Kirk Rundstrom in a photo from Split Lip Rayfield's West Coast Tour in 2005.

Kirk Rundstrom in a photo from Split Lip Rayfield's West Coast Tour in 2005.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kansas musician and icon Kirk Rundstrom will no longer take the stage, playing for the fans he loved so much. After battling cancer for more than a year, Rundstrom died today at 4:45 a.m. in Wichita. He was 38.

Until the end, Rundstrom dedicated himself tirelessly to his music-recording for his solo project and touring with several bands, including the widely adored hillbilly hardcore band, Split Lip Rayfield. Last weekend, he and his wife, Lisa, were north of New York City at Bicoastal Music, mixing his soon-to-be-released solo album with Colin Mahoney when he fell ill and was hospitalized.

Friends and family joined him in New York, but he was determined to get back home to Wichita, said his friend and manager of Split Lip, Amanda Haase. He made it back to Wichita Monday evening and died Thursday morning in his home. He is survived by his wife Lisa, daughters Ellie and Mollie, father Bernerd, and puppy Amelia.

Donations for the family are being accepted through A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at the Orpheum Theatre.

Rundstrom learned he had esophageal cancer just over a year ago. Although he was without health insurance, an outpouring of dozens of benefits organized by musicians, artists and fans was immediate and prolonged.

He underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation, and then surgery to remove the tumor in June. It was then that doctors told him the cancer had spread too far and was inoperable-they said he had two to six months to live.

Rather than continue with the conventional treatments, Rundstrom sought relief from his symptoms with alternative treaments including acupuncture, Vitamin C therapy and-perhaps most importantly-music.

In August, Split Lip-reunited with former mandolinist Wayne Gottstine-played five Kansas shows, followed by a national tour with Rundstrom often traveling by plane. Despite being billed as a "farewell tour," Rundstrom would eventually play dozens more shows, continuing to give impossibly energized performances to the end. His last performance in Kansas was Dec. 29 at The Bottleneck, defying the doctors' prognosis more than a hundred percent.

Audio clips

Split Lip Rayfield Farewell Tour

With his death, a rare breed was lost-a champion of the working class, a big dreamer and hard worker who lived to do what he loved most: play music. Though he's gone, his presence will continue to be felt for many years to come.

A Kansas boy born and bred, Rundstrom grew up in the small town of Canton before moving to Wichita at age 16. Though he at one time aspired to the bright lights of Los Angeles, he inevitably moved back to Kansas, "where people were real"-where he could find the sincerity and honesty that he'd grown to love.

All they got

Before the creation of the infamous bluegrass-punk-country hybrid that was Split Lip Rayfield, Rundstrom worked in a number of musical projects, including Technicolor Headrush, Red Lizard, Winking Spaniard, and Scroat Belly. The latter reunited in 2006 to play to grateful friends and fans (view gallery or slideshow of last show at the Bottleneck). A faithful supporter of local music, Rundstrom was a frequent collaborator, perhaps most famously when he teamed up with Truckstop Honeymoon's Mike West for the Grizzly album, Everything But the Smile.

Though Split Lip brought Rundstrom the majority of his exposure, he was also widely successful with his prog-rock band, Grain and Demise, and his solo project, the Kirk Rundstrom Band, whose fourth studio album was slated to be released at a March 24 show at the Jackpot. From the number of bands his guitar was strung through, to the variety of genres they represented, the scope of Rundstrom's talent and dedication remains apparent. Rundstrom often brushed off easy categorization of any of the bands he was in, simply saying that he just loved playing music. This was a man who lived to play, and it was hard to keep him off stage.

"Redneck Tailgate Dream," Split Lip Rayfield live on Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Festival. Recorded by Phil Cauthon.

Beyond being an inspiration simply to watch on stage-knees bouncing in time and those fierce blue eyes fixed on some elusive prize-he was also a great help to countless friends and fellow musicians. Rundstrom was the tireless champion, giving them the encouragement and support they needed to succeed in the music industry.

Above all, Rundstrom was a man with a fervent love for life, one that permeated his entire being, even crippling the cancer that poisoned him. As he played on stage, it was written all over his body: this is what he was meant to do. From the exhilaration in his eyes (never without a hint of mischief), to his wide, childlike grin, to the tips of his tiptoes, you could feel the energy radiating from him. And it did more than just warm your face as you watched from a distance-it rushed into you as well, filling you with an overwhelming love for music and appreciation for the man sharing it.

Kirk Rundstrom lived life to its fullest, something that many only dream of. With his music, he touched the lives of a countless number of people, all across the world, and will continue to do so for ages to come. He never failed to see the good-even in the darkest of situations-and for that, he is an inspiration to us all. Kirk, rest well. You will be missed.

-Phil Cauthon contributed to this story

¢ Video: SLR on the Turnpike, 0ct. 5, 2006
¢ Video: SLR on the Turnpike, June 26, 2003
¢ Photogallery: Scroat Belly, Feb. 3 at the Bottleneck, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR, Stage 7 at the Walnut Valley Festival, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at Davey's Uptown, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Bottleneck, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Aug. 21, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Bottleneck, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Aug, 18 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Cotillion, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at Liberty Hall, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Dec. 1, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ MP3: "Sunshine," from SLR on stage 7 in Winfield, Sept. 16, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton,audio clip
¢ MP3: "Wicked Savior," from Scroat Belly at the Bottleneck, Feb. 3, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, audio clip
¢ MP3: "Blowin' up the White House," from Scroat Belly at the Bottleneck, Feb. 3, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, audio clip
¢ Video: "San Antone," from Split Lip Rayfield at the Bottleneck on Aug. 18, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, video clip
¢ Video: "Outlaw," from Split Lip Rayfield at Liberty Hall on Dec. 1, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, video clip
¢ Photogallery: Reader submitted photos of Rundstrom, gallery

¢ Music, stories and more available on our band listings for Kirk Rundstrom and Split Lip Rayfield.

Note: Updates on the scheduled release of the last album by the Kirk Rundstrom band will be made here. We will continue to update this tribute as more contributions are received. Please feel free to post your own tribute in the space below. If you have photos, recordings or other multimedia you'd like us to post, contact us via email.


Rundstrom bids an overflow crowd farewell at Split Lip Rayfield's last show on Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Festival, 2006.