Last Minute Folk at the Jayhawk is pleased to welcome singer/songwriter Lyal Strickland for his first visit to the Jayhawk Gallery stage.  We first heard Lyal a couple of years ago at a showcase at the Midwest Folk Alliance conference and were so impressed with his engaging personality, musical talent, and thoughtful lyrics that we knew we wanted to bring him to share with our Topeka audience.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students with ID. Refreshments at intermission will be provided by the UUFT Social Justice committee for free-will donation and proceeds go to social justice causes in the community. Shows begin at 7pm and doors open at 6:30pm.


The songs Lyal Strickland writes are like the world he lives in: A little tough sometimes, doggedly inspiring at others, but always absolutely real. “I’ve never understood all those country songs about backroading and partying all the time,” says the Missouri Ozarks songwriter. “That’s great, but I always wondered where they find time for that. Don’t you still have to work sometime?”

Strickland doubles as a working farmer so when he writes about surviving in modern-day America, he’s speaking from experience. He’s also been writing songs since high school, when he played assemblies and sold homemade CD’s for souvenirs. 2014’s Balanced on Barbed Wire was his sixth album, but the first to get national distribution and acclaim; winning raves like “Pure Americana, melodic and warm; lyrically thoughtful and full of feel” (Popdose) and music with “Universal resonance…rural grit and grace” (No Depression). Now comes Preservation, combining Strickland’s signature gritty singing and sharp observations with some of his most personal work to date. 

Most of the songs were written in a two-week burst of activity, and recorded with a small group of carefully selected musicians—a change from past albums, where he’d include “everybody I could think of, just because it was great to have them all on the record.” Aiming for a modern authenticity, he used a mix of vintage and contemporary equipment that gave ‘Preservation’ a warm and natural tone. “I didn’t want to polish things up too much. I wanted a sound that would be true to the lyrics.”

With full production, the more tender songs like “Pretty Good Core” sit comfortably alongside anthems like “Minimum Wage.” One major key to the sound is pedal steel legend Robby Turner, who’s played with Waylon Jennings, the Dixie Chicks, Sturgill Simpson, and can currently be found with Chris Stapleton. “We have some songs here that are soft and fragile and a couple that are pretty rambunctious, so we thought a lot about making it all sound cohesive. Robby made that happen,” Strickland says.

Strickland’s natural territory remains the real-life working world. In “The Hotel Maid” a couple deals with mounting tax bills—they take whatever low paying jobs are available despite having the education for a career. “Clyde and His Clippers” asks whether a beloved small-town business can survive the invasion of big-box stores, while “Minimum Wage” asks whether anyone can survive a paycheck that’s less than a living wage. As a proud 7th generation resident of Buffalo, MO, Strickland doesn’t have to look far to find material. “It can be an odd place, because we’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere. We’re about 30 minutes from Springfield, Missouri which is the third largest city in the state. So all those places are doing fine and we’re left a bit behind, which gives us a little bit of a chip on our shoulder—Like we’re going to hang in no matter what. You see people in the post office with the same determined look in their eye, like ‘We’re all going to stick this out together’.”

On ‘Preservation’ there are just as many songs about interpersonal relationships. Here again his characters are up against desperate circumstances, whether it’s a yearning to make things right after a divorce on “Gone For A Weekend”, or the turmoil of dealing with an alcoholic partner. The former a wrenched ballad with it’s push-pull between lyrics and pedal steel; the second a swaying, sad lullaby whose hero, although ever stumbling on the path towards a better future, remains optimistic. 

“Overall I’d say I was in more of a raw state this time around, and was open to writing about things that cut a little deeper.” That includes his grandmother’s struggles with dementia, a topic he deals with unflinchingly on “Her Way Back Home”—a song as much concerned with her resilience of spirit as the struggles to care for her. 

Two cover tunes make the list on ‘Preservation’. “Always Make the Mistake”, written by The Young Novelists’ Graydon James, is a country-folk heartbreaker with tender harmonies that reaches into the lesser talked about complications of a love triangle. The last track on ‘Preservation’, a cover of “It’ll Shine When It Shines” (the title track to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ 1974 sophomore album) is both a fitting conclusion and a nod to Strickland’s musical roots. His friendship with that band goes back to 2009, when cofounder Larry Lee helped produce Strickland’s first full production album; but his love for the Daredevils goes back much further. “What could be more Ozarks than the Dares? I’ve always loved that song. When you listen to their version, it’s really more laid-back and introspective. But when I’ve played it live over the years, with everybody singing along, it got more rip-roaring. I thought it’d be great to capture that side of it. It ties in with the rest of the songs; the sense that sometimes you just have to let things happen and see how it goes.”

