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The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, May. 25, 2015


Music in Van Wert

By: Paul Hoverman


Since 2002, The Van Wert County Foundation has been providing free concerts in Fountain Park for everyone to enjoy.  Now, we are embarking on our 14th season of what we call the Fountain Park Summer Music Series.

I remember the first season.  I had been on the job as coordinator of performing arts for The Van Wert County Foundation for about five months. We had no idea of whether people would want to come to outdoor concerts on a regular basis. The Foundation was willing to give it a try and entrust me to put a series together.

The very first concert featured the Kettering Banjo Society. I thought a few people might get a kick out of hearing a bunch of banjo players and a tuba come up from Kettering, Ohio, and play some old time music in the park. Wow!  I guess I underestimated the interest. There must have been 500 people in the park for that inaugural concert. I remember the comment a friend made of how cool it was to sit outside, relax under the stars and listen to good music. I guess it caught on and took hold.

Since then, we have all enjoyed over a hundred concerts and are looking forward to a new slate starting in just a few weeks. As has been the tradition for the past several years, we will launch our first Fountain Park concert with the Peony and ArtRageous Festivals on Friday night, June 5. One of the biggest named bands of all time will perform in Fountain Park: Ambrosia.  If you are like me, you probably couldn’t name too many songs they ever sang, but once you hear them, you will immediately recall them with fondness.

If you grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s listening to the radio (that’s what we used to listen to when we wanted to know what was popular), then you heard Ambrosia all the time.  As a matter of fact, even today when I am in restaurants and other places of business where music is being played, I hear Ambrosia songs. Just to jog your memory, here are a few titles: “How Much I Feel,” “Biggest Part of Me,” and “You’re the Only Woman.” Some of the other groups Ambrosia either played for or toured with are like a “Who’s Who” of rock music: Alan Parsons, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, and the Doobie Brothers.  That’s pretty good company!

Well, that’s who we open the Fountain Park Summer Music Series with this year. Remember, all our summer concerts begin at 7 p.m.  As with other years, this opening weekend will be filled with all kinds of food vendors, craft vendors and artisans in and about the park, not to even mention the Peony Festival Committee will be serving food from the Rotary concession stand. It will be a lively and fun time as we open the summer in Fountain Park.

If you see a Van Wert County Foundation trustee, let them know you appreciate these free concerts made possible with funds from the Saltzgaber Music Fund. The cooperation we receive from the City Parks and Recreation Department is appreciated, as is the fine work of the Evergreen Garden Club.

Here is the rest of the line-up for this summer in Fountain Park:

  • Friday, May 22 — The Van Wert Area Concert Band
  • Saturday, June 20 — Blue Moon Swamp: a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute
  • (GOBA weekend in Van Wert)
  • Friday, June 26 — The Hoo Doo Loungers: New Orleans style band
  • Friday, July 3 — Lima Symphony Pops: An American Celebration!
  • Friday, July 10 — Van Wert Area Concert Band
  • Friday, July 17 — Shotgun Wedding: a city/country band
  • Friday, July 24 — CSN Songs: a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • Friday, August 7 — Your Generation, featuring Fifty Amp Fuse
  • Friday, August 14 — Van Wert Area Concert Band


POSTED: 05/19/15 at 9:33 pm. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

People often ask if we can relax a little, now that the season is over at the Niswonger.  Unfortunately, there are a few items to address during the off-season. Allow me to share a little of our off-season preparations.

The selection process for next season’s concerts is over (phew!). Now it’s time to wait for all our offers to be confirmed (or not).  At this moment, I am waiting to hear back from just two out of 25 offers we have in. That’s not bad, but it’s also the reason we experience delays in our announcements and preparations for revealing a new season. However, we are working on what we have and I think by the end of this week we will be ready to put the finishing touches on a new season.

In the meantime, marketing is busy lining up sponsors, underwriters, and advertisers.  Nearly at the same time, marketing is also busy collecting information on all our artists and shows to put together a season catalog that will be mailed out to thousands all over the country. Much of this work must be done in concert (no pun intended) with other work. It takes a very organized, creative and skilled person to pull all of this off successfully, and we are fortunate to have one of the best in our marketing director, Tafi Stober.  She keeps a lot of balls in the air at the same time.  Did I mention the video preparation?

