MSU Riley Center Spring/Summer Series turns spotlight on American music


The MSU Riley Center 2017 Spring/Summer Performing Arts Series will showcase the past half-century of American popular music. Legends of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s rock ’n’ roll, a tribute to the golden age of soul, storytelling singer-songwriters, up-and-coming young country and blues stars, an infectiously energetic indoor version of the marching band experience and a wildly reimagined version of a classic rock opera will visit the Riley Center’s elegant Victorian theater in downtown Meridian.

The series starts on March 4 and concludes on August 19. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. in the beautifully restored Grand Opera House theater in historic downtown Meridian. Select shows will feature pre-show parties in the Grand Lobby, allowing patrons to socialize and enjoy refreshments as they await the evening’s entertainment.

Much of the series will have a Southern accent, starting with the season-opening concert by Southern Soul Assembly. That’s the collective name for JJ Grey (of JJ Grey & Mofro), Luther Dickinson (of North Mississippi Allstars), Anders Osborne and Marc Broussard, who all draw their musical inspiration from the deep creative wells of blues, soul and Southern rock.

Other artists in the series take their inspiration from different corners of the South. North Carolina’s Scotty McCreery has become one of the strong young voices of country music after winning the top prize on the “American Idol” TV show.

And the Spring/Summer Series will conclude with a re-creation of a magical rock ’n’ roll night. On December 4, 1956, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and the King himself, Elvis Presley, all jammed together in a Memphis recording studio in what became known as the Million Dollar Quartet session.

Speaking of legendary musicians, back in 1969 Stephen Stills wrote a collection of songs about his relationship with his then-girlfriend, Judy Collins. He called it “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” In August, Stills and Collins will share the MSU Riley Center stage, performing some of their signature songs and reminiscing about magical times.

Fans of classic rock and soul will also love Shadows of the 60’s, a revue that pays musical tribute to the supergroups of the Motown record label, especially The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Supremes.

Blood, Sweat & Tears hit the top of the charts during that same time period. The current version of the band retains the same great jazzy horn arrangements and presents a dynamic new lead singer, Alabama native and “American Idol” runner-up Bo Bice.

Two Meridian favorites will return. The Heart Behind the Music songwriter showcase will bring Richie McDonald (of the country group Lonestar), Oleta Adams, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Lee Roy Parnell taking turns singing and telling intimate, funny, sometimes poignant inside stories about the music business. DRUMLine Live!, an offshoot of the marching band tradition at historically black colleges and universities, will crank up the energy with supercharged brass arrangements, irresistible drum rhythms and nonstop motion.

Blues fans can catch a rising star: sensational teenage guitarist Quinn Sullivan, a protégé of revered bluesman Buddy Guy. And everybody needs to hear what happens when bluegrass meets British rock. The HillBenders, a brilliant young quintet from Springfield, Missouri, will perform a bluegrass version of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy.”

“What better place to show off the amazing richness of America’s musical heritage than here in Mississippi, where so much of that music has its roots?” said Riley Center Executive Director Dennis Sankovich. “We’re the home of the blues, Elvis and so many great soul and country pioneers. And our restored gem of a theater continues to make its own major contribution to our state’s cultural tradition.

“When I look at our Spring/Summer Performing Arts Series lineup, one thing really jumps out at me. All of these performers draw their music from deep in their heart and soul. As we begin our second decade of entertaining the people of Mississippi and West Alabama, we can’t wait to share the talent of these great artists.”

The Riley Center offers a range of season-ticket options. Patrons can customize their own packages of shows and receive discounted prices and other perks. If subscribers lose or forget their tickets, the Box Office will issue duplicates on the spot. With a simple phone call, subscribers can also arrange to leave their tickets at the Box Office for friends, family members or clients.

Current season-ticket holders must renew by Wednesday, February 1st to retain the same seats. New season-ticket buyers can purchase full-season packages starting on Monday, February 6th. A smaller “build your own package” option, which includes a discount and early seating, is available starting Monday, February 13th for those who wish to purchase tickets to three or more shows. Tickets for individual shows go on sale Monday, February 20.

The MSU Riley Center thanks The Riley Foundation and Mississippi State University for their continuing support. They make the good times possible.

Featuring JJ Grey, Luther Dickinson, Anders Osborne,
Marc Broussard
Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $40, $34
Like four old friends swapping songs and stories on the back porch, the four veteran performers who make up Southern Soul Assembly create genuine warmth, laughter, and musical magic. JJ Grey (of JJ Grey & Mofro), Luther Dickinson (of North Mississippi Allstars), Anders Osborne, and Marc Broussard simply sit on stage with their acoustic guitars and take turns in the spotlight. They draw from the rich legacy of Southern culture, combining blues, funk, and rock for music as down-home and as real as it gets. “Just like food in the South,” says Broussard, “our music is greasier than most.” And tastier.

For fans of: North Mississippi Allstars, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Allman Brothers Band

Saturday, March 18, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $48, $42
Irresistible energy pours from the stage when DRUMLine Live! comes to town. The show takes off from the marching band traditions of historically black colleges and universities, combining intricate choreography (by the musicians as well as the dancers), supercharged brass arrangements of both original songs and familiar hits, and, above all, showmanship. The intricate drum rhythms get everyone in the audience dancing in their seats, if not the aisles. The sheer exuberance of the performers ensures that, for anyone of any age or musical preference, DRUMLine Live! is a total blast.

