GRANITE CITY — Calling all honky-tonk enthusiasts and country music lovers! The Alfresco Arts Center will host the Garth Brooks tribute band Shameless at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 20. The theater, located downtown, is attracting more patrons this year as it will produce and host its first full season.
The band, headed by vocalist Nathan Orr, is composed of eight members and will play favorites such as “Baton Rouge,” “Friends in Low Places” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up).”
Orr joined musician Bobby Rolens last year to form Shameless and they are steadily growing in popularity.
“Nathan is an incredible talent,” Rolens said. “He can imitate (Garth) and others so well. This is my favorite tribute group and Nathan is very good at what he does.”
Orr and Rolens are also involved in a few other musical endeavors, including the classic rock band Baywolfe and Rascal Flatts tribute band Fast Cars and Freedom. Rolens’ father was a musician, and he and his brother Larry became bandmates and business partners in the 1980s when they opened Granny’s Rocker nightclub, which eventually opened a second location. Even though the clubs have since closed, the Rolens family’s love for performing is still strong.
Rolens Productions is well-known among local audiences, as Bobby and several family members have been playing the local bar circuit for a number of years. In Shameless, Bobby plays guitar and fiddle, Larry plays steel guitar and Bobby’s son, Jaylon, plays drums. Craig Varble, an award-winning banjo player, also has been involved with Rolens productions for years as well. Varble plays bass and backup vocals. Jamie Johns plays electric guitar and Darren Pierce is on keyboards. Pierce formerly played for Pink Floyd tribute band El Monstero prior to joining Shameless. Jennifer Thompson plays percussion and sings backup vocals during Orr’s songs. She also sings solo during the band’s performances, covering Trisha Yearwood hits.
This will be the second Rolens Production performance at the Alfresco. Country music is not the only genre one can expect from Alfresco Productions. Production company and center owner Brenda Whitaker has been involved with bringing art and culture to the city for years. What started as Alfresco Productions, which hosted outdoor creative events downtown, has morphed into a theater production company with a permanent home. They produce and create a variety of stage shows and have hosted various acts in the past, including The Melting Pot at Civic Park. Since Alfresco Productions took ownership of the beautiful First Baptist Church building in 2011, they have evolved into a place where one can experience all forms of the arts.
“Every person working at the theater is a volunteer,” Whitaker said. “We are all in it because we love the arts and this gives us an opportunity to do what we love and contribute to the community.”
Since opening, the theater has shown art collections by local artists in the upstairs gallery. Molly Hatchett, Elvis impersonators and hit stage performances of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Little Shop of Horrors” all have contributed to the varied lineup the arts center promotes. This weekend, they are showing “Avenue Q,” a play Whitaker describes as “an NC-17 version of Sesame Street.”
Whitaker is aided by a number of volunteers including Artistic Director Lisa Fensterman and Technical Director Diane Wingerter. Wingerter describes Brenda as a very artistic individual and said the two have both been involved in theater for years. The Alfresco Arts Center has been nominated for an Arts for Life award. This nomination comes from a St. Louis-based arts organization that supports excellence in theater. The building, located at 2041 Delmar Ave., is a sight to be seen. The structure was built in 1921 and the original frame and mezzanine seating remains intact. Many of the aesthetics have been updated, of course, but the theater still has pews for much of the seating, leaving a feel of an historic time period within the walls. They have VIP seating, which does cost patrons a little extra, but they are also served drinks and hors d’oeuvres. General admission seating includes the pew seating and mezzanine seating where one can grab a drink at the theater’s bar, Club 21.
For information on tickets and show times, visit www.alfrescoproductions.org or pick up tickets prior to any show at the Garden Gate Tea Room at 839 Neidringhaus Ave.