Marketing also works in harmony (sorry, yet another pun) with our box office manager, Jerry Beard, to get all the concerts entered into our ticketing software with all the correct dates, times, and much more detailed information needed for each concert. Jerry also does great work.

As I complete the contract phase of each event, I share it with marketing and the box office.  Then, it’s time for our tech and production director to get to work advancing each show. Often, his expertise is called upon even earlier to make sure a certain show will fit the specifications of our venue. Hugh Saunier has been with us from the very beginning and is dependable and skillful.  We hear compliments from touring artists quite often on the wonderful team of volunteers and workers we organize under Hugh’s skillful eye.

The lighting side of our productions is also handled professionally by Hugh’s son, Matt Saunier.  Matt graduated from Van Wert High School two years ago and is actually now touring all over the U.S. with some professional touring artists who have performed at the Niswonger.  Making contacts in the performing arts industry might just land a huge job some day for Matt.  He has learned a tremendous amount about show and concert production while working first at the Marsh Auditorium and later at the Niswonger.  We have been the beneficiaries of his education.

A new teacher has been hired by Van Wert City Schools to focus on educating students for a future in performing arts.  We look forward to working with Melissa Bloomfield and a crop of students who can learn and possibly grow into a future job in performing arts.

During the summer, our facility coordinator will be busy taking care of all our performers’ hospitality, travel and lodging needs. This is sometimes an overwhelming job. Who better than Mark Hartman to take care of these details? Mark has done outstanding work at Trinity Friends Church for many years and now we have been blessed to have his services at the Niswonger.  Additionally, Mark will line up all the volunteer positions required to serve each concert. I’ve said it before, but we can’t say enough about the dedication of so many outstanding volunteers we have at our PAC.

Oh yes, and while all this preparation is going on, some of us are gearing up for a wonderful summer line up of concerts in Fountain Park.  All that fun begins June 5 with the soft-rock group, Ambrosia on Peony and ArtRageous weekend.  Remember, these summer concerts begin at 7 p.m. in Fountain Park.

So, yes it is nice to have a season behind us and to relax a little.a Thanks for asking.


POSTED: 05/13/15 at 6:07 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

Satisfying an NPAC audience


Running a performing arts center is a job I feel blessed to have.  I have always said, what better job someone can have than to be involved in music and, through it, bring joy to so many people?  Music has been a part of my life for so many years that I can say it is not a job, but it is who I am.

Presenting concerts at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center and, soon, Fountain Park, once again, is a pleasure. What pleases me the most is seeing happy faces of audience members before, during and after the concerts. On occasion, however, there are some not real pleased.  I understand completely. For some, it’s too loud, while for others (believe it or not) it’s not loud enough. For some, the hall is too hot, while for others, it’s too cold.

I suppose it would be appropriate to explain a few factors which affect people differently.  Regarding the sound level at concerts, the more “prominent” the performers, the less control we have over sound levels.  With the performers so many want to see, they normally bring their own sound man and quite often bring their own system (although sometimes, I think ours is far superior.)  I guess the thinking is that “their guy” knows the show, the performers, and knows just how they want it to sound.  They mix the sound concert after concert and think they can do a better job.  Sometimes I wonder?

What seems to irritate some is the level of sound. For instance, I got a letter (not all that unusual) from someone complaining of the sound level of a recent concert. I also heard complaints from a few others in the lobby. That’s fine. I understand. What people however need to know is that we do not control the sound mix, which affects how you understand what is being sung.  We hope that the person they bring knows what they are doing and can adapt the show mix to the acoustics of our hall. Sometimes, I think we could do a better job. The natural acoustics of the Van Wert County Foundation Saltzgaber Music Hall are very good. An acoustician from the East Coast was hired to design the hall and did a marvelous job.

Although contracts strictly state that the performers have final say on sound levels, I have commented on the levels during sound checks. The common retort is that it will be different once people get in the hall. I understand this and try to give the soundman credit for knowing better.  Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Thankfully, we win far more often than we lose.  But we are not perfect. To quote President Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Our goal though is to always try!

