Bluegrass at the Mayflower

Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers at Mayflower Arts Center

By Rick Eichhorn

Photo: [l – r] Vickie Abbott, Ma Crow, Trina Emig and Margie Drees of Ma Cros and the Lady Slippers

Bluegrass music has a rich history in the Miami Valley. Take the Corndrinkers, for example. Based in the Miami Valley, they’ve been together for more than 39 years. So it was only natural that the historical Mayflower Arts Center, built in 1928, would become a venue for a series of three bluegrass concerts.

That’s what Al Turnbull believed, anyway. Turnbull plays the bass fiddle in the five-piece Corndrinkers band that kicked off the series last Saturday. He approached Lisa A. Bauer, owner/director of the Mayflower, and said, “How’d you like to play some music here.”

“That’s basically the genesis of it,” Turnbull said, adding, “During the winter there’s not a lot going on around here.”

The Mayflower Arts Center started out as a 650-seat theater that through the years has run the gamut of entertainment, including everything from vaudeville acts and traveling shows to movies. Bauer purchased the building in July of 2012, and by then it had been split into four theaters. She held the center’s first concert in October of last year.

“The turnout was fabulous,” Bauer said. “Given the fact that we are right downtown on the public square, you couldn’t ask for a better location.”

Add to that the audience’s appreciation of the intimate setting of the 132-seat theater. The theater boasts comfortable seats, wide aisles and effective lighting. Bauer noted the community “lauded the fact that we added music concerts to our repertoire.”

Up next in the concert series is the all-female band Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers, who will perform on Saturday, Feb. 21. The Cincinnati-based group features Ma Crow on vocals and guitar, Trina Emig on banjo and mandolin, Margie Drees on vocals and fiddle and Vicki Abbott on vocals and bass.

A legend in the Cincinnati area, Ma Crow was a 1999 recipient of a CAMMY, a Cincinnati Grammy. Her name comes from a time in her life when she was in a “motherly way.”

Inspired by ancestors, Ma Crow said, “I felt like the name reached through the walls of time. I felt like it was given to me. It was very spiritual.”

When she was young, Ma Crow said she listened to everything from young Beatles, to rock ‘n’ roll to soul. So when asked who her influences were she quickly replied, “Who wasn’t my influence?” She then paused and said, “My biggest influence was my mother and father,” adding that when he picked up the guitar and they sat down to sing, “Their harmonies moved me.”

The Lady Slippers have been playing together for nearly four years and are currently working on their third album. But before the Lady Slippers, Ma Crow played with another renowned all-female band called the Motherpluckers.

Explaining that the Lady Slipper is an endangered wild orchard that grows in the Appalachian Mountains, Ma Crow said she needed a more appropriate name for her new band. “These women were more ladylike.”

Trina has been playing banjo since 1988, and has written a book on how to play the banjo titled, “Becoming Banjo Worthy.” On bass fiddle, Margie is known for demanding rigorous rehearsals to get their harmonies pitch-perfect. She also writes a lot of the group’s songs. Until recently, Vicki was a DJ on the online radio station WorldwideBluegrass.com.

The Lady Slippers lured her away from the band, East Fork Junction.

“She has that genteel DJ personality,” Ma Crow noted. “She’s the heartbeat of our band.”

Known for their “sweet mountain harmonies,” the band plays everything from ballads to bluegrass, from old-time to contemporary. All seasoned pros, they have shared their love of acoustic music all across Ohio and in several states including West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“It’s supportive,” Ma Crow said about being in an all-female band. “I enjoy the fellowship. We enjoy each other’s company and playing together.”

The Lady Slippers offer an ideal representation of what Turnbull once described as “the music that is the foundation of all the music we grew up with.” The final band in the series will be Sugar Grove on March 21. As always, the venue of the Mayflower will further enhance the concertgoer’s experience.

Featured in the lobby at the Mayflower are themed exhibits by local and regional artists that rotates every five weeks. Upstairs is the Artist Den Gallery, consignment gallery, and the venue also has studio space for classes.

While concerts are fairly new to the Mayflower, the theater has been put to use for Indie/Art movie screenings and event rental. Plans are in the works for a guest lecture series that will be held on the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m., and will be free to the public.

Guest lecturers will be experts or professionals from a wide range of fields and topics: Anything from music to sports to you-name-it. The speaker’s presentation will last about 45 minutes, and then there will be about a 15 minute Q & A period for the audience. It’s all designed as a way to reach out to the community.

The Mayflower still has two theaters to utilize and ambitious plans are underway to create a multi-purpose space. Boasting 20-foot ceilings and plenty of square-footage, events for this area will be limited only by one’s imagination. Tentative plans call for the renovation to start in early summer.

Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21 at the Mayflower Arts Center, located at 9 W. Main St. in downtown Troy. Advance tickets are $10 at BrownPaperTickets.com, or $12 at the door. For more information, please visit macrowmusic.com, or mayflowerartscenter.com

Reach DCP freelance writer Rick Eichhorn at RickEichhorn@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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