by Mike Corrigan

At least as much as any other art form, music has the intrinsic capacity to invoke mood. The organizers of First Night Spokane were obviously aware of this as they chose singers, instrumentalists, duets, trios, bands and ensembles to provide the soundtrack to downtown's newest arts festival. At more than 20 different performance spaces within the First Night boundaries, at venues as disparate as River Park Square, the Ridpath, the Fox Theater, the Masonic Temple, Art at Work and Lamonts, local performers will be doing what comes naturally -- performing. This cross section of local live music will set the tone for the evening and propel the First Night Spokane festivities into the midnight hour.

In addition to providing entertainment, these artists will undoubtedly be opening a few eyes as well. We're lucky to have a broad range of performers in this town -- a fact that is no revelation to us, but it might well be to you. If it's been awhile since you sampled the wares of local musicians, let First Night Spokane reintroduce you to the wonder of indigenous talent.

A highlight of the evening is at the Fox Theater, where Spokane Symphony Music Director Fabio Mechetti will lead orchestra in back-to-back performances at 7 and 8 pm. The orchestra will feature selections from Strauss ("Vienna Wood," "The Blue Danube," "Voices of Spring") and Rogers and Hammerstein ("The Sound of Music") along with an arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne" to close each program. Melanie Hoda is the featured soprano.

And all around downtown, rest assured there will be some sort of sweet live music just around the corner. There's the true country of the Bliss Band, Nancy Davis' bewitching harp playing, LaRae Wiley's fusion of folk, world and Native American music, Arvid Lundin's fantastic fiddling and the acoustic blues, folk and jazz of Case Closed. For those with a case of boogie fever, you've got rocking blues with ETA, Caribbean music with Moko Jumbie, the ska/funk/rock of Civilized Animal and MiLonga's infectious Latin grooves. Elsewhere, you'll find other genres represented as well -- orchestral, jazz, Celtic, rock, calypso, reggae, even bluegrass...

Bluegrass? Yes, the Occasional String Band plays the occasional bluegrass tune. Proficiently. With style and verve. But please, for God's sake, don't call them a bluegrass band.

"I'd like to dispel that myth, please," laughs OSB percussionist/vocalist Keith Milligan, referring to that commonly held misconception about the group. "Every now and then, we play a few bluegrass songs. We also play a few blues songs and a few rock songs and few folk songs. So if people show up and think all they're going to hear is bluegrass, they're going to be disappointed. We don't even have a banjo player. Or a fiddle player, for that matter."

For the past 10 years, the Occasional String Band has been providing Inland Northwest audiences with a fine and diverse blend of acoustic music at regional fairs, festivals, nightclubs and coffeehouses. They really do play a little of this and a little of that. They don't like being stereotyped and are steadfast in their belief that any style of music can be good.

"We're all over the musical spectrum. About the only thing that's not included in our repertoire is rap and opera. Everything else in between is kind of there."

The members of the OSB utilize a variety of instruments in their sonic amalgam. Guitarist Steve Schennum also handles the mandolin, harmonica and some vocals. Geoff Haworth plays bass and sings. Phil Kleinman plays dobro and pedal steel. Milligan uses a variety of percussion instruments.

"I use congas, bongos and a snare and a ride to the left of me that simulates a kit. Then to the right I've got this workstation rack thingie with cowbells and triangles and chimes and shakers and tambourines."

The band's First Night gig will be in the old Lamonts department store on the corner of Riverside and Wall from 10 pm until the fireworks show at midnight (opening for the fireworks -- not a bad slot).

Normally, the group gets out to play a couple times a month (recent shows include those at Mother Goose Coffeehouse and the Shop), which is just about perfect for Milligan and the rest of the OSB.

"Yeah, the number of venues here for our kind of music is kind of limited," he says. "The demographic of those who appreciate our music is probably in the 35-55 range, and those folks are just not habitual club-goers. They're taking care of the kids and what not."

In addition to his contributions to First Night in the guise of a local musician, Milligan also served on the festival's auditioning committee.

"First Night is going to raise the entire city's cultural awareness," he says. "Because there is so much good talent, people should perceive this as the bargain that it is -- 10 bucks for all this music and all this art -- I mean, that's incredible. It's a way to give everybody a taste of what's going on in Spokane. This whole thing has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I mean, I had no idea there were so many quality acts. Every one we hired for First Night, I would go see."

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