2023 Inductees

2023 Inductees
Jerrod Niemann Wendall Hall WalnutValleyFestival
Lander Ballard Sam Bidwell The Group
Get Smart! Mark Toelkes Jon E. Miller

AdAstra Award:

Bill Lee Award:
Jerrod Niemann

Bob Hapgood Award:
Wendall Hall

Lander Ballard
Lander Ballard, Wichita

Born in Robinson, Ill., Lander started playing guitar at age 6, and was singing even earlier. He was elected his church’s chorister at age 14. He studied guitar, played in a working rock band
throughout high school, and got his first professional job teaching guitar at 16. During his time in the U.S. Air Force, he played in a show band in Viet Nam made up of other G.I.’s during off-duty hours at various military clubs and events around the Cam Rahn Bay area. He came to Wichita, KS. in 1970 to finish his military duty. He bought a Martin D-35, and began his solo career, singing and playing at various venues around the Kansas region.
After the service, he began writing songs and recording a number of demos. With little interest from major labels, Lander became one of the first artists to start his own independent record label, Free Wind Records, recording his first album, “High Time” in Nashville. It was one of the early non-country records made there. After doing his first four albums in different studios, Lander put together his own studio, and has recorded five more albums of his own, as well as albums and demos for many Kansas artists. Although Lander is best known for playing acoustic guitar in his live performances, his albums show his ability to play acoustic & electric guitars, both 6 & 12-string, electric bass, mandolin, keyboard, and percussion, coupled with great vocals & vocal harmonies.
Lander has opened shows for many varied music luminaries, including: Stephen Stills, Bonnie Raitt, America, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, John Hartford, Rory Gallagher, David Clayton Thomas, Leon Russell, and others. Lander Ballard has also been the featured act for numerous concerts. Living in Newton, KS. since 1985, he continues to record, play live occasionally, and teach guitar in both Newton and Wichita.

Sam Bidwell

Sam Bidwell, Wichita

Singing was a natural thing for Sam Bidwell. Sam learned to play guitar at a very early age by watching his mother Betty play. She said he could sing before he could talk. Sam’s third grade teacher Mrs. Anderson always took credit for giving Sam his first big break by allowing him to sing and play for his class, with songs like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “I’m A Honky Tonk Man”. Sam’s parents were always very supportive of his talent and entered him in every talent contest they could find. At just eleven years old, Sam became a regular performer at Hillbilly Paradise, an open air venue near the town of Benton, Kansas, where he met many musicians he would work with in later years. His first paying gig was at Carl Murrell’s Golden Chance Steak Saloon in Wichita, where he played for tips every Saturday night. Soon after, Sam joined Troy Welch and the Traveling Strings Band, playing country music at rodeos, street dances, and VFW halls all over the state of Kansas. When Sam was 13 years old, he recorded his first single “Six Hard Years of Pain”. The record received a lot of air play from KFDI radio in Wichita, boosting his notoriety. DJ’s called him “Little Sammy Bidwell”. Another contest in the area got Sam a job at The Longbranch Club, a premier entertainment spot. The Longbranch jamboree had a Saturday afternoon TV show and two live radio shows weekly, The band played five nights a week at the club, where they also backed stars like Hank Thompson, Wynn Stewart, Little Jimmy Dickens, and many others. While working at The Longbranch Club, Sam recorded his second single: “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife”. At 18 years old, Sam married and started a family. Working an 8 to 5 job, he began writing his own music. After a few years of marriage and 3 children, Sam got the itch to start playing music again. Joining up with long time friend Stan Holmes, they formed “The Flatland Band” and began playing the larger venues in Kansas and northern Oklahoma. After “The Flatland Band”, Sam joined “The Nite Shift Band” and began singing and playing his original songs. In 1985, “Sam Bidwell and The Nite Shift Band” won “The Marlboro Country Showdown” in the state of Kansas. Soon after, he was selected to appear on the TNN Network show “YOU CAN BE A STAR”. A few months later, Sam returned to Nashville and recorded an album with an old friend from Kansas, songwriter Frank Dycus, including eight of Sam’s original songs, and three of Frank Dycus and Dean Dillon’s songs. In 1993 Sam opened “Sam’s Place”, a large country nightclub in Wichita, Kansas featuring “Sam Bidwell and The Nite Shift Band” playing five nights a week. He and the band opened for acts at the Kansas Coliseum, including stars like Merle Haggard, George Straight, Rickey Skaggs, Tammy Wynette, Joe Diffie, Charlie Pride, Doug Stone and many others.
Sam has continued his song writing, and is currently working on a new, as yet untitled CD of all original music to be released soon.

