Little concert on the (Irvine) prairie

UNI hosts folk singer at Cathy Irvine’s farmstead

Kansas-based folk musician Ann Zimmerman performs a free concert July 29 on Cathy Irvine’s front lawn located across the road from the original Irvine Prairie parcel. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

RURAL DYSART – Under the shade of two towering maple trees and surrounded by a mixture of blooming woodland and prairie flowers, UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) hosted a free folk concert across the road from the Irvine Prairie last Saturday afternoon.

The event drew some 60 people from babies-in-arms to those in their wisest years to the rural Dysart farmstead of conservationist Cathy Irvine to hear Kansas-based musician Anne Zimmerman perform songs from her prairie-inspired catalog for more than an hour. Irvine donated to UNI the nearly 300 acres of land that encompasses the Irvine Prairie surrounding her farm.

Using a restored antique barge box as the stage, TPC Director Dr. Laura Jackson introduced Zimmerman prior to her set while also providing a brief history of the Irvine Prairie for those who had never before visited the prairie-in-progress.

“We very much hope all of you will want to come back and walk it in every season,” Jackson said of the prairie which is currently in high bloom.

Both Jackson and Zimmerman originally hail from Salina, Kansas where Jackson’s father Wes Jackson co-founded The Land Institute in 1976. Zimmerman told the audience she interned for a year at the Institute, a nonprofit research organization that lists among its goals the creation of “an agriculture system that mimics natural systems to produce ample food and reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of agriculture.”

Dr. Laura Jackson, Director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at UNI, introduces her friend, folk musician Ann Zimmerman (off frame) last Saturday afternoon while standing on the barge box stage set up on Cathy Irvine’s front lawn northeast of Dysart. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

Through her internship and growing up in Kansas, Zimmerman honed her prairie/grassland plant and animal species identification skills which she has used in the decades since to inform much of her songwriting.

One of the songs she performed Saturday afternoon was “Meadowlark,” a children’s tune which draws on the warbling melodies of both Eastern and Western meadowlarks.

“Oh, my, little meadowlark (Oh, my, little meadowlark),” Zimmerman sang. “Little gold bird with your fancy collar, mighty big voice when you start to holler. … Tiny your size on the open prairie, great is your song for to make us merry.”

As the song indicates, it was indeed a merry affair Saturday afternoon in Cathy’s front yard where in addition to free melodies, free cookies and information about the preserve were offered up to the audience from a side table staffed by AmeriCorps members serving with TPC.

For those who missed the live concert, Eastern meadowlarks perform quite regularly at Irvine Prairie. There may not be cookies, but the natural ‘venue’ located across the road from Cathy’s farmstead is always free and open to the public.

Ann Zimmerman, left, of Salina, Kansas performs a variety of prairie-themed music last Saturday afternoon at the farmstead of rural Dysart resident Cathy Irvine. The restored Irvine Prairie is visible behind the concertgoers beyond the treeline. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

To plan your visit, check out https://tallgrassprairiecenter.org/irvine-prairie

Concertgoers enjoy the music of singer-songwriter Ann Zimmerman as she performs atop a stage fashioned from an antique barge box last Saturday afternoon across the road from the Irvine Prairie. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON