NEW MANCHESTER - The Oak Glen Middle School Culture Club, now in its fourth year, is parlaying its success into a more extensive concert series in 2014.
Through the Mountaineer Freedom Concert Series, the Culture Club will host three acts in a span of six weeks in February and March. Normally, the concert series includes one show per semester, in the spring and in the fall.
"We are very excited about ... hosting three of the nation's most in-demand touring acts in the genre of Americana music," said Matt Cashdollar, Culture Club adviser and OGMS guidance counselor.
Cashdollar said the featured performers will be The Steel Wheels (Feb. 12), Caravan of Thieves (March 7) and SHEL (March 27). Each show will begin at 6:45 p.m., with the headliner taking the stage at the Oak Glen High School Little Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
The idea for a more extensive series came to Cashdollar after he re-booked The Steel Wheels immediately following their successful 2012 show at the middle school. With one act already booked, it didn't take much for Cashdollar to schedule Caravan of Thieves, whom he'd seen in concert.
With two groups booked, a third-SHEL-was easy. "They're really talented," Cashdollar said. "If we waited another year, we wouldn't be able to get them because they'd be too big."
SHEL is sisters Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza Holbrook, who hail from Fort Collins, Colo. The four members are classically-trained musicians who grew up in a musical family and, at one time, performed on traditional instruments with their father, Andrew Holbrook.
"Their talent and creativity is very apparent in their live performances," Cashdollar said.
Caravan of Thieves, of Bridgeport, Conn., is husband-and-wife team Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni, plus Ben Dean on violin and Brian Anderson on double bass.
"Caravan of Thieves are known for their energetic live shows that are musical and intense and defy classification," Cashdollar said. "They're completely outside the box. They're just so different."
The Steel Wheels, of Harrisonburg, Va., are back by popular demand after a "memorable" show last year that elevated the Culture Club concert series to a new level, he said.
"The Steel Wheels have captured audiences across the country with their distinct brand of soulful mountain music and deep commitment to roots and community," Cashdollar said.
Cashdollar said all three bands specialize in acoustic instruments - mandolin, banjo, guitar, upright bass, violin - and put their music before star power.
"I like groups like that because they're not so interested in being stars - they just enjoy playing," he said. "I find myself seeing these bands play, and I say, 'Boy, I'd like to get them.' ... I just enjoyed them and thought the public would enjoy them too."
Cashdollar said the October fundraiser with the Harlem Wizards put the Culture Club on a better financial footing, so much so that the club can still charge reasonable ticket prices. "We draw well, but we don't make much money off (the shows)," he said.
Each concert will have opening acts drawing from local talent: A group of Culture Club students will open for The Steel Wheels by performing an a cappella version of their song "Rain in the Valley"; the cast from the spring musical "The Pirates of Penzance" will open for Caravan of Thieves by performing a medley; and an OGHS band ensemble will open for SHEL.
Other opening acts will include Doug and Dave (Caravan of Thieves), and Bill Crawford.
Tickets for each show will be $12 in advance and $15 at the door. A ticket package good for all three shows is $30.
Tickets can be purchased at the middle school during regular school hours or by sending a check and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Mountaineer Freedom Concert Series, 116 First St., Chester, WV 26034. Checks should be made payable to: OGMS Culture Club.