by Houston Robertson
It is almost time for Rogue Festival again–it will be taking place March 6-14 in the Tower District of Fresno. Throughout the month of February we will be publishing many Rogue Festival performer preview articles, and this the second one so far. This year we have added a special category where you will be able to find all of our Rogue Festival articles. During Rogue we will be reviewing shows as usual, and we also have a Rogue Festival event page with more information!
Here are three Rogue Festival Shows that all involve music! The Excursions, Songs & Stories, and Spencer/Morris
The Excursions Return to Rogue 2020!
By Woody Moise, Jeff Single, and The Excursions
Heads up, Roguies, and head out to hear The Excursions’ new show. The Rogue veteran band returns with their tribute to “one hit wonders.” All those songs that were very popular but were the only big success for their performer. And there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye (or ear)!
The Excursions have performed acoustic and electric Rogue shows of original compositions, re-arranged covers, and mashups (a crowd-pleasing mix of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” stands out). This show promises to be even more engaging and fun. Vocalist Mindy Sullivan, who has performed with the band before, is planning on joining for some shows.
Woody Moise says, “It was Mike Brown’s idea, and we all like it a lot. Something different, and something we could sink our teeth into. It’s been fascinating to explore the artistic and social milieu of these songs. They are windows into the styles and spirit of the times from which they emerged. I think of this project as paying homage to the composers, artists, and producers who put these songs, many of which are gems and really fun to play, on the charts.”
“We hope everyone will have some memory jolted, and something to talk about,” said Marc Wise. “It’s been an interesting and challenging project. We’ve had to stretch out as a band to work with the incredible diversity of material.”
The band is planning forty-five minute shows which showcase some notable and forgettable one hit wonders (OHW). “It’s so interesting to learn so much about the songs and the artists. It’s been so much fun. We hope the audience shares our excitement.” (Lizabeth Laury).
“The premise of the show is that we will select some examples of OHWs from anywhere from 1950s to 2000s, perform them, and provide some info on what the artists are doing now, or other significant tidbits,” said Jeff Single. “Don’t expect costumes but do expect a good time with the band as we explore this music.” The band says that there is so much potential material that they will be making “hard and sorrowful” decisions about what to play and not play at each show.
“In a sense, the question for us and the Rogue audience is “What Makes a One-Hit-Wonder?” We don’t yet know the answer or answers to this, but by immersing ourselves and our listeners in these songs, we may gain some insight on the way, and learn something new, as the Excursions have found by playing and thinking about our playlist for this Rogue Festival 2020.” (Woody Moise)
Willie Barrera adds, “There are themes across the songs, of culture and musical styles, which really make it coherent, and more thoughtful than just a random selection of songs.” Willie is also responsible for creating the really cool graphic of the band, which you can see on the Rogue website. It’s loosely based on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an antithesis of the Beatles to One Hit Wonders. The background includes images of some of the artists whose songs you might hear at the show. [How many can you identify?]
“We can’t do them all,” says Mike Brown, “but we’re putting together some shows that will be lively, interesting, and we’ll be playing good music. We want the audience to enjoy it as much as we do.”
The Excursions are a Fresno-based band, emphasizing multi-instrumental interplay and vocal harmonies. They play original material and interesting arrangements of cover tunes. The material ranges across genres, from rock, reggae, blues, to folk and Americana, and they band performs both electric and acoustic. The Excursions play local venues, charity events, and private parties, and can play anything from a stadium or ballroom to a backyard. Follow them on Facebook and TheExcursionsBand.com, or they can be reached through Jeff Single, (559-999-6716 or jrs7657@yahoo[dot]com) or Woody Moise, 831-707-4480.
Friday March 6 – 5:30 p.m.
Saturday March 7 – 4:15 p.m.
Friday March 13 – 7:15 p.m.
Sunday March 14 – 1:45 p.m.
Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen
1279 N. Wishon Street (1 block N. of the Tower Theater)
$5 plus Rogue Festival wristband, through roguefestival.ticketleap.com.
Songs & Stories
by Amelia Ryan
I am delighted to be returning to the Rogue Festival this year with revised versions of my shows from last year. Twice before at the Rogue, I put on State Your Name for the Record, about court reporting and the justice system, but last year I tried something entirely different.
I’ve been involved in theater and music forever. These musical sets give me a chance to revisit the music that means so much to me.
One set is entirely Irish music – for one night only.
I’ve been singing Irish songs all my life. Kathryn Johnsen of Pipe on the Hob will accompany me on Celtic harp. We have a good mix of art songs, ballads in English and Irish (Gaelic), and sing-along songs. Some other Irish musicians may join us for a tune or two.
This set will be just before St. Patrick’s Day, so come and celebrate! You can go out after the show for a pint. (I know I will.) For more info on local Irish music, check out the Irish Music in Fresno page on Facebook.
A Musical Life, Part 1, plays on 3/7 & 3/12.
Last year, I performed Songs to Live By in three sets, but this year I’ve trimmed them to two and call it A Musical Life. My accompanist is Terry Lewis, well-known locally as an actor, singer, and pianist – lucky me! I’m an interpreter, not a songwriter, but through the songs I’ve selected, I kind of tell my story.
A Musical Life, Part 1, begins with songs I learned from my mother, a wonderful singer who would burst into song at any moment. Then I sing songs I discovered on my own, from musical theater to Joni Mitchell.
