Grange Variety Show Explores New, Um, Terrain: Singing! Dancing! Proctology!
by Bruce Longstreet, March 10, 2010
So again with the dazzling dancing. Again with the breath taking feats of aerial daring do. Again with the eye-popping pyrotechnics. And again with the inspired singing, fancy picking, strumming, bowing and blowing. One could say that after nineteen years the Anderson Valley Solar Powered Grange Annual Variety Show is in kind of a rut. Perhaps it’s better to say that the show is in a groove, a good one. Year after year the Anderson Valley Grange hall is packed to the rafters for two nights on a March weekend as we are ushered out of the winter rain and gloom by a lush array of prime local entertainment, or at least, entertaining locals. Or locally entertaining lushes.
The 19th Annual Anderson Valley Solar Grange Variety Show went down this past Friday and Saturday night, showcasing forty different acts, mostly from Anderson Valley, and hosted with his usual aplomb and tuxedo by Captain Rainbow, joined again this year by Patty Liddy. Rainbow came out Friday evening to greet the crowd but was hampered by a troublesome cough, which prompted the entrances of Nurse Patty and the head medicine man at the Anderson Valley Health Center, Dr. Mark Apfel. The troubled state of our health care system was obviously to be the theme, as the Grange hall was festooned (by Gail Meyer) with large band-aids, crutches, prosthetics, and dozens of blown up rubber gloves. Before Rainbow could be treated, he had to answer a battery of questions and fill out a myriad of forms. It’s too bad, Dr. Mark observed, that the Captain’s title was not of military origin as then ‘he could get some of that socialized medicine’ that the Veteran’s Administration provides. And when Rainbow mentioned that he didn’t have insurance because he had ‘a lousy job’, Mark pointedly inquired if that meant Rainbow was a County Supervisor, drawing a knowing laugh from the audience. The telling question, asked by the efficient insurance form processor Karen Bailey, was if Rainbow had ever had a cough like this before and before the Captain could shrug and say, “Yeah, well, sure. Everyone’s had a cough…” he was abruptly shut off and denied coverage for a ‘pre-existing condition’.
On with the show. Singing and dancing of all kinds dominated the first half of the Friday night show, starting an enthusiastic rendition of “Big Yellow Taxi” by the Kids Chorus from Anderson Valley Elementary School, accompanied by Leslie and Michael Hubbert. Rachel Juster, by now a veteran of the Variety Show stage followed with a beautifully delivered performance of Rhianna’s song “It’s Over Now.” The Young At Heart ladies were next, celebrating their 10th Anniversary of shaking some righteous booty in the name of fitness and health. Linda Boudoures’ exercise group has an age range from fifties to nineties with Freda Fox still shaking it at nearly 92. Jeannie Nickless sang a song in honor of the decade of dancing and their leader.
Noe Klein, an accomplished ballerina herself, has been teaching toddlers and older children ballet, and joined her charges, “The Itsy Bitsy Ballerinas,” on stage. Featuring a good collection of the valley’s cute widdle kids, they jumped, spinned, and twirled with more grace and precision than you would expect from a group of mostly toddlers. “It was almost better when they weren’t this good!” host Rainbow commented afterwards. Gone were the amusing collisions and confusions of past years. These little girls knew their stuff.
Next, it was singer Mike Ellers, accompanying himself on guitar who sang his own composition “Use Less,” environmentally friendly lifestyle advice. Then things got a little squirrelly. Boont Berry’s Farmer John led Bridgette, a calf, onto the stage. Rainbow had been expecting to milk a cow on stage, but Bridgette was not the appropriate candidate for this stunt so after some humorously circuitous verbal byplay Farmer John launched into what may be the first barnyard rap song, “I’m Your Milkman.” Transitioning from the ridiculous to the sublime, as the Variety Show will do quite frequently, Sarah Larkin, Via Keller, and Karen Bailey, performing as The All Arounds, combined their sweet voices for two harmony rich rounds, including a fast, tricky lark in praise of “Black Socks.”
Following a skit by some more school kids in support of “strong schools,” Sony Hatcher, elegant in a velvet gown favored us with her own lovely voice in singing “Do I Worry,” to Lynn Archambault’s piano accompaniment. The first half of the Friday night show was brought to a rousing close with the return of Rev. Lovejive, who preached a fire and brimstone style sermon about ‘love and gratitude’, incited the packed house to give Captain Rainbow a foot stomping, handclapping standing O, and then performed a free form dance with flips, back flips, and other amazing feats of body articulation.
