It’s been five years since I retired as Director of Jasper Community Arts Commission. JCAC is the only city-owned arts department in the state and one of the few in the country. It was started by a group of private citizens in the small town, then later turned over to the city. Although initially it was just a performing arts venue, eventually it came to encompass visual arts, arts in education, special events and so much more. Now, of course, they’ve expanded to the new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center which is way beyond anything anyone envisioned at the time the performing arts center was created.
The performing arts are still a major focus of the arts department. With an auditorium which seats 675, we’ve hosted a number of performances over the years. During my tenure as Director, we presented about a dozen performances a year so I had the great pleasure of meeting a variety of entertainers over the years.
I’ve often been asked who was my favorite which is truly an impossible question to answer. We presented singers and musicians, dancers and comedians, actors, jugglers, and acrobats. It was all good. Well, mostly. But we won’t talk about that. Obviously, a small Midwest performing arts center cannot afford top Vegas headliners. But we had a wonderful variety of quality entertainers.
So, I thought you might like to hear about a few of my favorites. Not all, by any means, but there were still some memorable performances.
The first one was Marie Osmond. This was right after I was promoted to Director. Tickets had just gone on sale and the phones were ringing off the hook. Marie was just starting to revive her career. On the day of the performance, the tour bus showed up and everyone disembarked. I don’t remember very much about the actual performance since much of my time was behind the scenes. Marie did two shows for us that day which was our way of doubling our capacity. She was not feeling well at all and had a very bad cold. But like the real trouper that she was, she went on stage and gave the audience a show to remember for years. She sang a mix of her pop standards, but then she gave us a variety of Broadway tunes. It was perfect. The audience was blown away. Such a nice person and so professional.
Another favorite performance was Always…Patsy Cline. We were having trouble right down to the wire of determining if the show was going to go or not as the Broadway management hadn’t returned the final contract. Fortunately, through the perseverance of the wonderful agent I worked with, the show went on. I cannot remember the name of the actor who played Patsy in this performance but she was super talented. She was a little, tiny thing but belted out over 25 songs during the performance. But one of the memorable moments is that Louise, the woman who was Patsy’s pen pal, was played by Sally Struthers. So nice and down to earth. Quick to laugh and just had a kind word for everyone.
As an aside, I quickly learned that the biggest stars were often the best to work with. Undemanding, kind, thoughtful of the staff and crew. The performers that we had the most trouble with were those who were just getting started with their careers and kept trying to impress us with their star status. We were not impressed.
Due to our location in south central Indiana, we are on the way to or from many major cities in the Midwest. We are only about three hours from Nashville so we were able to present quite a number of county music stars. Many enjoyed the smaller venue, plus they could sleep in their own beds at the end of the evening. Some names you might recognize are Clint Black, Ronnie Milsap, Kathy Mattea, Lee Greenwood, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Sandi Patty and so many more.
One of my favorites was the Time Jumpers with Vince Gill. This group is comprised of a bunch of Nashville musicians who get together for weekly jams. Vince often sat in on the jam sessions (he has since left the group). He was very conscious about not making the performance all about him, and all of the other musicians were extremely talented, too. When we were negotiating the contract, I asked what they wanted to eat. They said just some beans and hamburgers would be fine. I replied that we could do better than that. We ended up serving fried catfish and creek fries. They loved it! So happy not to have to worry about leftovers. Vince was kind enough to pose for this photo with one of my staff members and me. We usually avoided putting performers on the spot since they were here doing a job, so this was an exception.
Speaking of food. I quickly learned that all the dance and acrobat troupes ate like linebackers. Usually after the performances, not before. They expend so much energy during their performances and are such terrific athletes. We presented the Russian National Ballet twice. I wasn’t sure how our town would respond to Swan Lake but it was a sold-out house and you could have heard a pin drop. We could count on every scrap of food disappearing at the end of the evening.
There were so many other wonderful performances that bring a smile to my face when I think about them. The Blues Brothers, Under the Streetlamp, Women of Ireland, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Diamonds and Glenn Miller Orchestra, Richie Havens, Leon Redbone, The Ahn Trio, The Texas Tenors, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Tommy Emmanuel, Jim Brickman and more.
Over 132 performances during my time there. I was so very lucky to have this experience. I have truly missed live performances during the pandemic shutdown but I think we’re all ready to come out of our nests. If you have a performance venue nearby, I hope you can get out and enjoy the experience.