My teens and twenties were turbulent, including a traumatic time in New York. Now that we’re in the #MeToo era, I finally talked about that publicly in the show last year. It was difficult, but I was moved by the response. I also had some wonderful experiences as a performer in those years, and Part 1 ends on an upbeat note. (That’s my intention, anyway!)
A Musical Life, Part 2, plays on 3/8 & 3/14.
Part 2 picks up where Part 1 leaves off. I didn’t want to go back to NYC, but in DC I performed in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater – a little-known gem – at Arena Stage, at Ford’s Theatre, New Playwright’s Theater, and at the White House. I got to indulge my funny side as well as sing.
At thirty, I went off to Germany to pursue a career in opera. I got married, had two children, and kept on singing. We eventually moved to Fresno, and since then I’ve sung some music that has a special place in my heart.
I’ve tried to mix in comedy with the more serious bits and balance unfamiliar songs with more familiar ones. It worked well last year, and I think it will be even better this year.
Amelia Ryan is familiar to local audiences from her roles as Fräulein Schneider in Cabaret at Selma Arts Center, with Second Space (The Heiress, The Glass Menagerie, The Grapes of Wrath, etc.), and StageWorks Fresno (Mothers and Sons, A Little Night Music, The Light in the Piazza), as well as others.
She will be taking over the role of Mrs. Graves (played for the first half of the run by Elizabeth Fiester) in Enchanted April at Second Space on 3/26, running through 4/19, and will then continue at Second Space as Scottie Ward in This Random World 4/24 – 6/14.
WHAT: Songs & Stories
WHO: Amelia Ryan
WHERE: ViSTA Theater 1296 N. Wishon Ave. Fresno, CA 93728
WHEN: 3/7 – 6:30 – Part 1
3/8 – 5 p.m. – Part 2
3/12 – 7 p.m. – Part 1
3/13 – 8:30 p.m. – Irish Songs
3/14 – 2 p.m. – Part 2
The Spencer Morris Group/ A History From 1970 to 2020
Although they didn’t know each other at the time, Randy Morris and David Spencer both attended Fresno High School and knew a lot of the same people. Randy was a member of all bands and orchestras, appearing at assemblies, talent shows, and football game halftime shows. David was more involved in art and was constantly drawing in sketchbooks, quickly becoming staff artist for the Fresno High Owlet after selling freelance cartoons to a teenage magazine called Datebook. In the afternoons, he pursued his secret dream of playing guitar and singing his own songs, influenced by Bob Dylan and Donovan, amongst others.
David and Randy both attended Fresno City College and earned their AA degrees there. Randy continued playing in community bands along with numerous other activities of a well rounded person, while David attempted to become a more outgoing personality by taking part in theater. In his two years at City College he appeared as as actor in Shakespeare, Sartre, Ionesco, and Pirandello plays, found he could actually talk to a crowd, but in the end decided that he wasn’t that passionate about a life of theater. David and Randy still didn’t know each other, but Tom B. was their mutual friend, and Randy had his bike “borrowed without permission,” by a friend of David’s. Also, they both, at separate times, jammed with a blues piano player named Doug, who kept a pet boa constrictor in his room near city college.
Randy spends the next few years in San Jose, attending San Jose State. He starts as a music major then ends up following the path to a career in teaching, while continuing his band endeavors. David goes to Fresno State, passes through the art department with side trips into Gene Bluestien’s folklore class, and lucking into Phil Levine’s poetry class. A club opens in town called the Wild Blue Yonder, and he starts hanging out there. Soon he is climbing up on open stages and the world that leads to.
Randy returns to Fresno, goes straight into a teaching career, while David spends his twenties in and out of various seasonal positions, always playing guitar and mandolin, and singing with a local group called the Mojo Symphony, while Randy plays in every community band of a wide radius. Nearing the age of thirty David decides it would be a good idea to start a teaching career.
So now, David and Randy are both fifth-grade teachers from different schools. They run into each other at a grade-level training, and Randy asks David, “Didn’t you go to Fresno High?,” and from this grows a deep friendship and a musical compatibility, explored on coffee shop stages, over public radio airwaves, at Art Works in Hanford, private parties, and many varied events featuring entertainment. By the year of 2004, they discover the Rogue Festival in the Tower District of Fresno California, and have been playing it ever since.
The Present Time
Both are retired from full-time teaching and still following the same bliss. Randy is a popular DJ on college radio and continues to be a pillar for the local jazz community, while David follows the Miles Davis formula of music in the morning and evenings and art (landscape painting) in the afternoons.
David still finds himself waking with songs coming from his life both past and present. He wonders what makes artistic creation resonate. He thinks of the frustration of trying to dry your hands with just a restroom blower. He thinks of the bigger political situation but with humor that is needed to swallow it all. There are also the human stories of the friends who experimented with shoplifting, while another suffers from unfulfilled potential. Ending with the embracing of the role of “local musician,” another Rogue show is born to be presented at the Tower District Rogue Festival for this magical year of 2020 (when our vision will be made clear).
The Spencer/ Morris Group
Appearing at Veni Vedi Vici in the Tower, Friday, March 6, 8 p.m., Saturday, March 7, 4:15 p.m., Sunday March 8, 3 p.m., and Saturday, March 14, 4:15 p.m.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean. Amelia Ryan has performed in one of the podcast episodes.
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.