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Free concert to kickoff 37th GAAC season at the Ritz

The opportunity to enjoy a bevy of hometown talent is coming to the Ritz Theatre in September—and it won’t cost you a dime.

As a “thank you” to the community and a kickoff for the Greenville Area Arts Council’s 2018-19 season, the GAAC is presenting a free concert open to all on Thursday night, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the theater.

“We have so much talent here in our hometown. This is a chance to showcase some of it while we express our appreciation to all who support the arts in our community,” said Nancy Idland, artistic director for the GAAC.

The band Two-Lane Highway will be performing, along with five guest vocalists—Steve Norman, Vicki Burt, Stacey Edwards, Rosie Till and Beth Cooper—sharing some of their favorite songs.

Bruce Bennett of Two-Lane Highway says he and his fellow band members—Leroy Thomas, Dave Jackson, Cleve Poole and Keith Bowen–all “cut their teeth” on rock and roll, soul and rhythm and blues.

“We came together about three years ago from pieces of other bands we’d played with. Before this band, we were mostly playing traditional country music, and we enjoyed that. But we all wanted to take things in a different direction,” explained Bennett, a Greenville native who now lives in Pine Apple. 

“You could say we were all children of the ‘Big Bam’ era, with WBAM as the ‘blow torch’ radio station we all listened to.”

Bennett, like most of the band members, began playing at an early age, and went on to perform at school dances, proms and Christmas parties.

“I was lucky enough to play with a band in South Carolina during my college days, and later, I toured with a band that played across south Alabama and the panhandle of Florida—I guess I’ve probably played with dozens of bands in my lifetime.”

Bennett describes Dave Jackson as “probably the most accomplished musician” of the group.

“Dave has played extensively in both Auburn and Montgomery. A lot of folks will remember the band Harmony, of which Dave was a member,” Bennett said.

“He also went to Nashville and performed with a lot of well-known artists, before he decided to come back home. Thankfully, he found us when he returned.”

Leroy Thomas is described by Bennett as a “journeyman guitar picker.”

“Leroy was in a gospel band with his whole family and I am pretty sure he could play before he could talk. Many people will remember the Thomas family’s weekly show on Greenville Cablevision back in the 1960s,” Bennett said.

“Leroy was a member of a traveling band based out of Enterprise for many years. We are glad he’s back in our area as our rhythm guitarist.”

Like Bennett, keyboard player Cleve Poole has been around bands and music all his life.

“It’s hard to find good keyboard players these days, and we are extremely lucky to have Cleve who can not only play keys, but sings and can play the acoustic guitar, too.”

Rounding out Two-Lane Highway is its newest member, Keith Bowen, who plays bass guitar for the band.

“Keith is an accomplished, multi-talented musician who can also play the drums and lead guitar. He’s performed contemporary Christian music in several area churches and played with various bands.”

Two-Lane Highway doesn’t narrow itself to any one genre, Bennett says.

“We all sing, and we are all old enough to know there’s room for everyone’s preferences. Doing this show with the five guest vocalists will make us stretch out beyond our comfort zone a bit—but that’s also why we are so excited about doing it,” he explained.  “Fortunately, we are going to be able to rehearse at the Ritz for two full weeks before the show. That will give us a chance to really dial in the sound and get all the performers comfortable with our arrangements.”

Stacey Edwards, a seasoned Ritz Player veteran, says she is thrilled to have the chance to once again work with a live band on the Ritz stage.

“It’s just the best experience. I will be doing some Patsy Cline–’Crazy,’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘I Fall to Pieces.’ I can’t wait to perform with all these great people!”

Steve Norman, also a Ritz Player vet, has had the opportunity to perform on a few occasions with Bennett’s band.

“I really appreciate these guys for taking the time to learn some new material for us. And I will be singing songs from three of my favorites, all with strong Alabama roots,” said Norman.

“There’s a Butler County guy named Killough, a Buffett from Mobile and Pike County’s Hank. Jr. I am really excited about this chance to thank loyal Ritz patrons for their continued support of the arts.”

Vicki Burt, another longtime veteran of Putting on the Ritz, declares herself truly excited to be a part of the very first show of the GAAC season.

“I am going to be sharing the stage with some of my favorite people, both musically and personally—how neat is that? It is sure to be a fun night for everyone, with some classics and favorites that all ages can enjoy,” said Burt.

Rosie Till, who returned in 2018 as a Ritz Player after brief hiatus, will also be sharing her powerhouse vocals during the free concert.

Till, formerly of the band KAOSS who now regularly performs as one-half of the musical duo “Two of a Kind,” says it’s a special feeling to be performing in the upcoming concert.

“To be a part of something local that gives back to the community that is happening right here in our own theater where everyone can come and enjoy it—that’s an honor,” Till said.

“As for me, I will be singing a mixture of old and new including songs by Bonnie Raitt and Miranda Lambert.”

Beth Cooper, who is one of the newest members of the Ritz Players, has significant performance experience as a vocalist at a variety of venues.

That hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm for the upcoming concert, however.

“I am very excited about singing with Two-Lane Highway–such a talented and fun group of musicians. I’ll be singing some Linda Ronstadt along with numbers from other genres,” Cooper said.

“It’s going to be a truly special night of music filled with talented singers and a great band who will be doing some of their own tunes, too. You won’t want to miss out!”

While the concert is free, season tickets for the GAAC 2018-19 artistic season will be on sale at the Sept. 20 concert.