For fans of: marching bands, drum and bugle corps, STOMP

Songwriter’s Showcase Featuring Oleta Adams, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Richie McDonald & Lee Roy Parnell
Thursday, April 20, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $39, $33
A Meridian favorite, The Heart Behind the Music showcase returns. Singers and songwriters take turns presenting songs and stories, both funny and heartwarming. Richie McDonald is lead singer of the country group Lonestar (“My Front Porch Looking In,” “Mr. Mom”) and a solo artist. Oleta Adams (“Get Here”) sings soul, jazz, and gospel and has performed with Tears for Fears and Phil Collins. Beth Nielsen Chapman has written many hits for others (“This Kiss,” “Nothing I Can Do About It Now,” “Five Minutes”) and has a new album with Amy Sky and Olivia Newton-John, LIV ON. Ace guitarist Lee Roy Parnell (“Tender Moment,” “Heart’s Desire”) has notched several blues-tinged country hits. All in all, another winning lineup.

For fans of: singer-songwriters, backstage stories, intimacy

Present The Who’s Tommy A Blue Grass Opry
Thursday, May 11, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $22, $16
What happens when an award-winning bluegrass band reworks The Who’s classic rock opera Tommy? Come to the MSU Riley Center and find out. The HillBenders, a quintet from Springfield, Missouri, won the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition among other championships, but they have always included rock and country songs in their repertoire. So when record producer Louis Jay Meyers suggested an acoustic version of Tommy, they dove into the project with infectious enthusiasm as well as their usual impressive musicianship. Rolling Stone magazine declared the recording one of “30 great country albums of 2015 you probably didn’t hear.” The HillBenders take their music seriously, but not themselves, so the live show is even more fun.

For fans of: The Who’s Tommy, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Trampled by Turtles

Ultimate Tribute to Motown
Friday, May 19, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
“The Sound of Young America.” That’s how Motown Records billed itself back in the day. Young people across the country, of all races, loved the music of the Motown artists, especially the great groups: The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Supremes. Shadows of the 60’s brings back those exciting times, meticulously recreating the soulful songs that had America dancing and romancing. This high-energy revue spotlights the supergroups while also featuring the contributions of other Motown giants, complete with choreography, costumes, and a full band. Replay the thrill of a musical revolution, live and onstage.

For fans of: Motown music, classic soul, the sixties

Featuring Bo Bice
Saturday, June 3, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $55, $49
The latest version of the pioneering rock-jazz band Blood Sweat & Tears features all new musicians since the band’s 1960s-’70s heyday, including lead singer Bo Bice. That’s by design. Original drummer and trademark owner Bobby Colomby says that, like the owner of a baseball team, he continually refreshes the lineup with “brilliant musicians, singers, songs, and arrangements.” Bice, runner-up to country singer Carrie Underwood on the American Idol TV talent show in 2005, adds a bit of Southern rock twang. His rich voice complements the jazzy horns, and his smiling stage presence is winning fans who weren’t even born when “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die,” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” were hits.

For fans of: Three Dog Night, Chicago, classic rock

Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $22, $16
When guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan takes the MSU Riley Center stage, he will be only 18. But here’s what counts: Sullivan can really play the blues. At age 8, he so impressed legendary bluesman Buddy Guy, his idol, that Guy invited the youngster to play onstage with the old master. Sullivan is spreading his musical wings, writing more of his own songs and incorporating diverse musical influences, such as his love of the Beatles. He’s also working hard on his vocals, adding emotional resonance as he matures. See him now, because he’s going places, and you’ll love being along for the ride.

For fans of: Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang

Thursday, July 20, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $48, $42
After you win the 2011 American Idol competition while still in high school, what do you do for an encore? If you’re Scotty McCreery, you release three straight number-one albums with such hits as “I Love You This Big,” “See You Tonight,” and “Feelin’ It.” You amass more than 3 million followers on Facebook and Twitter and more than 150 million YouTube views. And you win hearts with your guy-next-door looks and North Carolina drawl. McCreery wraps his deep, resonant voice around a lyric with relaxed assurance, and he stays true to his country roots. Winning a national talent contest wasn’t the peak of his career. It was just the start.

For fans of: Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington

Monday, August 7, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $55, $49
Judy Collins and Stephen Stills helped define an era. Collins’ ringing soprano served as a beacon for the 1960s folk-music scene (“Both Sides Now”) and caressed heartfelt pop songs (“Send in the Clowns”). Stills’ restless energy and stinging guitar work made him a creative force with Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth”) and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Southern Cross”), and as a solo artist (“Love the One You’re With”). His romance with Collins inspired him to write the timeless hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Now these two dear friends are touring together, sharing stories and still making music that matters.

For fans of: Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The Number One Tribute to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis & Johnny Cash
Saturday, August 19, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show Party 6:30 p.m. | $28, $22
Four musical titans joined forces, quite by accident, in December 1956 at the Sun Records studio in Memphis. Rockabilly guitarist Carl Perkins, riding high on the success of “Blue Suede Shoes,” was recording new songs, with a young Jerry Lee Lewis hired to play piano. Johnny Cash dropped by, and so did the King himself, Elvis Presley. The so-called Million Dollar Quartet started singing and playing together on gospel, country, and rock ’n’ roll songs. One Night in Memphis recreates that magical jam session. This tribute to Presley, Perkins, Lewis, and Cash captures them at their peaks: wildly energetic, supremely confident, and breathing fire.

For fans of: Fifties music, rockabilly, Memphis rock ’n’ roll

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