It’s good to understand the heating and cooling of the Music Hall.  Unfortunately, it’s not like our living rooms at home where we can go to the thermostat and make a quick adjustment.  First of all, the hall is a large room.  Think of how many living rooms you could fit inside the music hall? The controls of heating and cooling throughout the Niswonger PAC are controlled by a computer (what else?) system that takes many elements into consideration.  Outdoor temperatures, humidity levels, ozone counts per number of people, wind, sun, changing outdoor temperatures, and on and on. I certainly don’t understand it all.  I’m like you, I only know if I’m hot or cold. I am told that circulating air is required to control such a large area.  When the air hits you, it normally feels cold, regardless of the temperature.

We work with school officials who control the settings to try and make each setting as comfortable as possible. Sometimes we get it just right and sometimes “the porridge is just too cold,” to steal a line from an old nursery rhyme. However it is, the temperature certainly fluctuates throughout a performance when taking body temperatures into consideration.

Okay, I think this is enough sharing of information on our behalf. Please just understand that we are constantly trying to make a concert experience just right for everyone in attendance.  Wish us luck!


POSTED: 05/06/15 at 12:03 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

There are at least four “P’s” required to accomplish what is needed for a ticket buyer to enjoy a concert.  They are each closely related, but not nearly the same.  The four “P’s” I am referring to are: production, promotion, performance and presenting. Although we are all involved in making a concert or show for someone to enjoy, it requires different skills.

Let’s take the Niswonger Performing Arts Center as an example. The Van Wert Area Performing Arts Foundation is primarily a presenter of performing arts. We look for, book, contract with and eventually present already existing performances.  If the performance doesn’t occur at the Niswonger, it may happen somewhere else.

Production is the making of a show or concert. Schools, community theaters and other creative organizations produce shows. All the shows we bring to the Niswonger have been produced by someone else. There are people who are trained and work primarily as producers.

After a show is produced, it needs to be promoted.  If it is a touring show, it must first be promoted to a presenting organization and/or venue. This is what I deal with constantly. I receive hundreds of emails, brochures, videos, and the like, promoting performers.  On occasion, you may be a promoter by telling me about a certain performer you saw or heard and think would be a perfect fit for a Van Wert venue. Bet you didn’t think of yourself as a promoter, did you?

Then there is the performing aspect. I believe this needs little explanation. These are the artists who actually make the show happen on stage. They usually get the credit for everything good or bad that people experience. Just know that before it gets to the performance part, there are many other facets behind the scenes.

That brings me to the presenter part and this is what we do. We are the ones who put our necks on the line, to the point that what we think you will enjoy, you will also think you will enjoy to the point you might be compelled to buy a ticket. It can be a very risky business if you don’t have a pulse for the end user: in other words, the audience members.

Some presenters aren’t very successful because they try and force their preferences on audiences. Now, that being said, I have to admit that we take calculated risks occasionally. Sometimes we win and sometimes we “get educated.”  I sincerely hope that we have earned the trust of most people and that we can expose audiences to new experiences from time to time.

When we take a look at the Community Concert Series currently being sold or the Grand Series, which will be announced soon, I encourage you to consider each artist and make your choices based on well-rounded criteria. You may want to check out the artist on our website.  We try to get as much information and video posted as possible.  You can also go to the artist’s own website and get a good feel for what they are about.

As a presenter, we also realize that when we have a mailing list of over 15,000 people from all over the region representing different age demographics, we must offer a variety of performances. I am so glad when people discover and enjoy new artists they never knew about before.  The safe choice is to go with the ones you think you know.  Even then, they can sometimes disappoint though.

Thank you all for such wonderful support throughout our 2014-15 season at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center.  It is you, the audience, who make us special!


POSTED: 04/29/15 at 5:49 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

It’s hard to believe we are wrapping up another Niswonger season this Saturday night.  The legendary Temptations will be in town this Saturday to light up The Van Wert County Foundation Saltzgaber Music Hall to a sold-out crowd of nearly 1,200 people.  This concert took off like a firecracker from day one of sales back last summer.  We have been out of tickets for over three months.  I’m not sure I remember a concert that drew so much attention so far in advance.

As we wrap up the season, it’s interesting to look back at what has occurred since October 4.  There have been 29 professional performances on our stage as well as numerous school concerts, musical programs, and rental functions.  Next month, we will add a couple dance recitals to round out the season.

