For its 2019-20 season, the Tower Theatre Foundation — the nonprofit that runs the historic Tower Theatre in downtown Bend — has so much variety on tap, its staff isn’t drumming up themes or slogans to describe the pending presentations. There’s simply too much going on. (We’re no marketers, but maybe “There’s too much going on at the Tower!” could be the slogan.)
In fact, said Ray Solley, executive director of the Tower Theatre Foundation, “We have so many shows, and we’re busy in the building about 220 days a year, that there are too many shows to put into one season launch, or into one season brochure.” Given the length of the Tower Theatre’s typical season (September through June) it will be rolled out in phases.
The first part of the season is on sale, and the second half of the season will come online in November.
“Not only is there so much that we want to make sure people have time to look at and have time to digest, but (also) because at some point a laundry list of 20, 30 shows gets overwhelming,” he said.
Solley notes that as performers rely more on frequently touring, building a little more flexibility in the back half of the season benefits venues such as the Tower.
“They’re making more of their revenue through public appearances because they don’t have a big record deal, or they’re not making money, really, off of streaming, or off of digital sales,” he explained. Because touring has become “one of the lifebloods of performers at all levels, agents now, in June and July, are calling now trying to lock in (spring dates).”
Take me to the Tower
On Oct. 15, the Tower will screen “Take Me to the River — Memphis,” a 2014 documentary about Stax Records, Memphis and Mississippi Delta artists passing music and memories on to the next generation. It’s followed a week later, on Oct. 22, by “Take Me to the River — New Orleans LIVE!” with three generations of New Orleans musicians performing live on the Tower stage, including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan and Ian Neville of Dumpstaphunk, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and others. In between the screening and the concert, enjoy “Take Me to the Deschutes River,” featuring an Oct. 20 paddle to La Pine State Park for an outdoor show by three local bands.
The rest of what’s on tap is a lot to digest, but here’s trying:
A partial (laundry) list
Sept. 13-21 — “Mamma Mia!” The musical inspired by the tunes of Abba, is set to take the stage Sept. 13-21. (Related event: The disco-flavored “Boogie Wonderland” on June 28 and 29 will feature local musical theater talent taking on songs such as “Lady Marmalade,” “Last Dance,” “Take a Chance,” “Dancing Queen” and more. ($32 and up)
Oct. 1 — Bettye LaVette, a Motown legend of whom Keith Richards has said, “When you hear her voice, there’s a certain freedom of movement and emotion that is rare. How did Bettye LaVette slip through the net for so long?” (Tickets start at $22).
Oct. 2 — We Banjo 3. The two pairs of brothers from Galway, Ireland, play a blend of bluegrass, traditional Irish and other influences the group calls “Celtgrass.” ($27 and up)
Oct. 8 — Keb’ Mo’. The Grammy-winning blues artist returns. ($42 and up)
Oct. 9 — Jake Shimabukuro. Guitar Player Magazine has called the prodigiously talented ukulele star the “Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele.” ($37 and up)
Nov. 6 — Tom Paxton. This pillar of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s will be joined by The DonJuans, a Grammy winning duo consisting of Don Henry and Jon Vezner. ($32 and up)
Nov. 10 — Keller Wiliams “Pettygrass” with The HillBenders. Known for his one-man band and loop wizardry, Williams will do a solo set, after which The HillBenders will join him to put a bluegrass twist on Tom Petty songs such as “Free Fallin’,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and more. ($32 and up)
Nov. 21 — The Spinners. The Detroit soul group, featuring original member Henry Fambrough, that spawned 18 Top 40 singles in the 1970s. ($47 and up)
Dec. 4 — Mark O’Connor’s “Appalachian Christmas” — Traditional mountain and bluegrass carols from O’Connor and his family on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. ($37 and up)
Dec. 10-11 — “Sister’s Christmas Catechism.” From the author of “Late Nite Catechism” comes this sort-of “CSI: Bethlehem” inquiry into what became of the Wise Men’s gold, re-creating the nativity as only a nun in the know can do. ($27 and up)
Dec. 27 — Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience. The longest-running live celebration of the King of Pop brings to life every incarnation of Jackson in a re-creation replete with his trademark dance moves and a five-piece band. ($37 and up)
Dec. 29 — Meow Meow. If holidays leave you in need of laughs, this subversive comedienne will bring orchestrated chaos via a holiday cabaret for mature audiences. Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini has said, “I’m totally blown away by Meow Meow. … It’s the most amazing night you’ll ever experience.” ($22 and up, VIP tables $57)
Jan. 11 — “Clarence Darrow.” In this Broadway drama by award-winning writer David Rintels, actor James O’Neil reveals the humor and eloquence of a Darrow, a lawyer best known for his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial. ($17 and up)
Jan. 17 — Martha Redbone’s “Bone Hill.” In this original musical theater work, the songstress weaves a tale of four generations of Cherokee women and their home in Harlan County, Kentucky. ($27 and up)
The Tower Theatre spent its early years as a movie theater, and those roots have never been completely overlooked. Along with “Take Me to the River — Memphis,” you can check out additional cinematic events such as the 1922 film “Nosferatu,” with live musical accompaniment from the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, a 13-piece Maryland group (Oct. 28). Cohen brothers comedy “The Big Lebowski” will screen Nov. 16, followed by a series of mood-setting Christmas classics such as “A Christmas Story” and “Elf” on Fridays (Nov. 22-Dec. 13).
In the Wings
Solley describes season offerings farther ahead as waiting in the wings. A few things to keep an eye out for: “We Shall Overcome,” music inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. (March 12); “Hands Up/Cop Out,” new perspectives on race from Portland’s August Wilson Project (March 13); Irish Rambling House, with jigs, tales and more from the Celtic community (March 16); Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass, with Bend Children’s Choir and violinist Isabelle Senger (April 24); Villalobos Brothers, violin virtuosos from Veracruz, Mexico perform on Cinco de Mayo (May 5).
Further details on the back half of the season are to come in the fall; keep your eyes peeled to these pages.
You can buy tickets and learn more info about the season, membership options and more, at towertheatre.org.