Bluegrass Moonshine Birth of NASCAR Tour Begins Rehearsals

Sierra Hull and Baxter Black Rehearsals began December 11 at New Haven’s acclaimed Long Wharf Theatre for The Appalachian Tour: Bluegrass, Moonshine & The Birth of NASCAR, preparing for a 2011 national tour. Casting has been completed for the multi-media theatrical production inspired by Neal Thompson’s book, Driving with the Devil - Southern Moonshine, Detroit wheels and the Birth of NASCAR.

“It was wonderful to finally see a year’s work come to life on stage”, said scriptwriter David Capasso, whose company is the show’s executive producer. “Although the production has two acts, two scenes each, we rehearsed and blocked act 1 scene 2, which is the heart of the story detailing the trials and tribulations of the Appalachian mountain folk, the people who made NASCAR possible through their moonshining activities.”

The show combines engaging storytelling, live bluegrass and old-time mountain music and historical film footage to tell the story of the Appalachian mountain people; their heritage, their migration south from the whiskey-taxing Northeast to Appalachia, their moonshine making and how their legendary moonshine ‘runners’ became the first generation of renegade drivers for NASCAR...

The storyteller, Baxter Black, supported by live music under the direction of Sierra Hull, creates the ultimate NASCAR historic experience and spectacularly entertaining stage performance. The musicians onstage are all handpicked from The Berklee College of Music’s groundbreaking Roots program -- Trent Freeman on fiddle, Lukas Pool on banjo and Courtney Hartman on guitar and lead vocals.

Invited guests to the closed rehearsal included Mary Taylor Doub, promoter of the award-winning Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and Janet Brightly, head of Grey Fox sponsor development, along with a couple dozen attendees invited to provide feedback for the production. Mary Taylor Doub: “Loved being at the first rehearsal...it was like being at a birth. I really feel it will be amazing...”

Ms. Doub’s sentiments were echoed by all. The Appalachian Tour races out of the box, incorporating old-time and bluegrass music in a stage production featuring musicians breaking out of their usual performance “clusters” to freely move about the stage, their characters and  music driving the narration is a creative, exciting departure from the usual static “concert” setting.

Sierra Hull, music director: “The show is different from a performer’s perspective. Here, you’re directed not to play to the audience, not even to the storyteller. The musicians and their music are characters within the show, it’s new and it took a while to feel comfortable, but Trent, Lukas and Courtney fell right into their roles.” It’s also a new role for her, she adds. “For me, it was odd not playing. My instinct was to perform, but as music director, selecting the ‘period’ music to support the script and working with the team provided me an opportunity to explore new avenues of music. It’s great fun.”

The production was officially announced at this year’s IBMA World of Bluegrass in Nashville; Baxter Black and Sierra Hull, as well as others involved were in attendance discussing the show and its planned 2011 tour.

A second series of rehearsals will begin mid-January, at which time the entire show will be ‘digitally captured’ by the New York City-based American Movie Company, which specializes in ‘filming’ stage productions. A premier ‘webcast’ is planned for March, and the show will begin touring soon thereafter. For more information visit appalachiatour.com

Katherine Forbes

Nashville, TN