Jefferson Center’s Upcoming Season Promises Variety of Talent

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Los Lobos will perform at the Jeff Center on March 24.

Los Lobos will perform at the Jeff Center on March 24.
Los Lobos will perform at the Jeff Center on March 24.

From Sweet Honey in the Rock (Sept. 25) to the Robert Cray Band (Oct. 18), from the new Jazz Club series (beginning Nov. 13) to Los Lobos, Dee Bridgewater and Bela Fleck in early 2010, the upcoming season at Jefferson Center again offers a little something for a variety of tastes. Artistic Director Dylan Locke says Jefferson Center and the Shaftman Performance Hall is holding its own in light of the weak economy. He’s also excited about an expanding education program at the Music Lab, now located at the Jefferson Center, which regularly draws in scheduled performers to work with students there.

Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella group, has been around for more than three decades. [They are] “really historic pioneers and caretakers of black [gospel] music,” said Locke. Because Sweet Honey incorporates sign language into their performances, Jefferson Center will do some outreach to Roanoke’s hearing impaired community beforehand.

On October 4 Christian McBride will kick off the 2009-2010 Jazz series. “One of the most incredible bass players,” said Locke, who plays the same instrument. McBride just finished playing with Sting. Robert Cray is back with his band on October 18. “Blues is something this community eats up.”

Dan Zanes can be seen on the Disney Channel; he’s at Jefferson Center as part of the Family series on October 18. Students at the Music Lab may play with Zanes on stage. He’ll stay in town for some outreach the next day. In addition to the Center’s musical line-up, Mill Mountain’s Big Lick Theatre improvisational group commands the smaller rehearsal hall once a month starting September 12. “It’s like Whose Line is It Anyway? …a lot of fun,” says Locke.

Locke is also excited about the Jazz Club series, which will showcase local and regional artists like the Lenny Marcus Trio (Nov. 13). Each of the three series nights planned will have a theme tied to the history of the genre. A grant has helped make the jazz series possible.

Next year’s Latin Dance Party on January 23 at Fitzpatrick Hall will not feature a concert this time around but Locke promises a good time anyway.

“One of the more celebrated jazz vocalists,” is what Locke calls Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, who will celebrate the music of “Lady Day,” – Billie Holiday – at her February 16 concert.  Bela Fleck has appeared at Shaftman Performance Hall before but his appearance with “The Africa Project,” on March 4, features a new twist.  A documentary shot by Fleck’s brother followed his musical journey back to Africa, where he reintroduced the banjo “back to its homeland,” as Locke puts it. Musicians from Africa will join Fleck on The Africa Project tour.  Yes, the banjo has African roots, “early…prototypes,” said Locke.

Los Lobos and Leo Kottke appear on a March 24 twin bill that should draw a large crowd to the 900 seat-plus performance hall. “Separate, both of these [acts] are unbelievable…together it should be a beautiful night,” notes Locke.  “Music from the Crooked Road” features Wayne Henderson and Sammy Shelor on April 17.

Sprinkled in during the 2009-2010 season are Roanoke Symphony Orchestra concerts and performances by Opera Roanoke.   A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts has led to a collaboration with the RSO, for a night of Middle Eastern music on May 16.

In short, another eclectic season of musical offerings is on tap at Jefferson Center, with a little laughter from Big Lick Conspiracy thrown in. “We’re really proud of what Jefferson Center is growing to be,” said Locke, who wants the facility to be seen as a model nationwide. “We’re thinking outside of Roanoke.” (see jeffcenter.org for a complete schedule and ticket information)