After an intermission, the second half began. The Mendocino Center for Circus Arts (MECCA), a non-profit organization founded by Bones and Holly Newstead to teach and foster circus talent in Anderson Valley, was represented by a young girl from Comptche named Kendall who brought the house down with some daring contortions on the silks high above anxious occupants of the forward rows. Still exhilarated by Kendall’s bravura turn in the spotlight, the crowd was further revved up by the chance to win some big bucks in the raffle drawing. Patty Langley one of the lovely ticket sellers, came on stage with Nurse Patty to draw the winning ticket. Because it wasn’t his number that was drawn, Rainbow swallowed the ticket, claiming that a new one should be drawn. Not to be outsmarted, Dr. Mark came out again toting a manual entitled “Colonoscopy 4 Dummies” while from behind the curtain emerged a portable surgical suite, equipped to find the ticket in Rainbow’s innards. Using a portable video camera about the size of a Manhattan telephone book, affixed to the end of a plumber’s snake (make up your own joke here) up went the camera into and through Rainbow’s entire GI tract. A wondrous sight, (the video created by Burt Cohen and Tim Glidewell) the camera took us all the way through to the gate of teeth at the other end. There was the ticket, still in Rainbow’s mouth. “Hmmm,” the doctor mused, “We could have started at the other end!” Other show goers concurred that they couldn’t recall ever seeing a more amusing colonoscopy.
The reclaimed ticket (and who would want to handle it?) revealed Michael Hubbert as the winner of over $540, a Variety Show record.
The raffle hubbub concluded, it was back to the acts. Well known county gadabouts Verge and Kay sang an amusing song about the demise of the dinosaurs (their brains were small, and they died), and Kay, solo at the piano, sang a kind of free form exhortation for us to slow down and relax. The Ukeholics then appeared before a western backdrop looking appropriately saddle worn in cowpoke garb…well, most of them, anyway (Ukeholic Doug was attired in aloha shirt, shorts and sandals), and plinked, strummed and crooned their way through “I’m An Old Cowhand From the Rio Grande,” including a tasty concertina solo from Ukeholic Henry and an on-stage costume change as Doug became suitably outfitted with wooly chaps and six shooters. No wardrobe malfunctions, saints be praised. Some more school kids then executed a short skit emphasizing the importance of cooperating with the 2010 census.
Big Time entertainment was next as 3/5ths of Mendocino County’s Blushin’ Roulettes, Cass, Angie, and Buddy, sang a few salty, cleverly risqué tunes in a style that suggested Johnny Cash and June Carter to the crowd’s evident approval. Fred Wooley in one of the few ‘spoken word’ features of the evening, told a story about the Boonville Dump back in the days when Homer Mannix ruled that domain. Following Fred was Johnny Blanco, another Variety Show veteran, who demonstrated some fancy guitar picking while singing “Quality Time.”
“The Lovely Julieanne,” as our host introduced her, totally had me fooled, her rich soprano being lent to a self-penned tune that started out as another one of those “sensitive person with guitar” numbers that seem like someone reading the less interesting parts of their diary while strumming a guitar. The object of Julieanne’s lament soon became evident when she got to the hook, singing “I Miss the Lodge” and was joined on stage by a collection of beer besotted reprobates, habitués of the late, lamented Lodge, a lost tribe with nowhere to go. Apparently, a lot of people miss the Lodge as this was one of the best-received and most talked about acts of the evening.
Estrellas de Tierra Caliente, the final act of the evening, a group of young men including Luis from the Pick N Pay and a ten-year-old percussionist, filled the hall with ear splitting percussion and spirited singing and playing in an estilo unico, that was kind of a Mexican speed metal grunge industrial punk audio barrage. It certainly elevated some heart rates and the crowd filed out energized, and no doubt anxious to come back for more on Saturday night.
On Saturday night, after a repeat of the opening set piece, the Anderson Valley Community Chorus, directed and accompanied by Lynn Archambault, kicked the show off with a rousing “Comedy Tonight,” which was followed by AVHS student Olivia Allen who sang a polished to perfection treatment of an ABBA song, Thank You For The Music. Then Big Doug Johnson, armed only with an electric wheel, lump of clay, sponges and knives, performed death defying feats of pot throwing.
Young Riley Lemons was next, sweetly singing the Judds’ classic “Grandpa, Tell Me About the Good Old Days.” She’s only been playing guitar for a year, but strummed along confidently as she accompanied herself. Greg Krouse was next, with slicked back hair and red suspenders in the guise of Larry Bling, CNC host, who, with amusing visuals and asides, covered the recent Anderson Valley controversy of the missing, and alarmingly mobile wood carving of “Black Elvis.” Ultimately, the statue was returned to its rightful owner, Patrick Miller, providing a happy ending to this caper.
It takes guts for anyone to go on stage and try to ‘do comedy’, but Christopher Balson, a ninth grader I believe, stepped up and shared some ‘random thoughts and comments’ about the world around us. He assured himself laughs by reminding us that if ‘the comedy thing doesn’t work, I’ll start rapping’.
Certainly among the more visually captivating acts, Dansa Mexixa, a troupe of dancers and drummers arrayed in traditional Aztec costume including colorfully plumed headdresses, danced with energy, grace, and great athleticism and earned an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Quieter visuals were presented by brothers Maxence and Matisse, joined by their friend Sam for a short and sweet pantomime of ‘the Blacksmith Cuckoo Clock’. Tres amusant.
