This report on a special multi-genre musical show in Ohio comes from Artie Werner, manager and bass player with The Missy Werner Band.
Cincinnati Music Hall was a great place to be this past weekend, where artists of several genres joined together to present American Originals, a tribute to the music of Stephen Foster. The three day concert event was the vision of Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell and was held on January 23rd, 24th, and 25th.
As we prepared for the show, Russell furthered my education about Foster’s music, telling me: “American Originals celebrates the remarkable legacy of Stephen Foster as well as the music of 18th century America that created the foundation of our nation’s musical ethos. These are songs that define ‘classic.’ They have stood the test of time and are still sung in anthems, pop songs, and covers across the country and around the world, though often folks have no idea they were created by a man who only lived to 37 and died penniless in complete obscurity. Stephen Foster was baptized in the music of early America and his songs were born of the diversity of the musical experience he heard on the bustling docks of the Port of Cincinnati.”
Included on the bill were country music star and Grammy award winner Rosanne Cash, Grammy winning producer and performer Joe Henry, Cincinnati area based and world renowned performers Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over The Rhine, Aoife O’Donovan (currently touring solo, trio with Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins, and also a member of Crooked Still), “American Songster” Dom Flemons, formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops fame, and local bluegrass band, The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars. They were formed in 1996, and play every Sunday evening at The Comet, a club in the Cincinnati suburb of Northside, hence the name. Members are Ed Cunningham, Jeff Roberts, Harold Kennedy, Missy Werner (yes, of The Missy Werner Band), John Cole and Artie Werner. All tunes were performed with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra with John Morris Russell at the helm. Each artist performed three or four numbers either separately or as ensemble, while the Pops took on a couple of their own. Of the nineteen songs on the program, twelve were Foster classics.
Over 9,000 patrons attended the event. The show was produced and recorded live, with a compact disc to be released this fall.
It was a pleasure for me personally to meet and perform with these brilliant artists, songwriters, and musicians. One of my favorite numbers was the energetic grand finale presentation of Camptown Races, a composition which paired the performers in duets to sing different verses with four key changes, culminating with a final stanza and chorus by all, a dynamic mix of voices and music. It was also gratifying that a group of over 50 musicians and vocalists could pull it off with only three two-hour joint rehearsals. Congratulations to John Morris Russell and the Cincinnati Pops organization for creating this fantastic event. The banjo truly does sound great with an orchestra.