Williams family bring musical entertainment back to Hillside Ranch with Sunday Sessions.
By ANGIE HAFLICH
For Colin Williams, music is in his genes. So is the love for what was formerly his grandparents' property, Hillside Ranch, located on VFW Road near U.S. Highway 50.
"The people who are my parents' age and my uncle's age, and even the people who were my grandparents' age who are still living were asking us all the time, 'When are you going to have something again? When are you going to reopen Hillside,'" Williams said.
Williams and his wife, Airianna, have answered the call, bringing musical entertainment back to Hillside with the Hillside Sunday Sessions. The most recent event was this past weekend, a two-day event featuring 20 acts, up from about a dozen in 2012.
For years, his grandparents, Don and AJ Williams, who ran a farming implement company out of their barn, also hosted musical venues in it and allowed others to rent it out for everything from birthday parties to class reunions.
"Grandma and Grandpa always rented it out, and it was just open for anybody who needed to do something. There were quinceaneras. There were a lot of barn dances," he said. "They did that for many years, many years, even into their 60s."
The Williams' son, Bob Williams, Colin's father, said that the family who owned the property before he, his brother and parents moved onto it in 1959 hosted events like that, as well.
"There's probably been well over 100 events here, maybe 200," he said. "They had lots of bands over the years. There was country/western, rock and roll, just all kinds of music over the years."
His wife, Colin's mother, Mary Beth Williams, has her own cherished memories of the place.
"I didn't live here in high school, when they were doing a lot of their stuff, but we had a Christmas party out there one year, and we got tumbleweeds and we spray painted them gold. Do you remember that?" she asked Colin and her other son, Nathan Williams.
She said that eventually, hosting events at the barn got to be too much for the elder Williams.
"Grandpa couldn't do anything, and grandma was a crazy person. She was like washing the curtains out in the barn ... making sure that the house was all spiffed up. Eventually, it just got to be too much for them," she said.
Colin was only about 12 when his grandfather died, but his grandmother died just a few years ago. So as he relived both his first and last memory of her, he got a little choked up.
"My earliest memory of her inside this house was sitting Indian style in front of two speakers with a Beatles record playing," he said. "One of the last things I remember is, she took my dad, my brother and myself to an Eagles concert in Wichita, when the Eagles got back together. She was 84 at the time. As soon as tickets went on sale, she started calling this 800 number in Wichita, and what does this 84-year-old woman do? She calls the operator and says, 'I am 84 years old and I'm trying to get through,' and the operator put her right through. The tickets sold out like that, but AJ got through, using the operator, just like the old days," he said, laughing.
He described her as the face of Hillside Ranch back in her day, comparing her to the present-day face of Hillside, his own wife, Airianna Williams.
"Grandma was quite a lady. She was an interesting character," Mary Beth said. "When she went to the nursing home, she really didn't want to sell the house, and so when the kids said, 'Grandma, we would like to move back to Garden City and buy your house,' she was really excited."
Colin and Airianna were living in Colorado at the time, but eagerly moved back to begin renovations on the property.
"We're never going to leave here. This place will never be owned by anyone else," Colin said.
The barn, which is now cleaned out and once again ready to play host to future events, has its own unique history.
"This place was used as a remounting station for the cavalry, and they would ship horses and mules to Fort Riley and to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. It was a midway point," Colin said.
Fast forward to present day, and Colin continues his grandparents' tradition of hospitality. On Sunday, he received communication via Walkie Talkie that a guest's request for a shady spot to sit in had been fulfilled.
Both new and old generations attended last weekend's event.
"What's neat is, you could call it a generation gap but it's really not, because so many people who haven't seen each other in years are catching up with each other today," Colin said.
Another emphasis of the Hillside Sunday Sessions, aside from providing entertainment, is to promote local musical talent. One of Colin's friends, Sean Collins, who along with another friend, Zach Snyder, started a production company about a year ago called Ad Astra Out West Community Productions, approached Colin with the idea of creating a local venue for southwest Kansas musical talent.
"If you want a show in Garden City, and it's always been like that, then you have to make it yourself and that's what our mission was," Collins said.
Sunday's event included a group consisting of Joe Caldart, his 15-year-old son, Austin, and 9-year-old son, Jason.
"They're called Nine Foot Squirrel. His dad plays bass, and the older son plays guitar, and the kid plays the drums. Their lyrics are all educational. I mean like they talk about Mars, and they talk about how carbon dating works. They have a song about Starsky and Hutch, and 'Yeti Fist,' is about the yetis — the extinct species. Good stuff, good stuff," Colin said, laughing.
He described Nine Foot Squirrel's music as mellow metal, one of many genres played at this year's event.
"Saturday night was more kind of heavy rock, kind of a metal night, and then Sunday being a family day, being Mother's Day, you can hear the music in the background — it's bluegrass and blues, and there's some rock and roll, some classic rock," he said.
Colin said that this year's event drew more people, and he anticipates continued growth in coming years.
"This is an historical event, last year and now this year. As it grows, more and more bands and maybe bands of repute and more people will come out every year," Bob Williams said.