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Jacksonville's entire past set to music

JACKSONVILLE — People and events that shaped the town will be celebrated in song during a musical production co-written by the city administrator in honor of Jacksonville's 150th birthday.

"Jacksonville Jubilee! Echoes of the Past" will present each decade in music and verse at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, on the Britt Festivals stage. The two-and-a-half-hour production will feature top local and regional musicians and is part of a 10-day celebration that starts Thursday, Sept. 16 (see www.jacksonvilleoregon.us for full schedule).

City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen crafted history-based lyrics for most of the numbers, while folksinger/songwriter Christina Duane put them to music.

"It was a lot more interesting than making a coffee table book," said Wyntergreen, explaining the origins of the show. Duane, Wyntergreen and others had talked about creating a publication with 15 articles, one for each decade, as part of the sesquicentennial celebration when the musical concept arose.

"We said we could do 15 different songs, except you add the music of each era," said Wyntergreen, who had written lyrics before. His knowledge of the town's history and characters aided the effort, and he relied on Duane for musical direction.

"It was really great to work with someone else's lyrics. I hadn't gotten to write for some of those styles," said Duane, who delved into ragtime, bluegrass, spirituals, anthems, jazz, rock, folk and country for the musical.

"I pulled in all my peers, my friends, people that I have worked with before that I know would do well on each style," Duane said of the musicians.

Artists include pianist Patti Moran McCoy, Sons of Oregon with Skip Bessonette, bluegrass band Rogue Valley Riders, Gypsy Soul, vocalist Patty Shelton, and Duane and her band, which includes two musicians flying in from California just for the show.

Among townfolk portrayed in songs are banker Cornelius Beekman and hotel proprietor Madame De Roboam of the 1800s; painter Dorland Robinson, Col. H.H. Sargent, Robby Collins and Mayor E.O. Curly Graham of the 1900s; and trail builder Larry Smith of the current century.

"I tried to put in what their colloquialisms would have been and what I believe would have been the topics of the time," said Wyntergreen, a Jacksonville resident since the 1980s.

"Cool Cat Collins," for example, is set in the 1950s with beat poetry and jazz to relate the story of an advocate for historic preservation. "Jacksonvillians," set to 1900s ragtime, features a singer as Pinto Colvig, who later became the first Bozo the Clown and the voice of Goofy.

"We are actually, accurately documenting the history of Jacksonville in music. It's making both history and musical history," said Duane. "I love Jacksonville. It felt like an honor and a trust."

Duane will perform "Sunset Over Jacksonville," a song she previously recorded. She performs "Legacy" near the opening and closes with a "Legacy" reprise, pieces she wrote herself.

The first version honors founding fathers such as Judge Hannah and Peter Britt. The show closer honors living community members, including Smith and Phil Gahr, who created the woodlands trail system in the city.

" 'Legacy' is really emotional for me. It talks about all the generations," said Duane.

Historic photos will be displayed in a slide show as the evening grows dark. Grammy-nominated Gentle Thunder will play Native American flute prior to the opening.

A studio recording of the work may be produced if grant money can be secured, said Wyntergreen. Duane would like to see the performance become an annual event with additional history added. Production costs are covered by ticket sales and business sponsor underwriting.

Seating is general admission, but reserved seats are available for those with special needs.

Tickets cost $14 and are available at the Britt Festivals box office and Jacksonville Mercantile.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.