From the beginning, Cast of Clowns was a means for bringing some of the San Francisco Bay Area's best to Southern Oregon.
"My intention was to use it (the band) as a vehicle to play with world-class players," says frontman and Ashland-based guitarist Craig Wright.
Who: Cast of Clowns
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26
Where: Applegate River Lodge, 15100 Highway 238, Applegate
Formed in 2008, the band features a revolving lineup of local and California musicians, including Greg Anton (Zero), Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band), Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), Damian Erskine (Peter Erskine and Gino Vanelli) and Jeff Pevar (Crosby, Stills & Nash and Ray Charles), to name a few.
These and other Clowns are featured on the band's debut album, "Have a Heart," set for release Oct. 28.
A configuration of Cast of Clowns, featuring Wright, Anton on drums, Erskin on bass and Applegate musicians John Stiemert on keyboards and Aaron Alkire on pedal-steel guitar, as well as several surprise guests from the Bay Area, will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Applegate River Lodge, 15100 Highway 238, Applegate.
"Have a Heart" comprises seven original songs and an interpretation of Merl Saunder's "Merl's Boogie." The album was recorded live at the Oregon Country Fair near Eugene and produced by Brian Risner of Los Angeles.
"It's a wonderful reflection of the band," Wright says. "There's some beautiful music on the thing."
For the most part, the album is made up of improvisational, good-time rock 'n' roll steeped in swampy, Louisiana-style jazz, blues and folk, but there also are a few darker songs, such as "End of the World Blues" by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and "An Offering," a funk prayer by Wright.
Wright says the tempo and style of a song may vary from show to show depending on the musicians and audience. Typically, he and Anton lay down a base rhythm and let the other musicians layer their magic over the top.
When you've got great musicians backing you, there's no need to work out every arrangement in advance, Wright says.
"And rarely do I tell somebody what to play," he says. "For the most part, they honor my intent but do what is most comfortable to them."
Wright, who teaches creative writing at Southern Oregon University, says his lyrics tend to be abstract. He says he likes to write about "the invisible people we walk past every day on the street and in the mall."
One example, "Lois Lane's Lament," a song rife with Superman references, suggests Superman could be anyone. The chorus goes, "She don't know I'm Superman."
Tickets to Cast of Clowns' concert at the Lodge are $15. Call 541-761-9394.