Out of the 30 performances, 10 have sold out and over 26,000 people have witnessed our concerts this season.  Some have been the same people, but over 1,500 were first time attenders this season.  We now have a mailing list of nearly 17,000 concert enthusiasts who have come from as far away as Canada and the state of Delaware. We regularly see people from Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, and the Cleveland area.

Each year, we think it will be difficult to outdo the previous season.  This year was one that had its skeptics, but we fail to give credit to some concerts that may initially fly “under the radar.”  For instance, so many thoroughly enjoyed relatively unknown performers like the Annie Moses Band, Dallas Brass, Peter White, The Inspiration of Broadway with little known, Mark McVey, Home Free, and the Broadway show- Memphis.  I so enjoy introducing people to new performers; at least new to them!  This is where our mission of education is partially fulfilled.

We also fulfill our education and inspiration portions of our mission by involving youth with our performances.  Who can forget all the high school musicians on stage with Dallas Brass back in November?  Or the little dancers and singers who took part in the Nutcracker with the Ballet Theatre of Toledo?  Or the darling young kids who performed on stage with Kenny Rogers at Christmas?  It was magical!  Inspiration at its finest.  Some Lincolnview High School singers got the opportunity to sing for Home Free, a group that created more excitement with our audience than I have ever seen before.  Some local pianists received world-class instruction from concert pianist, Leon Bates.  The previous year, the Crestview High School Choir had the thrill of backing up Christian artists, Point of Grace.  Last week, the Van Wert High School Select Choir entertained our lobby audience before the StepCrew concert.

We are constantly looking for opportunities to involve local talent from our schools with the professional performers who come to the Niswonger.  As we plan our next season, we will once again be looking for ways to involve local people and hopefully inspire some young people to “reach for the stars.”

We can only accomplish these goals because of the support of you, our patrons and supporters.  The dream was thought of, then created, and now you continue to perpetuate it.  Thank you for your support of another exciting season at the Niswonger.  The way it looks, next season is shaping up to be perhaps even better!

The Community Concert Series has been announced and is now selling to members.  You can become a member right now and get an advanced seat selection.  On April 29, the box office opens to anyone wishing to purchase the series.  Then, get ready: we are only a month away (hopefully) from announcing the entire season — our Grand Series. Hold onto your hats!

And speaking of reaching for the stars, we want to wish the Van Wert High School Band and Lincolnview High School Choir good luck as they perform at state competition this weekend!


POSTED: 04/22/15 at 6:07 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

Following last night’s exciting concert to end this season’s Community Concert Series, now is the perfect time to share the brand new 2015-16 series with you. Nearly 900 people were entertained by the high-energy, step-dancing Celtic music ensemble, The StepCrew. It was a great way to segue into next season’s announcement.

Over the 62 years of Community Concerts in Van Wert, there have been many changes. Community Concerts do not remain stagnant.  Since moving to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, we have continued to honor the tradition of packaging professional performances at an affordable price. Next season will be the same value, but will offer some new twists for the ticket buyer.

Last year, we gave the option of selecting desired seats in a scalable house. In other words, if you prefer seats up close and personal, they may cost a little more, but yet we offered many seats at the most affordable rate too. We also offered special memberships that offered early buying options, along with meet-and-greets with the performers, and other special features.  Last night, those who were members were treated to a pre-concert dinner at Willow Bend Country Club, where we also gave the first announcement of next year’s performers.

For those who like to make an evening of their Niswonger concert experiences, we have teamed with Willow Bend to offer a dinner and a show.  Each of the five Community Concerts next season will be teamed with a themed dinner at Willow Bend.  It’s a fun and classy way to enjoy the entire concert experience and enjoy it with friends and fellow patrons. And with the increasing number of out-of-towners attending our concerts, it’s a great way to meet new friends and talk about what great offerings our community has to offer.

Just announced at last night’s concert with The StepCrew were the five outstanding performances one can purchase for as little as $60. The 2015-16 season features two big PBS performances that many have probably seen on WBGU (PBS 27) in Bowling Green or WFWA (PBS 39) in Fort Wayne. Child prodigy, pianist, singer, composer and entertainer Ethan Bortnick is returning to Van Wert. Now age 14, Ethan continues to wow audiences with an entertaining show of jazz, classical, pop and much more.  This spring, expect his second PBS special to be aired on local stations and throughout the country.