The Group
The Group, Topeka

The Group was a band formed in the mid-’60s in Topeka, KS. During that time, the members were considered top musicians in the area. They were: Lane Tietgen, guitar and vocals, Bob Beardmore, bass, Jim Parks, organ and vocals, Charlie Schwartz, sax and vocals, Bill Shuart, trumpet, and Evan Johnson on drums. The Group’s repertoire consisted mostly of rock, and rhythm & blues. Members of The Group would double on multiple instruments, and had a great vocal blend. The band wore matching stage attire, and featured those vocal harmonies, along with slick choreography. Their trademark was using flourescent orange for their business cards, posters, and even their equipment truck. Enjoying great popularity with a large following of loyal fans, their calendar was constantly full, with bookings performed regionally over a three state area. At one point, The Group backed The Drifters on a successful tour throughout the midwest. There was also a historic self – promoted appearance at The Topeka Municipal Auditorium, presenting The Group in concert along with another local favorite, The Rising Suns. In addition to many other significand gigs in a variety of venues, The Group won a talent search conducted by Stax Records, and was offered free recording time at Stax in Memphis. But due to challenges, both financial and logistical, The Group was never able to fulfill this opportunity. Separately, there were also discussions with an agent from MGM Records about a possible record deal. Unfortunately, this was not finalized either. Had even one of these events come to pass, there could have been much more to The Group’s story today. Although The Group’s tenure lasted only a couple of years, they had a memorable impact in their market, influencing many other bands and upcoming players. After The Group ended its successful run, the individual members went on to even greater heights in the music industry, both with subsequent bands, and on their own. In particular, Lane Tietgen became a member of The Serfs with Mike Finnigan, adding other noteworthy projects to his resume along the way. Lane is also a prolific songwriter, with many of his songs being recorded by high profile artists. Those who were lucky enough to see and hear them perform back in their heyday will never forget The Group, from Topeka, Kansas.

Get Smart!
Get Smart!, Lawrence

Get Smart! is a three-piece post-punk rock ‘n roll band that formed in Lawrence in 1980 while the members, guitarist Marcus Koch, bass player Lisa Wertman Crowe and drummer Frank Loose were attending the University of Kansas. The group was prominent in the local music scene, and along with a number of other bands, helped to solidify Lawrence as an alternative music hotbed, and a destination for many other regional and national acts. Along with frequent local shows, the band toured the country extensively, performing 300 shows in a six-year span.
They released their first recording in 1981, a flexi-disc released through Talk Talk magazine. This was followed by Words Move, a self-released 4-track EP. Next was a multi-group cassette featuring Get Smart! and three other bands. They recorded their first LP, Action Reaction, prior to relocating to Chicago in late 1982, and in 1986, released their second LP: Swimming With Sharks.
The original lineup reformed in January, 2020, and in December of that year released an EP of six previously recorded songs titled Oh Yeah No. The group played a 40 + 1 anniversary show in Lawrence in 2021, and performed again in Lawrence with Kansas native Freedy Johnston on September 24, 2022. Get Smart! plans more collaborations with others, and to release more new music in the near future.

