The folks at Tacoma Symphony are expanding their POPS series. In January it was Andrew Lloyd Webber faves, and this weekend they’re heading into Country, with a capital C. The orchestra will back the duo Up Country (guitarist Kevin Neil and bassist/drummer Ray Mann) in “Into the West,” a program of greatest country hits: "Don’t Fence Me In," "Hey, Good Lookin’,” "I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)," "Ragtime Cowboy Joe," "The Tennessee Waltz," "Ghost Riders in the Sky” and more.
If you’re thinking that symphonic and country don’t exactly go together, think again. Composers from Copland to Rossini have either deliberately written for or been poached by the genre. On the TSO program for Sunday will be Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” (theme for “The Lone Ranger”), John Williams’ “The Cowboys,” Ferd Grofe’s “On the Trail” from the Grand Canyon Suite, and the “Hoedown” from Copland’s “Rodeo.”
It’s not only a first for the orchestra, it’s a first for Up Country too. The duo has played gigs for 15 years on cruise ships up and down the Northwest, singing harmony and reciting cowboy poetry–but never before with a symphony orchestra. Neil has won awards for his song-writing, and has 35-year career spanning many genres. Mann has performed in many countries (including for Queen Elizabeth II and Presidents Carter and Reagan) and collaborated with artists like Larry Cordle, Chuck Seals, Bobby Braddock, and Otis Blackwell.
And just in case you’re wondering how one guy can play bass and drums simultaneously, here’s a quote from Mann:
“I was a drummer and a bassist before I got run over by a diesel truck 35 years ago and lost the use of my right arm for two years. During that time I learned to play electric bass with only my left hand (hammering-on.) After physical therapy, I got the arm back and started playing bass and drums at the same time. Sort of a lemons-to-lemonade story.”
“Into the West” takes place 2:30 p.m. March 29 in the Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma. Tickets $10 to $75. 253-272-7264, www.tacomasymphony.org.