COTTAGE GROVE – There are good ideas, there are great ideas … and then there are ideas like the Metropolitan Rhythm & Blues Revue.
It’s simple. The music students put together a show with professional adult musicians from the community to raise money for their music program.
It’s been happening now for over two decades at the Cottage Theatre, where Cottage Grove High School just hosted the 22nd annual Metropolitan Rhythm & Blues Revue from Feb. 23-26.
“I’ve lived in the Midwest, I’ve lived in the Northwest, I’ve visited the East Coast a lot, I’ve visited a lot of colleges across the country and I’ve never seen anything close to this,” CGHS music director Devin Wright said after Friday evening’s performance. “This truly is a one-of-a-kind event.”
Rubbing elbows on stage with professional musicians – even though most of this year’s adult cast is affiliated with the school – is something the students talk about and look forward to every year.
Keith Kessler, who opened the second set with a spirited rendition of “New York, New York,” has been a part of all 22 R&B Revues. He grew up in Springfield, and was a teacher before becoming a counselor at Cottage Grove High for the last 10 years of his career.
“I do it because I love it,” Kessler said. “Devin was one of the students I watched come through here. What’s neat about this is that they get to do what they love to do. They get a feel of what it’s like to play professionally.”
The show also allows high school performers the freedom to play the songs they want and to show off their creativity.
“A lot of students saw us in middle school and have always dreamed of doing their solo in their senior year when I offer it in jazz choir,” Wright said. “I usually have some say in the song, but they usually come to me with great solo ideas because they know the attitude of the show. It’s something they look forward to massively. Jessie McClean was in the show, she was in jazz choir when I was in high school; Holly Edwards was in the show, she was in jazz choir when I was in high school. It’s super fun.”
There was a “We Are Family” feel among everyone involved in the show. The play-acting roles were done with charisma and vigor. And the music, at times, could give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
“I’ve been a professional for 20 years and I still get the tingles with these kids,” Wright said.
Kids playing with adults isn’t the easiest sell, though, Kessler points out.
“The hardest thing is to explain this to somebody who’s never been here,” said Kessler, who turns 71 next Wednesday. “As soon as you say you have high school kids, they all think of the intermediate band in the cafeteria playing “Oom-Pah-Pah.”
“And when you tell them you have adults coming in, and the kids can knock it out of the park …”
He didn’t need to finish his sentence.
Fortunately, it was a packed house for all four shows, as the kids truly did knock it over the fence. Some of the standouts were acapella singers Char Hawks and Wisper Pilling, who are both heading to music college, and senior bass player Cheyne Galbreath, who won some awards at a recent festival.
When Kate McLearn first pitched the idea for the R&B Revue, nobody could have imagined it going this strong for so long.
“We have this unique ability with Eugene being close enough and LCC having a good music department, and the U of O, that we can pull in people and get the adults that it takes to do this, so we’ve been blessed with that,” Kessler said.
Kessler knows one thing: He’s going to keep coming back.
“As long as he’ll have me, I’ll do this for another 22 years,” he said.