A real good time in real time.
That was Independence Eve, the July 3 live radio broadcast from Bingen Theater on Radio Tierra (95.1).
For two hours friends and neighbors gathered at Bingen Theater for an unusual evening of entertainment. Nothing quite like it had been done locally, at least not in memory. The room was certainly warm but organizers provided plenty of ice water and the vibe was so good no one really noticed the heat.
About 50 performers and another 75 or so audience members gathered for the benefit event (see page 8 for photos). Before the evening was over, the spotlight and microphone went to Heidi Venture of the Next Door’s outreach to foster youth, Gary Young on behalf of food banks in Washington, and Peter Marbach for relief efforts to Kumari, Nepal.
I’m not sure when the three local mayors have ever gone on the radio together, but on July 3 Betty Barnes of Bingen, David Poucher of White Salmon and Paul Blackburn of Hood River spoke brief welcomes, Blackburn in English and Spanish. The program was a bilingual balance. The bridge from Bingen to Hood River was not the only one present; “Independence Eve” stood as a solid span between cultures.
I was invited to present tongue twisters and give a plug to Start Making A Reader Today, the local literacy program I’ve been involved with for 13 years. Every February we do a Tongue Twister Tournament, and the show organizers felt like they would be a good thing to do on the radio, even framing them as “verbal fireworks” — an apt phrase. And they were right. We had great fun with them and I truly appreciate the chance to present them. I am humbled that they were made part of it. The cool thing, as far as went my part of the evening, was this: it took on an improvised quality that really worked. What happened Friday night bore little resemblance to what I had originally envisioned, and it was far better. Also, the Friday night show was greatly different from the Thursday night rehearsal. Hosts Leti Valle and Humberto Calderon, along with Los Temerosos musicians Jesus and Antonio, took the tongue twisting in Spanish and ran with it, after Mayor Poucher, Heidi Venture and Phoebe Wood gamely stepped up to try tongue twisters live. It all had a self-propelled feel to it, and I felt an echo of it in the night’s finale, when Jesus and Antonio guided the band through a rollicking set where they looked to be having the best time of anyone, and the audience was having a GREAT time. Los Temerosos just kept playing, reaching what felt like two crescendi only to keep it going a few minutes longer, like they were simultaneously remembering songs or variations they had half-forgotten, and plunged forward for a few minutes more ... and then a few minutes more before winding it up with a big and satisfying finish.
The blending of Los Temerosos and the Columbiaires quartet was polished yet spontaneous. They tried numbers in rehearsal and then worked them up in less than 24 hours for the entertaining live performance. Harmony of the Gorge set the scene for the evening with their flawless, heartfelt set of patriotic songs, Alonzo Garbonzo wove his guitar work into between-acts and announcement segments before tearing it up with his own song “Now,“ a wake-up call to us all, a tear-inducing “City of New Orleans” (Steve Goodman wrote it, Arlo Guthrie made it famous) and Alonzo’s wife, Jana Castanares, did Edith Piaf justice with her sweet version of “La Vie en Rose.” On a night with Spanish and English balancing each other, that soupcon of French was like herbal drizzle spicing up a well-mixed salad.
Tom Burns provided a stirring reading of the Declaration of Independence, punctuating the text in ways that forced you to think of it not just as a historical document but as a guide to living today in these United States.
My only real criticism is over the poems by William Stafford: they were too short. Luke McMillan’s elegant baritone was just getting going with the short poem he read and then he stopped. Same with William Thayer-Dougherty, who deftly found the mischief Stafford infused in his works, and Debbie Dobbs introduced Stafford’s works and in a few short words gave us an understanding of a man who through his work remains a true conscience.
I’ve spoken on KIHR before, as a representative of SMART, but I’d never been involved in a live broadcast like this and it was exhilarating, both in knowing that what we were doing was heard by people in their homes or cars or places of business, and in the simple act of putting something together with people you’d never met.
The show could not have happened without the emcees and the rest of the staff of KZAS, theater owner (and well-known local musician) Rod Krehbiel, Harold McBain, Kathy Williams, Adrian Chaton, Gary Young and probably others I am forgetting.
Watching live radio in a former movie theater was a sort of step back in time, to those days before I was born when radio was the main form of American entertainment, but also a step back to a more recent time when the single-screen movie theater, like Bingen Theatre had been, was the main type of cinema facility in any town. The interior is greatly changed from those days, but the facade and labyrinthine lobby, concession stand, and balcony (balcony!) retain that feel. It took me back to my youth, and the single-screen palaces of The Danz in Bellevue, The Venetian in Albany, and The Mack in McMinnville. It is affirming to see such a place as the Bingen reborn.
If you ever have a chance to hear live music or other event at Bingen Theater, go to it, and if you have a chance to hear Los Temerosos, take it — especially this summer. It’s hot weather music, and air conditioning for the ears.