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Ellijay, GA
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B.E.S.T. Series lineup announced

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, a musical portrait of the singer’s short but influential career, is one of four shows scheduled for the 2015-16 B.E.S.T. Series presented by Gilmer Arts. (Contributed photo)
Gilmer Arts announces acts for upcoming B.E.S.T. Series

by Michael Andrews

A tribute to two of pop music’s most enduring “piano men,” an evening of traditional Scots-Irish tunes, a troupe of acrobatic violinists and a dramatic stage salute to a country music icon will highlight the 2015-16 B.E.S.T. (Bringing Ellijay Sensational Talent) Series presented by Gilmer Arts.

“We’re really pleased with the lineup. There’s lots of talent (including) some acts who’ve been with us before,” said Gilmer Arts President John Rathbone.

The performing arts series will get started Saturday, Nov. 7, when pianist and singer Jim Witter brings his show, Piano Men, to the stage of the Ellijay Elementary School Auditorium. As with previous seasons, the auditorium will host all four B.E.S.T. shows.

The evening of retro song and talk features Canadian singer/songwriter Witter performing popular music from the ‘70s, including selections from the catalogs of Billy Joel and Elton John.

“He’s a terrific performer and musician who really engages the audience. He gets them to come up and sing and do different things,” said Rathbone. “He does material from the ‘70s other than Billy Joel and Elton John, but it’s primarily a tribute to them.”

Springer Theatricals, of Columbus, Ga., will bring another of its presentations to town Saturday, Feb 6. The touring company of Columbus’ Springer Opera House was here in 2014 with the musical production California Dreaming and earlier this year with the stage comedy Della’s Diner.

For the 2015-16 B.E.S.T. season, it will bring to life A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline. The musical is based on the brief but heavily influential career of the country music singer whose life was cut short in a 1963 plane crash.

“It’s a good show — a real rags to riches story,” said Rathbone. “In 2000, we (had this show) along with Ricky Skaggs and other acts. It’s a well-loved production that’s been around for a couple of decades and anybody who has an interest in country music or the Grand Ole Opry will (enjoy) it.”

A group that drew local acclaim, also for a 2000 B.E.S.T. performance, will return to Ellijay Friday, March 11.

Cherish the Ladies is a five-piece, all-female ensemble steeped in the rich tradition of Scots-Irish folk music — the age-old genre of jigs, reels and ballads that contributed to the birth of bluegrass and Appalachian folk music in America.

“In 2000, they’d only been around 10 years or so, but they were already huge in the Celtic music field. Now they have five or six dancers and a full band. It’s a big presentation,” said Rathbone.

“We’re really lucky to have gotten them because they are very in demand,” he continued. “Their music is very high energy and they’re very powerful, award-winning, competition-winning instrumentalists.”

Another well-received act will return Saturday, April 23, for its third B.E.S.T. Series appearance.

Barrage 8 — an expanded version of the Canadian group Barrage — combines choreographed dance, stringed instruments and dramatic visuals, all of which are anchored by six versatile violinists.

“Barrage is the most requested return act of anything we’ve ever done,” confirmed Rathbone. “The original Barrage had been touring out of Canada for 10 to 12 years and then took a two-year hiatus. I’ve been trying to get them for the last two years ever since we restarted the series,” said Rathbone.

The original version of the group performed here as part of the 2008 B.E.S.T. Series and returned for a holiday show in 2009.

“What they’ve done is add an upright bass and cello to the original group of fiddle players and they have a backup band, too,” continued Rathbone. “They have a huge LED screen behind them now, with all sorts of visuals that go along with the performance.”

This will be the third full B.E.S.T. Series to be presented since Gilmer Arts resumed the annual concerts in 2013 following an over two-year hiatus.

Gilmer Arts’ membership and volunteer base have both experienced an upswing during the last year, which has allowed the local arts and heritage organization to expand its calendar of programs, classes and artistic events.

“Our membership is higher than it’s ever been. We have 17 committees populated by almost 50 volunteers working on different programs. We taught close to 1,000 people last year just with our class offerings,” Rathbone added.

Tickets for the shows will go on sale Saturday, Aug. 22, during the organization’s annual B.E.ST. reception. The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

After that, tickets will be available for purchase at Gilmer Arts, located in downtown Ellijay at 207 Dalton Street. Members receive a 10 percent discount on individual tickets and an additional 10 percent discount on season passes.
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