Perennial Variety Show sound man, and international rock legend Mitchell Holman sang a little and played a lot of electric bass, bowing a lengthy solo, before giving way to an impromptu fashion show in which Rainbow, Yvonne, and a noticeably reluctant Patty, modeled iguanas on their heads. Why in the world would they do that? To promote the National Reptile Foundation, whose representative was onstage to encourage the adoption of ‘rescue reptiles’. A parade of various lizards, turtles, and tortoises scuttled about the stage as the crowd edged toward the parking lot and snack bar for intermission.
Dansa Mexixa continued their spirited drumming and dancing outside for the parking lot crowd and Wendy Read, our resident fire spinner extraordinaire, ignited the crowd’s fervor farther. After a while, the two acts became one with Wendy spinning fire before Dansa Mexixa as they performed their fire dance. Meanwhile, back in the Grange Hall the pit band entertained those who stayed inside with a wide range of familiar hits, and really rocked the house. As a native Garden Stater I especially enjoyed The Jersey Bounce. You gotta problum widdat? Known sometimes as the Peanut Butter and Jam Band, who fall in at Lauren’s on Thursday nights, let’s having a rousing hand for Dean Titus, Chris Rossi, Rod DeWitt, Dennis Hudson, Joe Patelle, and the indefatigable Lynn Archambault who not only anchored the band with her piano, directed the Anderson Valley Chorus, but also rehearsed with and accompanied about half a dozen singers during the course of the two nights. We are so blessed to have these musicians amongst us, who are so generous with their gifts.
Keeping with a circus theme to open the second half, Holly Newstead demonstrated a dazzling array of sinewy flips and twists, an aerial dance, on hoops suspended from the ceiling. This crowd loves the circus stuff, and was further roused by Cirque de Kai, the Newsteads’ son who is maybe ten, who fearlessly climbed the silks and cast his small carcass recklessly about the upper atmospheres of the Grange to oohs and ahhhs.
The Saturday raffle bit featured Bruce Hering as Uncle Sam who was chosen to select the winning ticket. Apparently Sam did not see the Friday show or he would have known not to swallow the ticket. He did, and was subjected to the same, um, medical procedure as Capt. Rainbow had been the night before. The raffle winner was Joy Frazier, who took home $608, breaking the world record that had been set the night before.
Performing his own composition on piano Bill Taylor, with vocal assistance by Jaye, sang a song he had written to honor his mother, and another tune that Bill’s mom had written in 1946 called “Every Time We Meet.”
Noe Klein returned for a second night, this time not with her tiny ballet students, but with two of her peers from the Mendocino College Repertory Company, Jessica and Miriam who showed us the real deal in the art of Terpsichore. Following ballet, the logical next act would be a return of The Brownouts, a delightful collection of hippie grannies in period flower power garb who sang “In Mendocino It’s Different.” Any argument? No, I didn’t think so. Local carpenter David Jones gave a reprise of his tongue twister demonstration from last year, or ‘mental mouth manipulations’ as he called them. He ended with two cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most difficult tongue twisters of all. If you wish to practice at home they are: “The seething sea ceaseth and so sufficeth us” and the nearly impossible “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.”
Helping to rev up the audience for a rousing conclusion to the evening’s entertainments, another exhilarating dance performance was next. A troupe of young women from Sebastapol, including Anderson Valley transplant Maya Pace, dressed in costumes that suggested India and calling themselves ‘Lila Deva’ which I believe our emcee translated as “Happy Goddess.” The spirited swirling sure made the crowd happy, and hopefully the goddess, too.
Don and Debbie, the Thornpetals who claim among their career highlights ‘opening for Johnny Winter at the Navarro Store’ laid some guitar dexterity and bluesy vocals on us in as the penultimate Variety Show act. The honors of closing the show went to Inspyred Fyre, spinners of glowing lights suspended on tethers that were slung, twirled, and spun on the darkened stage so that the audience saw them as constantly moving and changing constructions of light. Inspyred Fyre are from Fort Bragg and the note I scribbled in my notebook during their performance simply said “wow!.”
A wow ending after two nights of many wows.
Many people contribute to making the show happen every year. It’s a labor of love that begins early in January and hundreds, maybe thousands of hours are expended by a hearty crew of Grangers and Magic Company veterans by the time the last piece of popcorn is swept up from the Grange floor late on Saturday night. I’m listing them last, but these people are foremost in presenting what I feel is the absolute highlight in the annual calendar of Anderson Valley events, and certainly the most representative of the spirit of our little corner of the world. Let’s give it up for Bill Meyer, Tom Smith, Mark Pitner, Joansy DeWolf, Robyn Spector, Mike Crutcher, Mitchell Holman, Gail Meyer, Karen Bailey, Erik Frye, and Jimmy On The Spot. Thanks, all. I can only imagine what they’re cooking up for number 20, which will roll around in only about 360 days or so. I can hardly wait.