

After a short intermission, the KC Symphony players took the stage again and started the second half of the evening with George Gershwin’s “Lullaby”. A soothing and soaring composition that conjured images of a peaceful sunset moving leisurely through the redorangepinkviolet color spectrum to the serene blue of evening. The chamber closed with a rousing rendition of Dvorak’s Finale from String Quartet no. 12, “The American.” This was the perfect segue for Day to offer the listeners that most American of actions, a vote.

As he settled comfortably into his chair again, Mr. Day informed the audience he would be reading the introductions to two short love stories, “one is civilized and one is uncivilized” after which he would poll the audience for their preference as to the story he should continue to read. “Where I Am Now”, the “civilized” love story opened with a man in Paris, living off the land, talking wine vintages with his neighbor and writing in the soft French mornings. The “uncivilized” love story, “Light of the Silvery Moon,” told the tale of a depressed grave-digger and his wary love for a diner waitress. Both stories were intriguing, but the audience overwhelmingly voted to hear the rest of the “uncivilized” love story. With an appreciative “goddam” and a chuckle, Mr. Day complied capping off the most civilized of evenings.