There’s an opening reception for “Small Works for the Holidays” from 4 to 7 p.m. this Saturday (Nov. 15) at R.H. Ballard Gallery on Main Street in Washington. Small but beautiful works will be on display (coincidentally, just in time for holiday gift-giving) from new artist Gray Dodson and other gallery favorites, including Tom Mullany, Janet Brome, Robert H. Ballard, Meg Walsh, Lynn Mehta, Vivianne de Kosinsky, Lisbeth Sabol, DeLoss McGraw and Kelly Theil.
And while you’re out on your self-guided Rappahannock art tour in the coming weeks, be sure to make a stop at River District Arts, where the excellent works of the second annual Piedmont Virginian Artist Showcase will be up through December. Next door, Middle Street Gallery has a fetching group show by the cooperative’s members going through Dec. 31. After browsing, it’s tapas time — at El Quijote, which shares the building with RDA. (For more on Sperryville’s ever-growing scene, see this week’s Sperryville column.)
This weekend marks the unofficial release of “Unfamiliar Knowing,” the second self-released album from Mandalélé, the Rappahannock-based roots trio comprising Lorraine Duisit, Wendi Sirat and Smiggy Smith. Recorded and mixed at Smith’s Spyder Mountain Studio over the last several months, the first shipment of CDs arrives this week, just in time for a celebratory performance by the band at the RAAC Community Theatre in Washington at 7 p.m. this Saturday (Nov. 15).
The release is the band’s first with Smith, who stepped in after the departure of Frances Miller. Miller was a founding member of Mandalélé and appeared on their 2012 debut album, “Riddled in Rhyme.” “After several attempts to find another fiddle player, Lorraine and I decided to go a different route,” says Sirat, who plays ukulele and percussion and sings with the band. “Smiggy was open to playing with us and proved to be a great fit.”
“Having Smiggy join the band has been a lot of fun,” adds Duisit, who plays mandola, guitar and bass, and sings. “His solid guitar work has really contributed to the groove factor of the band. His harmonies are a great addition, as is his playing of the Cuban tres, a distinctive, guitar-like instrument with three courses of paired strings.”
While their first self-released album was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the latest sessions took place in a more homegrown fashion. Says Sirat, “When we realized he had his own studio, it was a natural step to try and capture the magic we were feeling on stage. And we already had a whole batch of songs ready to record.”
Smith has played in many bands since arriving in Rappahannock in the late ’70s, including the O’Kays and Venus Jones. Before that, he was the sound engineer for Robin Trower, performed and recorded with Buffy Ste. Marie and shares recording credits with Jerry Garcia, Journey and David Soul. In addition to Mandalélé, he also performs with Dontez Inferno, The Stink Bugs and the Dubious Brothers. Smith and Sirat have collaborated for years as members of the 1000 Faces band that provides the soundtrack for Peggy Schadler’s mask theater troupe.
The new recording will be available next week at local retailers, including the Corner Store, Coterie, Central Coffee Roasters and Ginger Hill Antiques. It features several original songs from Duisit and Sirat, including many audience favorites they have been performing for years.
Sirat wrote “Unfamiliar Knowing” several years ago and likes how it became the title track for the new CD. “It’s about experiencing something for the first time, but feeling like you know it well, even though it’s new — much like the amazing time we’ve had performing together as a band.”
Duisit shares “Ou Va Wè,” a song of hope she wrote in Haitian Creole after returning from a Trinity Church mission trip to deliver equipment and supplies to St. Mark’s School in Trouin, Haiti. The simple message of “You will see” was echoed frequently on that trip as teachers and students simultaneously expressed gratitude and the urgent need for more assistance.
Reservations are highly recommended for the Saturday show, which includes appearances by Dontez Harris and Rannie Winn and before- and between-set jams by Forrest and Jonathan Marquissee and dancers from 1000 Faces Mask Theater. Tickets are $10 ($2 for ages 17 and younger). Email firstname.lastname@example.org by 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 14) with seat requests; any remaining tickets will be sold (cash only) at the door, which opens at 6:30.
Chuck Redd and Ken Peplowski will be joined by Tommy Cecil at the Theatre at Washington for an 8 p.m. concert Saturday, Nov. 22, in the latest of a popular series of jazz performances at the theater.
Peplowski is a firm favorite among the Theatre’s jazz aficionados. Noted New York Times music critic John S. Wilson has called Peplowski “a clarinetist with a Benny Goodman tone and a Buddy DeFranco style.” Peplowski was a member of Goodman’s working orchestra and that must have been influential. “Since the advent of Benny Goodman, there have been too few clarinetists to fill the void that Goodman left. Ken Peplowski is certainly one of those few,” the late Mel Tormé said. “The man is magic.” Known not only for his musicianship but also for the warmth and humor associated with his concerts, Peplowski notes that “when you grow up in Cleveland playing in a Polish polka band, you learn to think fast on your feet.”
Redd first came to the Theatre with the late famous guitarist Charlie Byrd, with whom he was closely associated for 19 years. He has played drums with several other great guitarists also, including Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel. Playing vibes, Redd worked with Tormé, was a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and toured internationally and throughout the United States.
Cecil has established himself as one of the most in-demand bass players in the area. Said the Wall Street Journal about his album “Our Time: Sondheim Duos Volume 2” recently: “Delivers blissfully swinging improvisations on such contemporary theater classics as ‘Our Time’ — showing that a piano and a bass can ‘sing’ more beautifully than many performers currently on Broadway.”
Tickets are $25 ($10 for students 17 and younger). For reservations, call 540-675-1253 or email email@example.com.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, the RAAC Community Theatre holiday production of the “Wizard of Oz” was in full rehearsal mode — which is to say, chaos, under the tenuous control of parents of the 30 or so Munchkins and flying monkeys. Director Howard Coon stood in the eye of the storm.
“This is just par for the course,” said Coon. “It always looks disorganized for a while, but everybody works hard to pull it all together and present a great show.” Coon speaks from experience. He has directed several of the theatre’s holiday plays, including “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan,” all with large casts and ambitious production values.
But this is not a one-man production. “Plays of 40-plus cast members require substantial volunteer help backstage,” said stage manager Andy Platt, “in the form of lighting, sound, music direction, choreography, costumes, sets, props, makeup, rehearsal scheduling, programs and promotion materials, publicity and just plain wrangling.”
Another small army of volunteers handles reservations, box office, and program ad sales. Cast and crew come from Rappahannock, Madison, Culpeper and Warren counties. Rappahannock’s elementary and high schools, as well as Wakefield Country Day School, are well represented.
The theatre’s artistic director, Peter Hornbostel, explains the theater’s move toward these large productions. “For many years the ‘Shepherds’ Play’ was our traditional choice for the holidays,” he says. “But recently the young people who work with the theater have become more involved in helping us choose the holiday shows. It’s been a good decision — for them, for us and for the community.”
The cast for this year’s show includes kids as young as four and adults as old as, well . . . as adults. Theatregoers will recognize many of the actors, and, as usual, there are a few new faces. “Many people want to know how we cast Toto,” said Coon. “I could tell you, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. You’ll just have to come see the show.”
There are five performances at RAAC Theatre (310 Gay St., Washington) of “The Wizard of Oz” — 7:30 p.m. on consecutive Fridays (Dec. 5 and 12) and 3 p.m. on consecutive Saturdays (Dec. 6 and 13), and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. Tickets are $15 ($5 for children 11 and younger). Reserve soon at raac.org (click on Community Theatre) or call 800-695-6075.
— Patty Hardee