Out & About: Great roots artists at One Longfellow Square

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One Longfellow Square never ceases to amaze me with the variety and quality of the artists hosted on its small stage. Two most interesting concerts are coming up within the next week.

First up is the Gibson Brothers, a topnotch bluegrass band from upstate New York. They’re regulars at the big summer bluegrass festivals, where I’ve seen them several times, but this Saturday is a rare chance to see and hear them indoors in Maine.

Berklee College of Music is a Boston institution where popular musical genres are taught and talents developed. A new Berklee development is a traveling road show that spotlights the school’s up-and-coming talent. It motors into One Longfellow Square on March 29.

It’s also the 10th anniversary season for Good Theater, Portland’s superlative professional company. Last week’s “Out & About” was so crowded with events that I didn’t have the space to properly salute this milestone. So let’s do it this week.

Gibson Brothers

The brother duo is one of bluegrass music’s time-tested sub-genres. Exemplars include the Louvin Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds and Maine’s own Bill and Dobs Smith.

On the national bluegrass scene, the leading act in that line is the Gibson Brothers – Eric and Leigh – who grew up on a farm in upstate New York and now motor around the country (along with three additional band-mates) giving concerts and appearing at festivals.

In 2010 the Gibson Brothers snagged the Entertainer of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and recently they released their 10th CD. Titled “Help My Brother,” the album’s overarching theme is the important things in life, a message which harks back to the brothers’ childhood on a family farm.

Each of the songs on the album, mostly originals by the pair, reflects this motif. The title track was written by Leigh Gibson and explores the Golden Rule in a new light. “Walking West to Memphis” recounts the story of a roustabout who, down on his luck, realizes that the happiness he seeks will be found in the arms of his Memphis girl.

They also pay tribute to classic brother duos on a pair of covers: “He Can Be Found in a Mother’s Smile” (Louvin Brothers) and “I’ll Love Nobody But You” (Jim and Jesse McReynolds). With its uplifting message and tight brother harmonies, “Help My Brother” will further cement the Gibson Brothers’ reputation as the best of their kind.

They made the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited two years ago. Writer Chris Stuart opined: “The brothers and the band are what’s called in baseball ‘five-tool’ players. They have it all: lead vocals, brother-duet harmony, instrumental virtuosity, ensemble sensibilities, and great original material.

“Success in the music business is not guaranteed (in some cases, hardly deserved), but with the Gibson Brothers, who measure success in terms of family, friends, and a life of music, they have found success by always remembering where they came from, by appreciating others, and by taking the hills and valleys of life with humor and grace.”

One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, presents the Gibson Brothers at 8 p.m. March 24. Call 761-1757.

Berklee Roots Road Show

Boston likes to call itself the Hub of the Universe, and its large number of incredibly good schools and colleges is one of the reasons backing up that audacious claim. Berklee College of Music, the largest independent school of its type, is one of the leading lights on Boston’s educational and cultural scene.

Unlike classical conservatories and most college music departments, Berklee focuses almost entirely on popular genres, including jazz, rock, reggae, hip hop, salsa, folk and bluegrass. And it’s been wildly successful. Since its 1945 start-up, a total of 87 Berklee graduates have tallied a total of 205 Grammy Awards.

Among the school’s many roots-oriented alumnae who are currently prominent are Sierra Hull, April Verch and Gillian Welch.

Berklee is currently testing a new format for musician training in the form of a traveling performing troupe that moves from city to city. On March 29 the Berklee Roots Road Show will pull into One Longfellow Square for one night.

Expect a variety show comprised of a cross section of the finest musicians from Berklee’s American Roots Music program. Managing director and Road Show co-host Joe Walsh is a familiar face in Portland. Formerly with Joy Kills Sorrow, Walsh is currently the mandolinist for the Gibson Brothers, plus he plays with the Stowaways, a Portland-based all star bluegrass ensemble.

One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland, presents the Berklee Roots Road Show at 8 p.m. March 29. Call 761-1757.

Good Theater

Ten years ago a new professional theater troupe made its debut in Portland under a curiously understated name: Good Theater. Many people including myself believe that Good Theater is Portland’s best and most versatile company and consistently delivers the city’s top stagecraft, selecting a mix of newly released scripts plus classics from the canon.

Co-founders Brian Allen (artistic director) and Steve Underwood (technical director) were already well known in southern Maine artistic circles. Allen had independently produced and directed several fund-raising dramas for Merrymeeting AIDS Society and had recently completed a stint as managing director of Portland Players.

Underwood is an actor, writer and comedian (Maine Hysterical Society) and a musician with several southern Maine bands, where he earned a reputation for being a painstakingly professional performer.

Allen and Underwood had teamed up before, in a national tour of “Radical Radio,” a small-scale musical for children that they co-wrote.

I’ve seen nearly every production at Good Theater, and nearly every one has received a rave review in this space. The current format is a four-show season plus a Christmas/Holiday special and occasionally another one-off performance.

Allen’s mix is eclectic, usually with one or two comedies, a drama and a small-book musical. The current offering is “Little Me,” a hysterically funny musical with script by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh.

Casts mostly comprise non-Equity professionals from Maine, with an occasional Equity actor from New York imported for key roles.

Although it doesn’t call itself a repertory company, Good Theater achieves that feeling because so many of its best actors keep coming back season after season. Three of the cast members of “Little Me” had major roles in Good Theater’s 2002 production of the same title: Underwood (playing seven roles), Kelly Caufield and Lynne McGhee.

Congratulations on reaching the 10th anniversary milestone. Looking forward to many more seasons.

Sidebar Elements

Brian Allen is the artistic director of Good Theater, the Portland professional company celebrating its 10th anniversary season.