Christmas will go “Grassical” this year with the DePue Brothers Band. The four DePue brothers hail from Bowling Green, but now live all over the country. Music is the one thing that keeps this family together.  That’s quite understandable as their father, Dr. Wallace DePue, was music professor for many years at Bowling Green State University. “Grassical” is the term these brothers have coined for their violin and fiddling styles, which contain elements of both classical and bluegrass. It is a very entertaining night and they have some beautiful Christmas arrangements you will fall in love with.

Everyone’s favorite singing cowboys, Riders in the Sky, recently received permission to use clips of the old Roy Rogers movies and they have put together a show saluting the “King of the Cowboys.”  It is a brand new show and you will be among the first to see it as part of our Community Concert Series.

The fourth concert of the series will be something totally different, but very fun. The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra comes to us from Wellington, New Zealand. Fourteen ukuleles and a bass will create a fun-filled night of music, comedy and who knows what else.  This band is comprised of a bunch of young kids who make music an experience for the entire audience.

We finish the series with a group that has been mentioned to me by several people lately: The Texas Tenors. Once again, a huge Emmy Award-winning PBS special and performers on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” propelled these three tenors to Billboard’s top 10 list of classical artists in the world!  Their show displays a “Country roots Classical sound” that has them in great demand all over the world. Now you can see them on the Niswonger stage as part of the 2015-16 Community Concert Series.

Now that you are appropriately teased and excited about this upcoming season, watch for more information about how and when you can be a part of this in news releases throughout the area and with our local media friends.


POSTED: 04/14/15 at 10:45 pm. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

Before I have the chance to communicate with you again in this column, we will have enjoyed a high-energy Celtic dance and music show with the dynamic StepCrew. This concert is Tuesday, April 14, at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. About four years ago, I had the opportunity to witness one of their first public performances at the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival.  It was a relatively hot day in the early summer as I recall, but it was about to get even hotter!  Six dancers, backed up by an exciting upbeat Irish band, took the stage and raised the temperature.

This new band and dance troop, who also could fiddle up a storm while dancing, was the latest musical group to come to the U.S. out of Canada.  An agent friend of mine invited my wife, daughter and me to come see them at the famed Dublin Irish Fest. We were so entertained and impressed that I immediately wanted to bring their show to Van Wert. Now, some four years later, we finally get to share this magnificent show with all of you.

As the finale to our 2014-15 Community Concert Series, we are selling what single tickets remain. You can still get in to see this exciting concert by purchasing online at NPACVW.ORG or in advance or at the door next Tuesday at the box office.  The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., but if you arrive early, you can hear the Van Wert High School Select Choir entertain in the lobbies before the concert. They are scheduled to sing from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m.  This new vocal ensemble is under the direction of Ms. Melissa Bloomfield.

Also, since this is the last concert of the Community Concert Series, we are planning to announce our brand new 2015-16 Community Concert Series.  All I can tell you is that it features five outstanding concerts with tremendous talent, notoriety, and value.  You will want to be in your seat for the video preview at 7:25 p.m., just before the start of the StepCrew concert.  Each year, I think we can’t outdo the previous, but I think our programming committee has done an outstanding job and I can’t wait to share it with you.

For all you parents and grandparents of young children, don’t forget about our show this Sunday afternoon, April 12, at 3 p.m. featuring “The Berenstain Bears Live!”  Most everyone who has been a parent or grandparent is familiar with these beloved children’s books.  They promote such good lessons for children and this live production will bring the books to life in a stage show entitled “Family Matters the musical.”  You can still get tickets for this one if you hurry.  Jeffery-Mohr Dentistry is helping us bring this wonderful show to all children in our area.  Because of their generosity, tickets begin at just $10.

Good things continue to happen in the arts of Van Wert.  This weekend, Van Wert High School Drama Department presents the musical, “Grease.”  There are three shows beginning this Thursday, and continuing on Friday and Saturday.  They all begin at 8 p.m. and tickets are available through the Niswonger box office.  Lots to do, lots to see.  Enjoy!


