Kevin Costner rocks out in Leland

Published 9:13 am Thursday, January 29, 2009

LELAND, Iowa — Little Leland hit the big-time Wednesday afternoon, and it seemed like virtually every resident in the town of 250 was there to be a part of it.

They crammed themselves into the hayloft of a 95-year-old barn to see movie star Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West, perform a set of songs that included “Leland, Iowa.” And they loved every minute of it.

As did Costner and his band members, including songwriter John Coinman, whose wife’s family once called Leland home.

“It was emotional,” Coinman said with teary eyes, “because her family is just like my family. They mean a lot to me, and their roots are here. I just wanted to come here and play this song for everyone.”

But Modern West did much more than just play a song; in fact, the band played an almost full set of songs and entertained the crowd for almost an hour.

Costner, of course, was the highlight; after all, he’s acted in more than his share of blockbuster films, including “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” and “Dances with Wolves,” just to name a few.

Still, he spent much of his time between songs acting like one of Leland’s own, bantering with the crowd and joking with them that “this is the politest barn I’ve ever been in. … Usually, it’s ‘get that crap up here right away.’ ”

The band donated its performance to the people of Leland, and when Costner and his fellow musicians realized not everyone was going to fit into the hayloft of the barn owned by Jim Ambroson, they agreed to play a couple of songs at the town’s only eatery.

It was that genuineness that touched many of those who braved a frigid winter day in Iowa to stand in line to see a man who, only a few months ago, most didn’t even realize could sing.

“Right here in Leland, that’s a pretty neat thing,” said resident Wendy Ambroson. “I just liked the way he connected with us. It was like he was one of us, and how many big stars can do that?”

Costner’s band, which plays an up-tempo style of country music, is touring the Midwest and made its stop in Leland between appearances in Minneapolis and Des Moines.

A number of the songs it performed resonated with those in the crowd. Costner talked about his love for Iowa, where he made “Field of Dreams,” and said many of his experiences from that movie led to “When We Get Home to Iowa.” He also talked about the troubled economy as he introduced “The Sun Will Rise Again.”

“If you’re having a hard time right now,” he said, “this song is for you and know that there are people out there who care for you.”

But the band saved its most anticipated song — “Leland, Iowa” — for last.

While the song speaks to the struggles of many small rural towns like Leland — including a chorus line that goes “you can’t spend a dime in Leland, Iowa, cause every store in town’s run out of luck” — the town’s residents appreciated it.

“It’s reality in a lot of ways,” said Ambroson, the retired woodworker whose barn was the scene of the performance. “But I think the song also kind of captures what people are like here in Leland and I like that.”

And it’s those people that Costner said attracted him to Coinman’s song.

“They’re not just buildings. Those buildings, those streets are wrapped up in the lives of people, generations of people,” Costner said. “My desire to perform is wrapped up in the telling of stories, and the song ‘Leland’ is very much a story.”