Time to Rhumba Boogie: Mardi Gras in the Rogue Valley
Rhumba Boogie is more than a semantic mashup. It incorporates a unique syncopation on the piano with the left-hand while the right-hand plays the melody. A style made famous by Professor Longhair and Dr. John combining some calypso, a bit of mambo and a whole lot of rhumba. “Most people know Dixieland or the Neville Brothers,” says Doug Warner, Artistic Director at the Craterian Theater in Medford. But they may not know Lee Dorsey or even Irma Thomas who did “Time is on my side” before the Rolling Stones ever did. The upcoming Mardi Gras show celebrates New Orleans – an area fraught with adversity, but also an “incubating city for music.”
With only two performances, the Craterian concerts are surprisingly not off the cuff. Both are charted, well-rehearsed shows. “We let the music do all the work,” says Warner. Like an award-winning Jambalaya recipe, it helps to start with the best ingredients and then add a variety of seasonings to make it spicy! For Warner, the best ingredients are the incredible and talented musicians and singers that are in the Rogue Valley. He himself is a solo artist who makes a living on his music and with these tribute concerts, he offers other musicians the chance to make it here too. Whether retired or because of too few venues, singers and players often struggle to find something to do in the valley.
The concert-style action all started with a tribute to Bob Dylan that Warner put together for the Craterian. It was well-received by the audience, so Warner began doing three to four shows every year for the past five. Eric Strahl, Craterian Publicity and Rental Manager explains: “They put on this show that was spectacular! The audience doubled the next night.” That was the start of the Music Hall Program featuring shows that use multiple singers with a large band on stage. To pull this off requires a professional musical director, vocal director, full on-stage practice sessions, great tech people, staging and lighting. And Warner believes in letting the bands choose the songs with fifty percent coming from the artists’ selections.
Warner is knowledgeable about New Orleans music. In fact, did you know that a wire nailed to a barn and stretched tautly is called a “Diddly Bow,” and it is how Bo Didley got his name? Yet, the performances Warner puts together are not about educating the audience, but all about experiencing the music. Six singers, a piano player and guitar player will enthrall the audience with harmonies and danceable music. Each weekend performance starts at 7:30 pm, but ticket-holders can get there early for a beer tasting at 6:30 pm.
Strahl explains that since they have a Production Manager who is “kind of a beer guy,” having beer makers at the Craterian before the show with select special products is a fun add-on bonus. The Craterian Theater has always been a theater for the community Strahl explains. They do youth musical theater and focus on showcasing the talent in the area. The Music Hall program is an extension of this goal.
So, dress up and “Enjoy the music of The Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Fats Domino, The Meters, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Earl King, Clifton Chenier, Ernie K-Doe, James Booker, Slim Harpo, Buckwheat Zydeco and more.” The performers for this particular music hall program include: Don Harriss on keyboards, Bishop Mayfield—vocalist along with Jennifer Davis (Vocal Director) and Jade Chavis and Dirk Price on Guitars and vocals. On the drums is David Bolen. While, Greg Frederick plays Bass Guitar and Chris Pearson is on horns.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
7:30 pm, Friday, Feb. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 2
Craterian Theatre, 23 S. Central Avenue, Medford