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St. John musician celebrates small towns
Free concert Saturday
new slt ratts band BEST
The band Runaway Express with St. John native Jim Ratts will present a free concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, at the St. John High School Auditorium. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

ST. JOHN — “Small Towns,” a CD 20 years in the making, will become available officially when Jim Ratts returns to St. John this weekend with his band Runaway Express, in association with St. John High School’s 2018 Alumni Banquet. The band will perform two sets starting at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 26, in the high school auditorium.
The show, featuring a six-piece Denver ensemble, will be free to the public, Ratts said. Donations will be accepted for travel expenses.

The reunion
“Alice Lockridge got the idea for a ‘Small Town-Big Fun’ theme for the St. John Alumni Banquet after hearing an early version of our ‘Small Towns’ record,” Ratts said. “We were invited to play a short performance for the banquet, but as things developed, she suggested we take the show out of the cafeteria and put it on the stage of the high school auditorium (I last performed there in fourth grade). Because of the perfect venue, I got busy enlisting band members to really fill that stage.
“I realized a great opportunity to generate some interest in our new project was to pre-release it in a small town, and my hometown for the first 10 years of my life seemed the ideal location. My Dad (Loyd Ratts) still savors life on our old Stafford County homestead at 103.”

“Small Towns”
“Small Towns” features songs by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, John Fogerty, Guy Clark and Randy Newman.
“The only original composition I included was ‘Kansas Skies,’ a sentimental reflection of growing up a Stafford County farm boy,” Ratts said. “We’ve recently released an animated video of ‘Kansas Skies’ on Youtube.” It can be seen at
“Kenny Chesney wrote the pivotal chorus for my project, and it’s featured at the beginning and the end of the record: ‘Where everyone knows everyone, there ain’t no secrets around here son. Either you love me or hate me for everything I am. Either I hold your heart, or I hold you down, I’m a small town.’”
Other songs examine what it is that keeps people in a small town. Sammy Kershaw’s “Metropolis,” at the end of the CD, makes the song cycle complete. It’s about a “small town boy who just had to get out of town, only to return home with a wife and a child that he wants to watch grow up in a small town,” Ratts said.

Favorite songs
The idea of an album dedicated to small towns started with musicians singing around a campfire.
“I met Iris Dement at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1992. She was just another of those singers trading songs around the campfire in the middle of the night at this curious and amazing gathering in the Texas Hill Country,” Ratts said. “Kerrville is like Winfield — The Walnut Valley Festival — with more emphasis on original compositions. I got ‘Our Town’ from her that night and knew that an entire concept album centered around that song must eventually take shape. It was only last week I realized that another song on the album called ‘Early,’ the perfect salute to small-town serenity, was written by Iris Dement’s husband of 15 years, Greg Brown. If these two songs are at the top of my favorites list, also in that category is ‘This Old Town’ by Janis Ian, which I can’t sing without thinking about Greensburg, Kansas, and the town’s courageous rise from the ruins of that devastating tornado in May 2007. My dad lost a pivot irrigation unit to that same storm as it made its way toward Ellinwood.”

Two decades in the making
“We began recording ‘Small Towns’ 20 years ago, and continued to develop it while releasing other projects, including ‘Yeah Buddy!’ (Buddy Holly songs with bluegrass overtones), ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Howlin’ At The Moon,’ among others. Since I operate my own recording studio I can afford to be prolific.
“Different versions of ‘Small Towns’ have been available since 2015, and as the initial folk/acoustic arrangements became more orchestrated, this simple record seemed to take on a life of its own with cinematic intent. As we approach our September 2018 release date, I decided it was time to remove ‘not for sale’ from the artwork. The ‘Memorial Day Edition’ will be available for sale this weekend,” he said.
“Small Towns” will be their 18th release since Jim and his wife Salli began performing together in 1980.
More information about both Jim and Salli and their band Runaway Express is available at