Stage & Dance

great american brass band festival: Danville event provides "natural audience' for Lincoln play with period tunes

The Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville is ­adding a little drama to the proceedings this year.

The occasion is the same one that has many artists ­undertaking innovative projects: the 200th anniversary of the birth of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Centre College communications director Mike Norris saw the festival in the school's hometown as a prime ­opportunity to highlight Centre's unique Lincoln connection.

”Centre College graduate John Todd Stuart was a friend of Lincoln's who directed Lincoln to practice law,“ Norris says. ”Lincoln came to him saying he wanted to be a blacksmith, and Stuart told him he was too smart to do that.“

Stuart lent Lincoln a set of law books; after the Hodgenville native passed the bar, Lincoln was Stuart's law partner for the first five years of Lincoln's career in Springfield, Ill.

Norris wrote a script for a play about Lincoln and ­Stuart called Strike Up the Band: Lincoln Comes Home, which incorporates period music throughout. He says the brass band festival ”seemed like a natural audience for it.“

Heartily agreeing are the show's musicians and 18-year festival veterans, Saxton's Cornet Band.

”They'll love it,“ says Saxton's spokesman David Goins. ”If you were there to see a concert in the 1800s, you would have seen a play, a vaudeville performance or a vignette.

”They've done vignettes before at the brass band festival, and they have been hugely successful.“

Brass band music and Lincoln are a natural fit, Goins notes, as the band has been exceptionally busy in recent months with Lincoln events and has numerous big events on the horizon. In the equal opportunity department, Saxton's also played an event in Hopkinsville last weekend commemorating the birth of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis.

Strike Up the Band's Lincoln also knows about keeping a full calendar.

Dean Dorrell, based in Washington, Ind., started ­portraying Lincoln 12 years ago when asked to do so for a retirement home Presidents Day celebration. The gig ”snowballed from there,“ and he started writing Lincoln scripts for a variety of audiences.

”Usually, in June, I might have two or three requests, ­mostly from libraries wanting me to kick off their summer reading programs,“ Dorrell says. ”I was busy every day last week and have another engagement Tuesday.“

Strike Up the Band is different from Dorrell's other ­engagements in that he's working from someone else's script.

He likes the script because it goes along with his intention to humanize Lincoln, who is deified in many people's eyes.

Says Dorrell: ”It shows that you don't have to be a perfect man to be a great man.“

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