Mark Toelkes
Mark Toelkes, Topeka

Born in 1952, Mark Toelkes got his start in music playing saxophone with his grade school band. After hearing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1963, he switched to guitar, and began playing school dances. By the time he entered high school, he was playing with professional bands in clubs around the Topeka area. After high school, Mark formed Bluebeard, who played all over Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri, and were regulars at Grandmothers in Topeka. Bluebeard were also regulars at The Waterhole and One Block West in KC, The Fireside in Hutchinson, The Lamplighter in Salina, and most other popular rooms throughout the 4 state area. Bluebeard opened for several national acts, including Missouri, Head East, Dr Hook and Rush. Bluebeard was a finalist in the first ever KY102 Rock Showdown in KC. After Bluebeard split, Mark continued his music career with Echo Cliff, another popular local band that played all over the 4 state region for the rest of the 70’s and into the 80’s. Mark was a founding member of the band Patriarch in 1981. He left in 1982 to go back with his old bandmates from Bluebeard and join Alchemy, performing with them for the next 2 years. In 1985, Toelkes formed Mark and The Sharks. Mark and The Sharks have opened for Steppenwolf, Dr. Hook, Leon Russell, Edgar Winter, Pat Travers, and the list goes on. They’ve been featured at both The Spirit of Kansas Blues Festival, and The Paxico Blues Festival. The band continues to draw large crowds and perform at a high level, with regular shows at Knuckleheads in KC, and a featured spot at The Levee in KC the 4th Saturday of every month. Mark and The Sharks have two KSMHoF inductee members: Doug Renbarger and Rick Aubrey (both with Plain Jane). Mark has written songs and performed on albums with the Black Jackets, and was a contributor and performer on “Another Midnight” by The 800’s, which can be heard on Amazon Music and Spotify. Mark’s bands over the years include: The Heatherz, Purple Haze, The Father Time Band, Bluebeard, Echo Cliff, Patriarch, Alchemy, Mark and The Sharks, Rod Peterson and The Assembly, Josh Vowell Band, Black Jackets, and The 800’s.

Jon E. Miller
Jon E. Miller, Newton, KS

Jon E. Miller is a retired business owner, sound engineer, and music developer via Miller Recording Studio, where he helped establish careers in music for many local and national artists. Jon founded Miller Recording Studio in North Newton, KS starting in 1976, and lasting through 1992. Studio clients included Mark O’Connor, Evergreen Records in Nashville, Mark Walberg and Donnie Walberg, audio for the Miss USA pagent, Lander Ballard, Clif Major and The DelReys, Wichita Linemen, Manilla Road, The Wichita Symphony Christmas Album, King Midas and the Muflers, The Wichita Song, and Jazz Work, plus many Christian artists, local bands and solo artists. Also on the client list was a noteworthy collaboration by Pat McJimsey with western swing icons, Asleep at the Wheel. Often, Jon would offer his services to college apprentices and Christian artists, free of charge. In 1978, Jon created Miller Music Company, Inc., opening a store on W. Central St. in Wichita. Miller Music was a full-service music store that sold professional grade guitars, amps and PA systems to working musicians, in addition to offering lessons and band instrument rentals. Miller Music had a quality luthier on staff, plus an electronics repair department, Thesis Audio, that’s still in operation today. Jon also taught guitar from 1963 to 2004, and worked as a professional musician. Bands that Jon E. Miller has played with or led over the years include Wichita Linemen, Terry Crane and the Blue Diamonds, Timberline, Matfield Green, and The Weeds. With advertisements on clear channel radio KOMA, Jon and his groups would tour a four-state area during the ’60s. His booking agent was 2005 KSMHoF inductee John Brown of Mid-Continent Entertainment.

Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield

The Walnut Valley Festival is an acoustic music festival held annually in Winfield, Kansas USA. The main genre of music is bluegrass, but a wide variety of other acoustic styles are represented. The festival is held on the Wednesday through Sunday that includes the third Saturday of September. For instance, it was held from Wednesday, September 15th to Sunday, September 18th 2022.
The first official “Walnut Valley Festival” was held in September 1972. It originated as a small folk festival started on the campus of Southwestern College in 1967. Founders of the first Walnut Valley Folk Festival, among others, were Sam Ontjes, Stuart Mossman and various family members. The performers that first year included Jimmy Driftwood, Mance Lipscomb, Doc Watson, Merle Watson, the Revelators, and others. Along with the Friday and Saturday evening concerts, there was a guitar making demonstration, blues workshop, guitar style workshop and a gospel sing.
The Walnut Valley Folk Festival was created at a time when folk art was beginning to be recognized by pop-culture. The intent of the festival was to bring some of America’s greatest professional and amateur talent to the Walnut Valley. For years to come, many individuals worked hard and dedicated much talent, time, effort and money to continue the tradition of bringing live folk and bluegrass music to the public. This was helpful in encouraging and creating a stage for local talent, as well. Eventually, the Walnut Valley Folk Festival evolved, with the help of Bob Redford and family, to the Walnut Valley Festival and changed its location to better suit its growing needs and the local community. Four simultaneous stages and many impromptu venues, notably Stage 5, allow for a wide range of musical interests.
Besides the world-class paid performers, Winfield is known for its instrumental contests. The headline contest is the National Flat-pick Championship. Other contests include the National Mandolin Championship, the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship, the National Hammer Dulcimer Championship, the National Mountain Dulcimer Championship, the International Autoharp Championship, the International Fingerstyle Championship, and a fiddle contest. In 1999, the International Bluegrass Music Association named the Walnut Valley Festival its first “Bluegrass Event of the Year” award winner.
From its humble beginnings as a small local festival in 1972, the Walnut Valley Festival has evolved into a world-renowned annual event. Thousands of people, some from as far away as Europe and Japan, will flock to the festival camp grounds weeks in advance. Spontaneous jam sessions between total strangers are a standard occurrence, often well into the late night hours.
Besides Doc & Merle Watson, many well-known artist have appeared on stage at the Walnut Valley Festival over the years. Some of these are: Lester Flatt, Mark O’Connor, Alison Krauss, Mike Snider, Byron Berline, Dan Crary, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Tom Chapin, David Grisman, Merle Travis, Mike Cross, New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Nickel Creek, David Holt, Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Kottke and Muriel Anderson.

