I hope you will forgive me for the short notice but there is something unique happening in Cottage Grove tonight (Thursday, Aug. 8) that you really should see. That is, if you enjoy plays on words mixed with poetry, politics, facial contortions and live music. Chris Chandler, a modern-day performer who reaches back into vaudeville and Chautauqua, is, truly, the only one-of-a-kind act that I have witnessed.
I first encountered Chandler at, you guessed it, the Oregon Country Fair. That was around 20 years ago. At this year’s fair, he confessed to having been present for the past 25 years, or half of the festival’s current run in Veneta. I was transfixed then and there, and have made it a point to try and see him as often as I could ever since.
What makes him so captivating is sort of hard to describe. One thing is his accent. There was no mistaking that trace of a southern drawl. Having been born in Stone Mountain, Georgia, he has incorporated his southern roots into several poignant performance pieces.
Another thing is the energy that he exudes as he stalks the stage, often wading into the audience. He appears tightly wound, like a panther on the prowl about to spring as he tracks his prey with intense stares into his prey’s (the audience’s) eyes. His voice carries this energy too; you can feel his effort as his vocal cords bulge out from his neck.
That doesn’t mean he screams. No, by no means. Chandler’s voice is his instrument, through which he has learned to convey so many emotions and colors while he tells his stories. And he plays those vocal cords like a Stradivarius as he spins his stitched-together tale. Accompanying his performance is an animated face that emphasizes his delivery.
Now those words: what are they, anyway? He is a storyteller, first and foremost, but also an adept poet. And a punster who enjoys word play and uses a well-turned phrase to make a sharp right-hand turn from the direction that you thought you were heading in. These verbal wanderings take you on an adventure and, after touring a universe that he creates in your mind, gently sets you down, leaving you musing over what just happened while craving more.
This all happens to a backdrop of music. Chris seems to have the ability to attract highly talented and sensitive musicians to his act, who play classic popular tunes to his vocals that are chosen to emphasize and fit perfectly with his pieces. When he breaks, the band sings the lyrics to the song that has provided the canvas for Chandler to paint his picture of words.
A smattering of themes I have heard him go off on include: New Orleans, Evil, Occupy Wallstreet, Lightning Bugs into a St. Patrick’s Karaoke Bar (Ladies Drink Free) Party, Spotify… Well, you get the picture: all over the place.
Don’t take my word for it; experience this phenomenon for yourself, 8 p.m. tonight at the Axe & Fiddle, Main Street in the Historic Downtown of Cottage Grove. Come have historically good times of your own and come away different. There is no cover, but you may want to bring some folding money so you can tip the band or take home a CD or Chandler’s anthology book of 25 years of writing, called “Avoiding Godot.”
If this is too short-notice for you or you can’t get out of whatever it was that you had already planned, then go to www.chrischandler.org or explore Youtube for a sample of what you missed. Search for Chris Chandler Kerrville and that should help you get past the wingnut who also shares his moniker. Let’s turn out and cement Cottage Grove as a permanent stop for the Chris Chandler train!
Reach Dana Merryday at 541-942-7037
or [email protected]