News from the Big Top

Cast of Clowns sets new music in the center ring

October 24, 2008

By Laurie Heuston

Mail Tribune

Cast of Clowns is still riding its wave of successful shows with an all-star lineup that includes Ashland guitarist Craig Wright (Horsefeathers) and San Francisco musicians Greg Anton (drummer for Zero) and keyboard player Melvin Seals (The Jerry Garcia Band), along with guitarist Jeff Pevar (Crosby, Stills and Nash and Crosby, Pevar and Raymond) and Portland-based bassist Damian Erskine.

The jam band keeps its new and original material in the center ring, with songs written by Wright and Pevar, Anton and Robert Hunter (who wrote for the Grateful Dead).

Cast of Clowns will perform at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, at Alex's, 35 N. Main St., Ashland, before it heads out for shows at the Goodfoot Lounge and Pub in Portland and the WOW Hall in Eugene.

The band's lineup is as good as it gets, says Anton during a telephone interview from his home in Sebastopol, Calif. Anton is a 25-year veteran of the San Francisco music scene.

"I've been fortunate to play with some great guitar players," Anton says. "Jerry Garcia, Stanley Jordan, Steve Kimock, Chris Hayes, others. Pevar and Wright are right up there with them, along with Seals." Anton says.

Anton says that Wright's book of short stories, "Redemption Center," first attracted him to the idea of playing music with Wright, also a professor at Southern Oregon University.

"I liked his writing," he says. "Then I heard him play and sing."

When the members of Clowns began working together about a year ago, they discovered a chemistry between them that happened on stage, Anton says.

"We have our different styles that we bring to the mix, stir it up and play off of each other," he says. "There's an unusual dynamic that happens. It's delicate and powerful at the same, time and its got an infectious groove.

"When we play together, the band becomes bigger than the sum of its parts," Anton says.

Cast of Clowns also is getting more ambitious, according to Wright.

"We've seen each other's warts, but that just makes for more good music. When we started the group, we were taken by the now of it. There was a lot of energy and creativity whirling around, everyone was trying to hang on, get in and out in the right places. Now we kind of face the same way. It gives the music more momentum, more thrust. Jeff and I have had some time to address some new material and get more vocal harmonies into the songs. Jeff's an amazing arranger of material, and though the Clowns often act as a spontaneous arranging machine, with new looks at the material each time, Jeff especially brings a keen studio sense to the circus."

Clowns has studio time lined up for January, Wright says, and Seals has made himself integral to the band, still playing the earth-shaking stuff that he's known for, but taking different and unexpected approaches to the songs.

Studio recording artist Erskine also is a new aspect of the group.

"We've had a few Grateful Dead luminaries show up at our gigs," Wright says. Drummer Billy Kreutzmann played with us at the Oregon Country Fair. It's made us a 'family band,' I guess."

Along with the Oct. 28 show at Alex's in Ashland, Cast of Clowns is slated to perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Battle of the Bones' weekend barbecue competition at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.

Cover for the show at Alex's is $15. Call 482-8818

Musical Flair

The bold, the beautiful, the magic and the moon

July 10, 2008

Eugene Weekly

Ah, it’s Country Fair time again. While the yummy food, handmade cool stuff and partying with old friends is definitely most of the fun, the music is a big draw, too. With entertainment of many varieties from plugged-in rock bands to solo acoustic performers, vaudevillians and circus troupes, puppets, parades, and belly dancers spread over 18 stages, it can be awfully hard to know what to check out. Here’s the down-low on Friday and Saturday’s main stage headliners (which features some big names playing rather incognito), and a smattering of other excitement.

Ashland is the home of a new jam band supergroup. I’m not clowning around: Craig Wright, recently of the bands Horsefeathers and Analog Kabin, has convened Friday’s main stage headliner, Cast of Clowns.

Wright’s musical assemblage includes Melvin Seals, former keyboard player with the Jerry Garcia Band. On drums is Greg Anton, of the Heart of Gold Band and Zero. Jeff Pevar lends lead guitar chops. Pevar, whose MySpace page shows him located in tiny Talent, Oregon, is a world-class musician, having played and recorded two albums with Ray Charles, various projects with David Crosby and Graham Nash, Carly Simon and James Taylor, among many others. Hutch Hutchinson, who played in Bonnie Raitt’s band, takes over the bass along with Wright playing guitar and dobro and singing. Whether they’re jamming a Garcia or Grateful Dead tune or one of Wright’s own, the result is a transformation of silver into dance jam gold.