Another season of live music is about to descend on the Stoughton Opera House.
With more than 60 performances scheduled between Sept. 15 and June 26 next year, the historic venue will host performers whose talents range from folk, bluegrass and country music to rock, blues, jazz and experimental. The new season will also feature some noted comedians.
It begins with a tribute to country music historian Bill Malone, who in 1968 published the definitive book on the genre (County Music, U.S.A.) and has been hosting the popular “Back to the County” show on WORT radio in Madison since the mid-1990s.
Malone, professor emeritus of history at Tulane University, will be joined by his wife, Bobbie, to talk about highlights from a life in music and academia, and also his recent work with documentarian Ken Burns.
Burns’ multi-part production will be aired nationally on public television, and visitors to the Opera House will have an opportunity to view the premier episode on its big screen. Some of Malone’s friends from the Madison area will also be on hand to perform and share stories.
Opera House director Bill Brehm told the Hub the upcoming season feels “particularly strong” because he tried to be “a little more discerning” about the performers he booked.
“You can’t have everybody during any given season,” he observed. “Often, there’s a desire to say yes to everybody you know is a great act and to try to make that happen.”
“I feel like it’s always partially analytical and partly a creative process,” he added.
As in years past, Brehm said, he tried to strike a balance between returning performers and artists making their first appearance there.
Among the latter is New Orleans’ Carsie Blanton, who’ll take the stage with her band Friday, Sept. 27. Blanton is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter whose clever observations and humor have earned her a reputation as a “mischief-maker” in the mode of the inimitable May West.
“She seemed like somebody that our patrons would enjoy,” Brehm said. “A notable item on her hospitality rider is ‘six shirtless men with six visible abdominal muscles.’”
He’s also pleased about booking two comedians in the season’s first half, Emo Phillips (Oct. 10) and Jena Friedman (Nov. 8).
Phillips has become something of an Opera House regular, but Friedman will make her debut in November.
Brehm explained he’d heard her on public radio talking about comedy and the trappings of being a comedian.
“I was really struck by her,” he recalled. “She did a great set on the Conan O’Brien show maybe a year ago that I just loved.”
When Brehm booked singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell for an October performance, he couldn’t have known the stage musical she developed from her 2010 album of the same name, “Hadestown,” would be a hit on Broadway and go on to win eight Tony Awards this year, including for Best Musical and Best Original Score.
“I found her music because of Greg Brown’s participation in the original ‘Hadestown’ album,” he explained. “The awards came after we’d confirmed the show and were just kind of an exciting addition.”
The Opera House director said he’d been “trying relentlessly” to get guitarist Kaki King to come to perform her multi-media work, “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body.”
“It’s a really interesting piece where projections are mapped onto the body of her guitar and interact with the music she’s playing,” he explained. “She was here 10 years ago doing a solo performance. A lot changes in a decade, but this is the last time her performance piece is being taken out on tour, so we got in under the wire.
“It’s kind of a rare opportunity to see the caliber of artist that she is in the Midwest,” he noted.
Other highlights in coming months include two shows by British guitarist Richard Thompson (Oct. 23-24) and two shows by Texas troubadour Steve Earle (Nov. 15-16). Both will be performing solo on acoustic guitar and vocals.
Thompson, whom Rolling Stone magazine ranked as No. 69 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, apparently likes playing twice when he comes to Stoughton.
“We had two shows the last time he was here,” Brehm recalled. “He must have enjoyed the fact that he didn’t have to go anywhere between the shows. The last time he and his soundman went off and had a relaxing day before the second show.”
Brehm said he’d been trying to bring Earle to town since 2010.
“He doesn’t do as much touring as he used to, and a solo acoustic show is not as common,” he said. “I’m thinking it’s going to be a really awesome show.”