The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and Conductor John Morris Russell bring together an all-star cast representing the best of today’s American folk and roots music scene for “American Originals” at Cincinnati’s Music Hall Friday and Saturday, January 23-24 (8 p.m.) and Sunday, January 25 (2 p.m.). The concert program re-imagines the music of Stephen Foster, the 19th century songwriter who wrote the first pages of the American Songbook, with songs like “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Aura Lee,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
“These are songs that define ‘classic,’” said Mr. Russell. “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.” Tickets for these performances start at $25 and can be purchased via the Pops Box office by calling (513) 381-3300 or visiting www.cincinnatipops.org.
Leading the cast is Rosanne Cash, whose decades-long career has helped define American music. Her latest album, The River and The Thread, is nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best Americana Album and is being called “The best of her career” (USA Today). “I think Stephen Foster is an enormously important figure in the canon of American music. ‘Hard Times’ alone is worth a whole genre!” said Ms. Cash. “I think I draw inspiration from Foster in a very long and slightly convoluted line, but tracing things back to him makes sense to me.”
Also on the concert is American singer-songwriter Joe Henry, a critic’s darling also known for producing Grammy-winning albums for such artists as Hugh Laurie, Elvis Costello, Over the Rhine and more. “I have never before had the opportunity to perform with a full orchestra, and have longed to; and I very much look forward to striking a balance between the broad expanse of such instrumentation and the intimacy of the material,” said Mr. Henry.
Hometown heroes Over the Rhine, the duo comprised of Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler and named for the Cincinnati neighborhood that houses Music Hall, add wistful vocals and haunting guitar to Foster’s beloved tunes. “Sometimes when sitting at the piano, we try to imagine Stephen Foster having a musical conversation with another more modern musician. We’ve certainly felt echoes of his writing in several of our songs over the years,” the duo said in an interview.
Dom Flemons’ (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) latest album was named one of NPR’s top 10 folk albums of 2014. Mr. Flemons’ music has gained praise for digging deep into the American repertoire, ranging from ragtime, Piedmont blues, spirituals, southern folk music, string band music, jug band music, fife and drum music, and ballads idioms with showmanship and humor, reinterpreting the music to suit 21st century audiences. “Stephen Foster's music is the bedrock of American popular music. It's also a complex representation of life in post-Civil War America,” said Mr. Flemons.
“While the manner in which the material, the black face minstrel show, proves to be a difficult aspect of the music to approach, I found that the nostalgia was the hardest part of refashioning these songs. I'm looking to perform this material with respect to style while showing the dignity of a modern person. It'll be a great honor to work with an orchestra, and it will be my first time doing so,” he said.
A favorite guest of Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion), The Goat Rodeo Sessions and festivals across the globe, Aoife O’Donovan adds her folk talent to “American Originals.” Rounding out the cast is The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars. The house band at The Comet, located in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, the All- Stars have a robust following. Performing original music as well as bluegrass standards, the All-Stars have performed with the Pops on several occasions, including at the Closing Ceremonies of the World Choir Games. “I believe that Stephen Foster was one of the first American popular music composers to be able to have his music and lyrics made available to the public through publishing,” said Ed Cunningham of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars. “This would become the model for popular songwriters for years to come from Tin Pan Alley to Nashville. In preparing for American originals, I've tried to make our interpretation of the classic song the best ever, which is very tall order considering the many versions of each piece in existence today.”
All of these artists lend their talents to new arrangements of Stephen Foster’s most popular tunes. The songs will showcase the lush sounds of the Pops while re-imagining these classics for the 21st century. The concerts will be recorded live, including participation from the audience, for release on the Orchestra’s Fanfare Cincinnati label in late 2015.
Molly Wellmann Bourbon Tasting and Pre-Concert Entertainment
Cincinnati’s renowned craft cocktail creator and entrepreneur Molly Wellmann has curated a small- batch Kentucky bourbon tasting, exclusively for fans of the Cincinnati Pops. Prior to the concerts on Friday and Saturday, January 23-24 (doors open at 6:30), guests are invited to Corbett Tower at Music Hall as Ms. Wellmann leads an interactive sampling of premium bourbons from artisanal Kentucky distilleries. Tickets for the bourbon tasting, which includes a flight of three bourbons and light appetizers, are available for $20 (does not include concert ticket).
Pre-concert entertainment begins in the Music Hall lobby one hour prior to all three performances. Hear from three of Cincinnati’s favorite local bands: The Ridges (Friday), Young Heirlooms (Saturday) and Hickory Robot (Sunday).