Another Fork In The Road: Kansas Coming To The Tilles Center


It all started for Kansas in 1972 when the original band, a core of six musicians coming from the small town of Topeka, dreamed big – and like the title of their present tour, they took Another Fork in the Road down life’s highway that brought them to record producer Don Kirshner (no relation to this reporter, I think). He signed them to a record deal and in early 1977, this progressive rock band enjoyed their first major hit single with “Carry On Wayward Son.” Their musical prowess including Robert Steinhardt’s trademark violin, added an exciting heartland rock and classical sound to their rich catalogue of songs.

Kansas went on to achieve a cult following garnering nine gold albums, three multiplatinum albums, one other platinum studio album, one platinum live double album, and a million-selling single, “Dust in the Wind.”

They play to sold-out arenas though band members have changed, leaving only two originals, guitarist Richard Williams and drummer Phil Ehart; Ehart has recently been sidelined due to a heart attack but hopes to rejoin the band in the near future. Though band members have changed, the Kansas songs have a life of their own and the current six members comprising Kansas are masterful musicians who are able to deliver the sound that fans clamor for.

The lineup for their 50th Anniversary Tour – Another Fork In The Road includes original guitarist Richard Williams, bassist and vocalist Billy Greer, keyboardist and vocalist Tom Brislin, violinist and guitarist Joe Deninzon, drummer Eric Holmquist, standing in while Phil Ehart recuperates, and lead vocalist and keyboardist Ronnie Platt, who took time to talk only a few hours before Kansas’ concert in Champaigne, Illinois.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – DECEMBER 02: Billy Greer of Kansas performs at The Fox Theatre on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by R. Diamond/Getty Images)

Isn’t the story of how Kansas was discovered like reading a work of fiction?

Yes! Kansas was first discovered by Don Kirshner. Please watch Miracles Out of Nowhere, the documentary on Kansas. It not only gives you the history of how the band got started and how Don Kirshner was really their one and only option, but it’s also a really interesting story of how the band got established. For six guys to be from small-town Topeka Kansas in 1972 and to be that talented in such a close proximity to each other and then to be the band that they became is really phenomenal. Millions of albums later, the band is celebrating its 50th anniversary, still going strong, still having massive popularity and then getting help along the way, like Wayward Son on Guitar Hero, or the TV show Supernatural that officially adopted Wayward Son as their theme and introduced the band to a whole new audience, it’s mind-boggling.

In a few hours you will be performing onstage. Do you think of that during the day?

Subconsciously yes, because even after doing this my entire life, I still get insanely nervous. My adrenaline just seems to be on a slow drip during the day and I just get more and more worked up until my energy is just through the roof. When we’re standing at the side of the stage about to start the show, I’m really excited. People always ask, “Aren’t you tired of singing the same songs over?” No! Never! Because it’s a new audience every time, keeping it fresh for us. When the band is firing on all cylinders, you go into that zone. The theaters are amazing, just one sold-out show after another. And when we play Wayward Son, you see everybody just turn 18 again. It’s great!

Are you attracting many generations in your audience?

Yes, that’s such a wild thing because you see people in the audience and at the meet and greet, they come up to me and they go, well, this is my 116th time seeing Kansas. They were fans from the very beginning but now they’re bringing their kids and their grandkids. It’s such a trip for me to see someone in the audience in their early teens sitting up front with their parents or their grandparents and they’re not only singing Wayward Son, but they’re also singing some of the deep cut stuff, so kudos to great parenting.

What is the message that Kansas is sending with the title of the compilation and tour, Another Fork in the Road?

That there’s no end. It’s not like all these other bands that are promoting their farewell tour. That’s not Kansas. To us when we’re done with this 50th anniversary tour, it’s just a matter of deciding what kind of show we’re doing next. It’s just another fork in the road to this band that’s hopefully never going to end.

Whose idea was it to produce a 50-year anniversary compilation?

Phil and Rich wanted to put that together and give the fans a taste of Kansas in a three-CD box set from the very beginning to present day. Boy, talk about the task of having to choose which songs to put on that. If it was up to me, it would be a 12-CD box set.

Do you feel the prominent violin sets Kansas apart from other rock bands?

I gotta say Joe Dennison who is playing violin, is monster. Tom Brislin, we call him “the boy with the golden resume,” because he was Meatloaf’s and Debbie Harry’s keyboard player. He toured with Yes. He has a pretty impressive resume. And now we have Eric Holmquist on drums, who is Phil Ehart’s drum tech. Then, of course, we have Rich Williams, who’s been there from day one on guitar and still knocks it out of the park every show, and Billy Greer is another great player.

How is Phil Ehart doing now since suffering that heart attack? 

Phil, the guy’s not human. He has a heart attack on a Tuesday. I learned of it on Wednesday morning. He calls me Thursday from home. I said what the heck are you doing home? How are you feeling? He says, I feel great! I’m a little tired, a little weak, but I feel great. They sent me home. Then he called me that Friday. I asked what he’s doing. He says, I’m just playing my drums. What! You had a heart attack three days ago and now you’re sitting at your drums. That’s totally Ehart! It’s something we share in the music industry, never drank, never did drugs, always extremely health-conscious. Being in impeccable shape is what kept him alive.

It must be hard for him not to be on this 50th anniversary tour.

Yes, Kansas is his baby. He’s been managing the band now for 30-plus years. I’m sure it’s just killing him but he also has the pride of knowing that his band is still out there knocking it out of the park every night

Do you think at some point during this tour he will rejoin Kansas?

I’m not at liberty to say, but knowing Phil, I don’t doubt it. It’s what he has done his entire life. If I could quote Gloria Estefan, “This is not a job, this is a lifestyle.” It really becomes your life. People ask Rich Williams when he’s going to retire and he gets a little indignant. He says, “I’ll retire when I’m dead.”

Kansas is playing at the Tilles Center on May 16.