POSTED: 04/08/15 at 7:58 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

I have said many times in this column that I believe live music is always better. I still hold to that premise, but I also realize that television has become an even bigger influence on live music today.

In the early days of television, variety shows were very prominent.  Some of the more mature readers may recall shows in the 1950s through 1970s like Red Skelton, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra; “The Jackie Gleason Show”, with the June Taylor Dancers; and many other early pioneers of TV with guest or house performers. Television then went through a time in the ‘80s and ‘90s where variety shows disappeared. Our friend, Tony Orlando, was one of the last real variety shows to successfully run on TV and it lasted until 1976.  The Carol Burnett Show lasted two more years, finishing its run in 1978.  All these variety shows incorporated live music and performers on TV.

Over two decades of television passed before a new type of “reality” TV show appeared such as “American Idol”, followed by “Dancing with the Stars”, “The Voice”, and others.  These shows presented “common” people performing in hopes of becoming “uncommon.”  These shows have launched new careers for singers, dancers and other performers.

Another voice for music on TV is PBS.  At least twice a year, PBS airs their fund raising telethons and in my opinion, airs some of their finest programs during that time.  PBS specials became a huge opportunity for not-so popular performers to be recognized as tremendous entertainers.  It also gave a stage to performers from the past to be recognized by a new generation and re-appreciated by an older audience.

These “reality” TV shows and PBS specials have launched tours for many performers, giving them the opportunity to perform for live and very appreciative audiences.  I hear quite often from people who would love to see us bring “so and so” to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center to perform.  Many of these performers would not have been recognized if it were not for these popular TV shows.

I happen to think this is a good thing, because like I have said, “live is always better!”  It also gives performers the opportunity to keep performing for an appreciative audience willing to pay to hear them.  That’s called job security.

As we prepare for a new season in 2015-16 at the Niswonger, I can tell you that, if all goes as planned, you will see some of these performers you have seen on television on our stage in Van Wert.  Since November, our programming committee and I have been working diligently on another inspiring season of performances for you to enjoy.  In just two weeks, on April 14, at the StepCrew concert, we plan on announcing the new Community Concert Series for 2015-16.  It will be filled with new and familiar performers, some you have seen and heard on TV.

As soon as we can get a confirmed season completed and approved, we will announce the rest of the season.  Our goal is to have it ready to unveil early in June.  You will be amazed with some of the talent we (hopefully) have lined up for next season.  Once again, even more performers you may have seen as a result of these recent TV shows.  Television and performing arts centers are teaming up to bring music into your lives.  It seems to be a working combination that has become successful.

Music is also a very important aspect of this Easter season.  Celebrate Easter in a church of your choice and may music fill your soul in a good way as you celebrate the triumphal resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Happy Easter, everyone!


POSTED: 03/31/15 at 8:31 pm. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

If you have ever visited Memphis, Tennessee, you no doubt have been to Beale Street and took the opportunity to immerse yourself into the musical heritage of Memphis.  Memphis is known for early rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, country, and numerous other popular music genres that really came onto the scene in the early 1950s. Names like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and eventually Elvis Presley, all got their start at Sun Records in Memphis.  Until these performers came along, the radio stations were playing old country and big band style music (not that there is anything wrong with these types of music,) but there was a new wave of music coming on shore.

There was a young radio DJ named Dewey Phillips who was spinning records late night on WHBQ Radio in Memphis.  He had become familiar with this new style of music called rockabilly and took a bold step one night to play music of a young singer named Elvis Presley.  The radio management went ballistic, imagining people would complain. What they found out was that people loved this new sound.  The radio station became even more popular, as did Dewey Phillips. Memphis was literally turned upside down in the 1950s because of this new music that was taking the city and country by storm.

The story continues as Phillips meets, and falls in love with, a young African American blues singer in Memphis. Now you have the influence of blues (can you say B. B. King?) with the rockabilly style of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, among others.  Add to this the atmosphere of racial tensions in the South — and particularly in Memphis — and you have the making of quite a story.

This story was taken by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, who added some wonderful and exciting music to create the Broadway musical Memphis. The story was so wonderfully told that Memphis became the Tony Award winner for “Musical of the Year” in 2010.  My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing it in New York and immediately knew we wanted to bring it to Van Wert for the region to enjoy as much as we did.

