November 15, 2011

The Grapes of Wrath


Leslie Pugmire Hole
Spokesman staff
In the opinion of Evan Hagan, folk singers in the early decades of the 20th century were the original punks; their music was anti-establishment and angry.
He can relate. The high school senior has been drawn to punk music for years, playing guitar in a band, The Knuckle Children, since middle school.
“There were no posers back then,” says Hagan, who plays guitar in the Depression-era play “The Grapes of Wrath” at Redmond High School this week. “These people really were starving artists. I have enormous respect for them.”
Hagan, and fellow Knuckle Children band member Josh Agee, are part of an unusual musician-actor-Greek chorus group of teens who perform in “Wrath.” They call themselves The Grape Pickers.
Hagan plays Grandpa Joad, patriarch of a family of Dust Bowl refugees trying to find a better life in California, which they’ve been assured is a land of plenty.
The rest of the musicians, Gatlin Cyrus on fiddle, Mandi Kuhlman on vocals, Lili Wagner on vocals and harmonica, Phil Aulie on mandolin, Una Wagner on vocals and washboard, Dallas Husky on vocals and Agee on guitar, have bit parts in the play in addition to the songs performed during set transitions and the play’s two acts.
Two of the musicians are children of Wrath director Hilda Beltran and most of the rest were recruited directly by her. Beltran’s husband, Judd Wagner, is a Redmond School District teacher who has headed a student roots-music program, The Americana Project, for many years.
All the students agreed: Beltran knows how to sniff out good musicians.
“I don’t know how she found out I play mandolin but she did,” Aulie shakes his head ruefully. The senior started out playing violin several years ago but discovered the mandolin and has not gone back.
“I learned to play jigs when I was younger but I can’t say I’m really a fan (of old-time folk music), but when Beltran asked me I thought 'Why not?’”
None of the four boys admits to being big bluegrass or folk fans but Ag ee and Hagan are fans of the Redmond group Larry & His Flask, which in recent years has transitioned from old-school punk music to a more roots-Celtic blend – with a punkish twist.
Cyrus has the most training in the style of music used in Wrath, having studied fiddle for years with teacher Brandon Booher, and has played country and Irish music. He says he likes playing anything that gets your feet tapping.
“I wasn’t really a fan of this music before but it’s everywhere in Central Oregon and I’ve come to appreciate the freedom of it, how it has so much more to say,” says Hagan.

If you go
Nov. 16-18, 7 p.m.
Nov. 19, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
(Nov. 16 is RSD Staff Appreciation Night)
Tickets $8, students $5
Tickets online at www.rhstheatre.ticketleap.com/grapes (pick up at Will Call) or at the door. Tickets can also be reserved and paid for at the door by calling 541-848-0189 or 541-977-3916.

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