The spotlight found him center stage, where he quietly settled in behind the microphone. Guest performer Mark Barden, a Newtown resident and accomplished career musician, used few words, and let his guitars do the talking Saturday, March 22, at the Flagpole Radio Café, a local production now in its sixth season.
Glancing at audience filling the Edmond Town Hall theater and upper balcony, he played a composition he had been working on, he said. It was an instrumental bluegrass, trickling notes flowing from beginning to end. He next played “Angels Flying Too Close To The Ground,” a song by Willie Nelsoin “for all our angels,” he said.
As that song’s last note faded, Mr Barden, still soft-spoken, turned to the Flagpole Radio Café Orchestra and said, “Let’s have some fun…”
From a rendition of Merle Haggard’s song “Mama Tried,” the orchestra and Mr Barden then moved into “I Know You Rider,” a country blues song first written in 1934 and which has been covered by everyone from The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin to Hot Tuna and The Byrds.
Francine Wheeler soon sang about “walking after midnight, searching for you…” as she sang Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
Before and after the music sets, the Flagpole Shakespeare Repertory Theatre kept guests laughing with skits about sending a son to college, buying Girl Scout cookies, St Patrick trying to pay his taxes, and “public service announcements.”
Mark Barden began his career in Nashville. He often plays in the Newtown area with his band Alternative Universe. Most recently, Mr Barden has been working with Sandy Hook Promise, devoted to finding solutions to problems at the intersection of gun violence and mental health.
The Flagpole Radio Café was created by Jim Allyn, a member of Flagpole Radio Café Orchestra; and Martin Blanco and Barbara Gaines, both members of The Flagpole Shakespeare Repertory Theatre, in conjunction with Newtown Cultural Arts Commission. The next performance is May 17.