Well, we’ve done it!  This Saturday and Sunday, Memphis, the Musical! will be set up to perform at the Niswonger for a 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday and a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.  I encourage you to come out and experience the music, the passion, the dancing, the history and entertainment of Memphis this weekend.  With two shows, we still have tickets remaining for either one.  One show would have already been sold-out, but with two, you can get tickets even at the door.

The rest of the Niswonger season includes “The Berenstain Bears in Family Matters”, The Stepcrew, Church Basement Ladies in The Last (Potluck) Supper, and The Temptations (sold out).  It’s then time to think about summer (dread these late snowstorms).  Remember: any non-profit organizations wanting to serve food during the Fountain Park Summer Music Series concerts, must get their names to The Van Wert County Foundation office before April 1.


POSTED: 03/25/15 at 6:59 am. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert

The last concert pianist we presented at the Niswonger was two years ago.  Thomas Pandolfi, a Washington, D.C., pianist, just wowed our audience and, in my opinion, far exceeded most expectations for a piano concert. After his brilliant performance, Pandolfi took a brief breather and returned to the stage to conduct a master class with some local talented piano students.  Many of the audience stuck around to observe and were entertained and enlightened.

Nearly two years later, we have decided to bring back one of my all-time favorite concert pianists, Leon Bates. I remember him shaking the stage with his powerful selections on the 7’ Steinway Grand at the Marsh Auditorium years ago. Then, in 2009, Bates returned to perform on the Niswonger stage with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra with his magnificent rendition of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.

Now, in 2015, we bring Leon back to Van Wert to not only perform a solo concert, but also to speak and conduct a master class.  Here’s what’s happening with Leon Bates at the Niswonger this weekend. This Saturday at 2 p.m., he will give a free talk on the many contributions of African American composers of American music.  Bates travels all over the world speaking on subjects such as this as well as how body building, one of his other passions, can benefit artistry. All you need to do is show up this Saturday by 2 p.m. and you can enjoy this event, sponsored by our Speaker/Lecture Committee of the Niswonger.

Following the speaking engagement, Bates will work with four local pianists in a master class on the Central Insurance Stage of the Niswonger.  These fortunate students will be learning from a master teacher and performer who has a wealth of knowledge in piano music and music in general.  The public is welcome to stay after the speaking event and observe Mr. Bates as he works with these students.  It is really amazing to see how a student can bring a piece of prepared music into a master class and have it be transformed by someone like Leon Bates.

These two events, beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday are free of charge.  Our speaker series sponsors and Community Concert supporters help make opportunities like this available for you to enjoy. They are Midwest Electric, Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative, Vancrest Health Care Centers, Slusher’s Jewelry, Van Wert County Hospitals, Delphos Hearing Aid Center, Central Insurance Companies, and Taylor Auto Sales of Van Wert. And, of course, StateWide Ford Lincoln and Van Wert Federal Savings Bank bring our entire season to you.

Then on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., Leon Bates will top off his Van Wert stay with a magnificent piano concert on our Baldwin SD10 concert grand piano, which was donated by the Community Concert Association at the opening of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in 2007. This wonderful instrument has been used on our stage many, many times; from pop pianists to jazz to country and rock. But it is now that the instrument gets to really shine and “show off” for you under the powerful and virtuosic hands and fingers of a concert pianist like Leon Bates.  His repertoire on Sunday afternoon’s performance will highlight the grandness of a concert grand piano and test it to its fullest extent.

As a pianist, Leon Bates has performed all over the world and with nearly all of the finest symphony orchestras in America, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York and even in Carnegie Hall, just to name a very few.

Because of our very fine sponsors, the Sunday afternoon concert has tickets available from just $10 to $20.  You can get them at the door on Sunday or in advance at the box office or on-line at NPACVW.ORG.

Don’t forget, now that the Fountain Park Summer Music Series has been announced, The Van Wert County Foundation is accepting names of non-profit organizations wishing to be considered to sell food at the concerts.  Contact us at 419.238.1743 or stop by our office on Main Street. Names will be selected on April 1 — no joke!


POSTED: 03/17/15 at 9:25 pm. FILED UNDER: Music in Van Wert