End of the trail

After 27 years and hundreds of shows, The Oregon Trail Band has decided to hang up its violins and pennywhistles after a final performance in Cannon Beach

It’s sure to be a bittersweet night at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach when The Trail Band takes the stage Dec. 26. It’s the last performance of the eight-piece ensemble, which has been together since 1991, when it formed at the request of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the trail in 1993.

“It’s going to be a crying session,” said Robert Necker, co-owner of North by Northwest Gallery in Cannon Beach and a longtime fan of the musicians. “They are amazing musicians. It is going to be a wonderful but sad event.”

Members of The Trail Band include (back row, from left) Marv Ross, Eddie Parente, Phil Neuman, Mick Doherty, (front row, from left) Dan Stueber, Rindy Ross, Cal Scott, and Gayle Neuman. Photo: Keith Buckley

The band, which has been compared to town-square brass bands of the last century, decided to end it now largely because the members are all of a certain age, and it’s time to slow down, said Marv Ross, co-founder with his wife, Rindy, of both The Trail Band and nationally famous Portland rock band Quarterflash.

“The best way to put it is we are just exhausted from producing 13 Christmas shows over two-and-a-half-weeks,” Marv Ross said. “It’s sort of like running a marathon. As the years pass, it just gets harder to run that marathon. It was just time, both physically and mentally, to make our life simpler and have more relaxing time.”

In addition to the Christmas shows, which the band has been playing since 1994, The Trail Band has performed hundreds of public and private appearances across the United States and Japan and produced seven albums.

Last year, Phil Neuman found a bullwhip kelp on the beach and, with his pen knife, cut the perfect length to play in the key of F major, inserted his tuba mouthpiece, and produced, amazingly, a beautiful sound, Marv Ross says. He played the “kelphorn” on stage afterward. Photo courtesy: Marv Ross

“The thing that separates it from every other Christmas show is the band has extreme versatility,” Ross said. “Everybody in the band plays three or four instruments. A couple people play over 10 during the show. The first thing people say is, ‘I can’t believe how many instruments you play and the versatility you have.’ That’s the reputation we’ve built for ourselves.”

They also write their own songs, tell stories, and inject a bit of humor. And they’re not afraid to improvise, as Phil and Gayle Neuman demonstrated last year at Cannon Beach. In The Trail Band, Phil plays brass and wind instruments ranging from tuba to pennywhistle, while Gayle performs on everything from violin and banjo to trombone. The couple also make instruments, and as Ross put it, “Phil is always looking for a new instrument to play.”

Before last year’s show, they took a walk down the beach, where they found a big piece of kelp, Ross said. He continued: “Phil happened to have his mouthpiece in his pocket. So he cut the end off and put the tuba mouthpiece into the kelp and played it.”

They brought the “kelphorn” to the show, Ross said, and Neuman used it instead of his usual Swiss alphorn to play “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.”

“People went nuts,” Ross said. “It was just wacky.”

Ross noted that despite the feeling of spontaneity, the show is pretty well organized, down to every note. “Every once in while someone will do something and the rest of us will go, ‘Whoa,’” he said, “and everyone has a great time.”

Unfortunately, it’s my job to report that the show is sold out. But the Rosses expect to continue performing as a duet and other members of the ensemble will also likely continue performing.

Coming up elsewhere on the Coast:

On Saturday, Dec.22, the Red Octopus Theatre Company in Newport presents seven holiday-themed short plays, along with Christmas music and an intermission party with free hot chocolate and what organizers call “an incredible selection of homemade Christmas cookies.”

Earlier this year, the company put out a call for submissions of short plays. The seven original plays selected are described as running “the gamut from hilarious to heartwarming.” Catch it at 7 p.m. in the Alice Silverman Theatre at the Newport Performing Arts Center. All seats are $15. Tickets can be purchased by calling 541-265-ARTS, online, or by visiting the box office at 777 W. Olive St.

North on the Coast, the Hoffman Gallery at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita features plates by 11 North Coast potters painted by 21 North Coast painters. The show runs through Dec. 30, and is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Bids can be placed on the pieces displayed in the gallery, but each also carries a “buy now” price. All proceeds from the sale will help fund improvements to the Hoffman Center’s restroom and kitchenette areas.

The December Gallery show also includes Robbie McClaran’s black-and-white New Year’s Day photos of Twin Rocks Beach. McClaran is a fine-art photographer whose work has been shown in museums across the country, including the Portland Art Museum. His book is for sale in the gallery.

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