Jerrod Niemann
Jerrod Niemann, Liberal

Jerrod Niemann was born in Harper, Kansas but raised in Liberal. From an early age, he was influenced by country music. He learned to play his first musical instrument, the guitar, on an autographed instrument his mother won in a contest at a Tracy Lawrence concert. At the age of 8, Niemann was writing several songs a year, and by age 10, was regularly performing original songs in local talent shows around the state. Continuing to write and perform during his high school years, Niemann recorded his 1999 self-released debut album “Long Hard Road” while attending college in Texas. After releasing another album, Niemann continued honing his craft before moving to Nashville in September of 2000. Jerrod signed with Category 5 Records in 2006, charting with the single “I Love Women (My Momma Can’t Stand)”. After signing with Arista Nashville in 2010, Niemenn scored his first big hit with “Lover, Lover”. The single eventually went Platinum after peaking #1 on the Country charts, and #29 on the Pop charts. A followup single, “What Do You Want” went gold, peaking #4 on the Country charts and #52 on the Pop charts. Both songs were from his first major label album “Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury” that debuted at #1 on the Country charts, and went #7 on the Pop charts, eventually becoming a Platinum album. The album was also named one of The New York Times Top 10 Albums of the Year. In November 2010, Jerrod Niemann was nominated at The Country Music Association Awards under the category of “New Artist”. Other Neimann hits through the years include “One More Drinkin’ Song”, “Shinin’ On Me”, “Only God Could Love You More”, “Drink To That All Night”, “A Little More Love, and “God Made a Woman”. Jerrod not only writes songs for himself, but other artists as well. In 2001, he was contacted by Garth Brooks to collaborate. Niemann went on to co-write three singles for Brooks: “That Girl Is a Cowboy”, “Midnight Sun”, and “Good Ride Cowboy”, which earned Niemann a BMI award for being one of the most played Country songs of 2006. Other artists who have recorded Niemann’s work include Jamey Johnson, Lee Brice, Blake Shelton, Diamond Rio, The Cadillac Three, Mark Chesnutt, Neal McCoy, Christian Kane, and Julie Roberts. To date, Jerrod Niemann is still actively recording and releasing new music. His tours have taken him to appreciative audiences throughout the North American continent, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wendall Hall
Wendall Hall, St. George

Born in St. George, KS in 1896, Wendell Hall was also known as “The Red Haired Music Maker” and the “Pineapple Picador”. In 1923 his song “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’ “ sold an amazing two million copies. It was considered the first radio hit song ever. Hall played numerous instruments, but the ukelele was his favorite. He became an excellent player, even publishing his own ukelele instruction book. In 1924, he began hosting “The Eveready Hour”, and Eveready painted the tops of their batteries red in his honor. Among Hall’s guests on the show were Will Rogers, Carson Robison, Art Gillham, and the Waldorf Astoria Orchestra. That same year, Hall married Marion Martin, and the wedding ceremony was broadcast on the radio, likely the first broadcast wedding ceremony in radio history (this is probably where Hank Williams got the same idea decades later). In 1929, Hall hosted “The Majestic Music Hour”, and later “Gillettes Community Sing”. Wendell Hall made many recordings for Victor, Columbia, Brunswick and numerous other labels. He died in 1969.