Busy week at Bedell Performance Hall

Friday, October 12, 2012
Blind Boys of Alabama at Javelina Studio July 22, 2010, in Nashville, TN.

The Southeast Missouri State University River Campus is gearing up for a busy week, as two very dissimilar acts on the campus' Touring Series take the stage within days of each other.

Dance St. Louis presents "New Dance Horizons" Tuesday at Bedell Performance Hall, and Dr. John and the Blind Boys of Alabama performs "Spirituals to Funk" Thursday on the same stage.

Both performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. The fact that they are only two days apart signifies the rise in the number of bookings at the River Campus, said box office manager Ellen Farrow.

"The number of performances we host has grown exponentially," Farrow said. "Our calendar gets more full every year and schedulings get tighter, but we do what we can to make the shows happen."

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform under the direction of New Orleans music royalty.

Dr. John, whose real name is Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee celebrated as the living embodiment of New Orleans-style rhythm and blues and has a musical career stretching back to the 1960s. With four Grammy Awards under his belt, he is perhaps best known for his hits "Right Place Wrong Time" and "Such A Night."

"It's going to be cool, baby, to get out on the road and do the show with the Blind Boys," Dr. John said during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "I've had members in my group who were from Missouri, and Cape Girardeau is a river town just like New Orleans. I want to check out the scene, man."

Dr. John said he got involved with the Blind Boys a few years ago when he was looking for help with a tribute album to Louis Armstrong.

"There was nobody more natural than the Blind Boys for that," he said. "They can lay it down the way it's supposed to be, baby, and that led to what we're doing now. They bring music to other levels, and we need guys like that so bad in music. It's a different world for me now, but I miss the cool old days. The Blind Boys bring me back."

When they aren't playing gospel, the Blind Boys of Alabama play an eclectic mix of jazz, funk, blues and a little soul. The group was founded in 1939 as a gospel ensemble and have a solid musical history, with a current lineup consisting of three blind singers -- Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore and Eric "Ricky" McKinnie, who also plays drums -- along with sighted members, guitarist and musical director Joey Williams, co-drummer Austin Moore, organist Peter Levin and bassist Tracy Pierce.

The Blind Boys of Alabama caught the ears of the secular listening audience with their Grammy-nominated 1992 album "Deep River," which featured a version of Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You." The group continued to experiment with popular music, and since the 2000s the Blind Boys of Alabama have won five Grammy Awards and a legion of fans that range from former president Bill Clinton to Queen Noor of Jordan.

Bob Cerchio, assistant director at the River Campus, said he was ecstatic to land Dr. John and the Blind Boys of Alabama for the River Campus.

"It's like a dream come true," Cerchio said. "I have been listening to both of these icons of the music industry since I was a child. To have them both together on stage -- the Bedell stage -- for a performance is just perfect."

For those looking for a less raucous time, Dance St. Louis, one of the oldest and most respected dance presenters in the United States, will be offering "New Dance Horizons" on Tuesday.

"New Dance Horizons" features four St. Louis dance companies -- St. Louis Ballet, aTrek Dance Collective, MADCO and Common Threat Contemporary Dance Company -- paired with four choreographers from around the country: Victoria Marks, Jessica Lang, Pamela Tanowitz and Gina Patterson. The result is a bold, concentrated hit of new dance that Dance St. Louis wants to display in every performing arts center in the region.

"We want to showcase the talent we have in St. Louis, and it's a pleasure to bring ‘New Dance Horizons' to Cape Girardeau," said Michael Uthoff, artistic director of Dance St. Louis. "It should be quite an evening. We started about a year and a half ago with the idea of putting four different dance companies under one roof with each of their routines created by a different choreographer. What we have now is some of the best dance I've seen in some time, but the results, as ever, will be there for the people to judge."

Dr. John and the Blind Boys of Alabama tickets are $39 and $33, and "New Dance Horizons" are $32 or $26. Tickets are available rivercampusevents.com or by calling the River Campus box office at 651-2265.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

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