Foolin’ Around: Hotel Congress hosting ‘Opry’ themed variety show

click to enlarge Foolin’ Around: Hotel Congress hosting ‘Opry’ themed variety show
Photo by Cynthia Elliott
Folk duo Chris Brashear and Peter McLaughlin will be hosting Hotel Congress’ first Tucson Opry show on Memorial Day, May 30.

Tucson is nothing if not eclectic. As if the city doesn’t have a strong enough music culture, there is also a world-famous literary scene, a thriving food industry and more. A new show coming to the Hotel Congress Plaza aims to combine many of these facets of Tucson on a single stage — with some touring acts on the bill for good measure.

The Tucson Opry show, coming this Memorial Day, May 30, includes representatives from Tucson folk and Americana scene, as well as a local poet, and a representative from a local nonprofit. This is all for the show’s goal of celebrating “what makes Tucson such a unique place.”

“Tucson is such a good music town, and Hotel Congress’ plaza is such a nice venue for this kind of show. We want to host a series of musicians, but we also want to tap into the community at large,” said Chris Brashear, who is spearheading the project. “On top of that, we also want to bring in a touring headliner artist as a way of making it a bigger show. It’s just important to make it community-centered and highlight what’s going on around the desert.”

Brashear has hosted previous musical variety shows influenced by Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Brashear, who plays fiddle and mandolin, will host the upcoming Tucson Opry show with longtime collaborator Peter McLaughlin. The duo have recorded multiple albums under the Americana umbrella, often influenced by the sights and cultures of the surrounding landscape.

In addition, Brashear is no stranger to the Hotel Congress stage. He says Tucson’s music scene and diverse culture make it a perfect city for this kind of multifaceted show.

“It really spawned from a radio show feel. I want it to have a flow and a kind of camaraderie that you establish with the audience,” Brashear said. “It’s a great way to highlight both local and national artists on the same stage and the same night, and there’s nothing else quite like it in Tucson right now.”

The Opry Show will also feature Canadian duo The Small Glories. Also in the folk sphere, Cara Luft and JD Edwards of The Small Glories perform a much larger sound than listeners might expect from two acoustic performers, with rich vocal harmonies and poetic lyrics.

Austin, Texas country singer Whitney Rose is also on the list. Fitting for a Southern musician, Rose’s soulful voice soars through a groovy foundation on songs like “Can’t Stop Shakin’.” Though she is originally from Canada, Rose says she is inspired by Nashville greats like Dolly Parton.

Balancing local and touring musicians, the Opry show also includes Salvador Duran. This “Tucson troubadour” is known for capturing the desert style via acoustic guitar, harmonica and lyrics in true singer/songwriter fashion. If you’ve been in the area long enough, you no doubt recognize the name.

On the non-musical side of the show, local poet Richard Tavenner will be performing spoken word pieces. Known as a “cowboy poet,” Tavenner’s works draw on the spirit of the southwest, both its history and its geography.

Finally, the show’s community spotlight segment will be hosted by Matt Nelson of the Arizona Trail Association, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting the famous Arizona Trail.

Depending on how this first show goes, Hotel Congress hopes to make it a recurring event, possibly on a quarterly basis.

“This first interaction is a pretty good representation of what we’re looking to do,” said David Slutes, entertainment director for Hotel Congress. “We always plan on having nationally touring acts when we can. We didn’t just want to rely on locals, we also wanted to include some nationally touring artists, and the Small Glories were perfect for this. We actually gathered everything around the date they’d be in town as a key element. We do a lot of shows and festivals at Hotel Congress, but this is unique in that it’s a variety show that is hosted, people get to talk, there are quasi-interviews, and it all should be pretty engaging.”

The show is part of the Rhythm & Roots concert series that has brought folk music to the Hotel Congress plaza for years. Rhythm & Roots director Susan Holden says that this type of variety show has been successful in many cities, but Tucson doesn’t have anything quite like it.

“There have been times through the years where we’ve had more than one act, and they’ve always been well-received. I think people realize they’re getting a good deal when they’re getting four acts on one stage for one ticket price,” Holden said. “And here they’re getting music, plus a poet, plus a community spotlight.”

Depending on how this first show goes, each future installation in the series may be based around a different theme. The plans remain to be seen, but in the meantime, the organizers and performers are ready to hit the stage running.

“Tucson’s a big city, but it doesn’t always feel that way. There are a lot of things in our community that don’t get much of a spotlight, so as this continues we’d like to give them a forum to bring information. Our community is so diverse and there’s so much happening, so we want to help get the word out and keep it entertaining,” Holden said. “That’s why this show has all the elements: The national, the local, the diversity, a community spotlight, and then you throw some cowboy in there for good measure.”

Tucson Opry

7 p.m. Monday, May 30

Memorial Day

Hotel Congress Plaza

311 E. Congress Street

$25 advance / $30 day of

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