In months to come Strickland will be temporarily leaving his farming duties to spend more time on the road. But he says those two pursuits aren’t that different; you have to give them both all the passion you’ve got. “Whether it’s farming or music, I feel that if you’re not putting in the time and the work, you’re just playing at it. I hate getting offstage and feeling like I didn’t sweat a drop. It should feel like you left something behind after you’ve sung your songs; like you’ve worked through a part of it.”


Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students with ID. Refreshments at intermission will be provided by the UUFT Social Justice committee for free-will donation and proceeds go to social justice causes in the community. Shows begin at 7pm and doors open at 6:30pm.

Still on the Hill is a national and international touring group from Arkansas that has been described as “Ambassadors of the Ozarks” for the work they do to preserve a rich culture that is quickly disappearing.

Kelly & Donna of Still on the Hill are award winning ‘story telling-song writers’.  Different than most singer-songwriters, this dynamic duo embellishes their songs with a host of unique instruments from the hills they call home. Many of these were hand-made by old-timers and have amazing stories that go with them.

KELLY MULHOLLAN is a fifth generation native Arkansan who is a classically trained guitarist. At six years old he cut his teeth, playing ukulele and listening to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. As a teen he embraced the progressive rock bands like Genesis and Yes and perfected that complex style of music. Now when he plays the guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, ukulele or upright bass…you can hear all those influences- along with his strong Ozark roots- coming through to create a sound that is unique to Still on the Hill. Kelly’s masterful songwriting dips into the deep well of history, and his love for the Ozarks is alive in every word and note that he plays.

DONNA MULHOLLAN learned the fiddle in the kitchen with her dad, who played the guitar and sang old Hank Williams and Bob Wills songs.  For 35 years she toured the country playing with various country-western bands and even did a stint with a large Las Vegas show.  At 18 she had met an old fiddle maker named Denton Boze who lived in a tarpaper shack in the Arkansas backwoods. His story haunted her for years and in her late 30’s she wrote her first song about him, opening a floodgate of songs, many about people and places in the Ozarks. Her instrumental palette includes; several one of a kind Ozark-made fiddles, mandolin, musical saw, scrub-board, ukelin, guitar, mule-jawbone and Ozark pickin’ bow.

Still on the Hill has proved itself a favorite at many prestigious festivals and venues here and abroad, including the Kerrville Folk Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, The Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kansas and countless others. Their own region, the Ozarks, has voted them the “Best Folk Band” for several years running, and the mayor of their town, Fayetteville, Arkansas, proclaimed Dec. 20th Still on the Hill Day for all the work the duo does in community service. They have produced eight widely acclaimed CD’s and nine years ago they signed with Swiss record label Brambus Records for the European release of their CD “Chaos & Calm”.  In 2010 they produced their ‘Ozark Project’ which created waves across the region that are still resonating today and also garnered them the coveted Governors Folk Life Award for their effort to preserve Arkansas Traditions.

In 2015 they completed ONCE A RIVER, a year-long journey to write and record songs about the history of the Beaver Lake Watershed and the White River to promote good stewardship of this precious resource. The project included over 35 FREE concerts in the watershed and the duo gave away 1,000 Once A River CD’s. Now they are working on a follow up project using the same template but this time it’s about the Buffalo River, our nation’s FIRST historic river and the only major river in the south allowed to flow free and un-dammed. This CD is called STILL A RIVER and was released in spring of 2016.

“These musicians have grafted the wild climbing vines of bluegrass, folk, classical and mountain music onto the hardiest of Ozark rootstock. The result is a yet-to-be-named hybrid music that simply compels people to stop and listen, to pause in their hectic lives and pay attention to something they’ve never heard before. It’s magic, and there’s simply not enough magic in the world today.” — Julie Koehler, Bluegrass Now Magazine

“The creativity and originality of these two blows through the stale air of singer-songwriters like a gale of genius.” — Rich Warren, SING OUT! Magazine