Mountain Stage and Julian Sands at Mary B. Martin
March 29, 2017April at Mary B. Martin School of the Arts begins with a stage chockfull of instruments, microphones, monitors, an emcee and diverse music of five bands. The month winds down with the Martha Street Culp Auditorium stage dark, inhabited by one lone spotlight and one lone man, embodying the spirit of a Nobel-prize winning poet, playwright, activist and lover.
On Sunday, April 2, at 7 p.m., Mountain Stage with Larry Groce returns to East Tennessee State University with a diverse lineup of fan-favorites – Band of Ruhks, featuring Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith; the award-winning Claire Lynch Band; the playful and jazzy Bumper Jacksons; folk storyteller and songwriter Otis Gibbs; and the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band.
Bluegrass household names Bowman, Rigsby and Smith performed together in the 1990s in The Lonesome River Band, embarked on personal musical journeys, then reunited as the Rambling Rooks and finally, Band of Ruhks in 2014 and '15. Their new sound is a hybrid of Americana, bluegrass, country and even a bit of pop, creating what Bluegrass Unlimited terms, "a fine example of 21st-century bluegrass."
Lynch, singer and songwriter, led the Front Porch String Band starting in the mid-1970s and worked as a session vocalist, before she formed her own Claire Lynch Band in 2005. She was named the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1997, and Dolly Parton credits Lynch with "one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today."
Lynch's band includes two-time IBMA-winning bassist/claw-hammer banjo player/percussionist Mark Schatz, mandolinist/guitarist Jarrod Walker and young string wizard Bryan McDowell.
Bringing a more eclectic tone to the April 2 bill is Bumper Jacksons, an established sextet that folds together early styles of jazz, blues and country swing with rich threads of Americana. Florida native Jess Eliot Myhre teamed with fellow song-crafter Chris Ousley are the core of the group, which has won Artist of the Year and Best Folk Band honors at the Washington Area Music Awards.
Adding another shade of Americana is Otis Gibbs, who hosts Country Built on Pandora and a podcast called Thanks for Giving a Damn. Gibbs calls himself "a songwriter, storyteller, painter, photographer and planter of 7,176 trees ... simply ... a folk singer."
Rounding out the April 2 program is the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band, composed of program director Daniel Boner and award-winning student performers with many years of musical experience. The group has performed abroad, as well as at the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival and the Kennedy Center.
Tickets in advance for Mountain Stage with Larry Groce are $10 for students of all ages with ID, $25 for seniors 60-plus, and $30 for general admission. At the door, tickets will be $35 general, $30 senior 60+ and $10 students. Group rates are available.
The month draws to a close with a tribute to the poetry – romantic, personal and political – of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, performed by protégé Julian Sands. Based on his own conversations with an ailing Pinter and the directorial assistance of John Malkovich, Sands performs his one-man show "A Celebration of Harold Pinter" Friday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. in ETSU's Culp Auditorium.
Sands originally performed a collection of poems in 2005 as a favor to Pinter who was not strong enough for the reading. Sands and Malkovich have since intermingled the poetry with commentary from colleagues and critics, observations by the playwright's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, and the occasional anecdote of Sands' own.
Sands – known for his more than 100 films including "A Room With A View," "Oceans 13" and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and TV roles in "24," "Dexter," "Smallville" and "Ghost Whisperer" – says his interest in Pinter goes back to his high school days when he studied "The Birthday Party." Later, he starred in "Basements," a TV adaptation of two Pinter plays "The Room" and "The Dumb Waiter."
"Harold Pinter had been a sort of hero of mine even as a young student," Sands says in a TV interview. "I had always taken any opportunity to be in his plays ... [then] I had this extraordinary privilege of sessions with this maestro – the only actor he ever worked with on his poetry.
"It was so personal and intimate and so revealing of the romantic side of his life, the joy, the love, the humanity. Repeated after he died as a memorial tribute ... I have been on the road with it ever since."
The New York Times found it not only amusing but also haunting. "When [Sands] reads Pinter's poems, as well as the odd prose piece, you feel the playwright's presence," writes reviewer Ben Brantley. "Or should I say Presence, with a capital P?"
Tickets for "A Celebration" are $5 for students of all ages with ID, $15 for seniors 60-plus, and $20 for general admission. Group rates are available.
Joining the tribute to Pinter, ETSU's division of theatre and dance is performing a staged reading of "Other Places – 3 Plays by Harold Pinter" Thursday, April 20, 7:30 p.m. in Studio 205, Campus Center Building.
"In addition to our two "stage' shows," says Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis, "we also are featuring a film about an all-female Middle Eastern street racing team and presenting a world-class visual artist and printmaker whose subject matter often comes from his dreams. Our April events are about as diverse as it gets."
To purchase tickets online or for information about ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and its events, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-8587.