Allentown is the place to be this weekend, when the sky lights up like the Fourth of July with a fireworks display marking the 200th birthday of Lehigh County. It's part of Saturday's Bicentennial Community Celebration at the Agri-Plex at the Allentown Fairgrounds, featuring historical exhibits, musical entertainment, book signings, and the county's inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Across town, the bicentennial theme continues at Symphony Hall with a weekend of musical celebration, including a world premiere. On Saturday, it's a "Pastoral Symphony" with Beethoven's 6th and Lehigh County's 200th at 8 p.m. On Sunday, it's Beethoven's 6th and Allentown's 250th at 3 p.m., with the world premiere of Philip Rothman's "Timeline" by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. Also featured will be 2011 Schadt Competition winner and Kosovo native Petrit Ceku on classical guitar with Brouwer's "Tres Danzas."
The audience kicks off its shoes and takes to the stage on Friday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m., when the Lehigh Valley's own, The Rob Stoneback Big Band, performs as part of Symphony Hall's Jazz Cabaret series and in celebration of the milestone anniversaries of Lehigh County and Allentown. Opening act, fittingly, will be Cunningham & Associates, rhythm and blues/rock ‘n roll band led by former Bethlehem mayor and current Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham on guitar and vocals.
"We'll be playing jazz tunes, as well as dance tunes," explained Stoneback, trombone player, composer and arranger whose 19-piece orchestra will be performing in a new concept from the pit area as guests dance the night away on stage. "We'll be playing a whole spectrum of our repertoire, so there could even be dancing in the aisles," he added.
The Allentown native recently headlined a benefit concert for the Emmaus Rotary Club at the Fairgrounds' Agri-Plex. The event was special for him, since he's a local boy who graduated from Emmaus High School in 1969. He currently resides in Whitehall Township and, by day, is a technical writer at Olympus.
Stoneback said he's coming up on his 33rd anniversary in early April of forming his orchestra and becoming a Valley classic with the songs of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie. He toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1975 and played with the Allentown Jazz Ensemble. His band has played back-up for such music legends as Natalie Cole, Perry Como, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, The Manhattan Transfer, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Rosemary Clooney. Stoneback, himself, has performed for Sonny and Cher, Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme, Wycliffe Gordon, and Connie Francis, to name some. He'll play back-up once more for Johnny Mathis when he appears at the State Theatre on April 19.
The Rob Stoneback Big Band has four recordings: "Mad to the Bone" (2003), which features legendary jazz trombonist Bill Watrous; "Caught in the Web" (1997 on Sea Breeze label); "Traditions" (1990), and "Up Front" (1983). In May 2007, the band recorded "Simone on Simone," the first recording for Simone, daughter of Nina Simone. The recording project brought them to peform on the stages of the Berks Jazz Fest, the World Café in Philadelphia, and Lincoln Center in New York. Stoneback is a featured player on "Bare Bones" (Stonequake Recordings), along with Bill Watrous, organist and vocalist Craig Kastelnik, and drummer Gary Rissmiller.
Stoneback is a member of the newly-formed Pennsylvania Jazz Collective based in the Lehigh Valley and headed by Valley trumpet player Alan Gaumer. The nonprofit organization features a roster of world-class, industry-recognized, regional jazz artists whose mission is to perpetuate the historical musical heritage of American jazz and the diversity of its styles through performance and teaching.
"We want to send the message into the schools and educate kids as to what jazz is," Stoneback stressed. "We want kids in performance to get excited for jazz." For further info: robstoneback.com allentownsymphony.org
GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading has multiple exhibitions through April 8. The plein air paintings of Mike Howard, known for work with pop culture themes capturing contemporary tragedy, are on exhibit with "Mike Howard: Outside," in the Cohen Gallery. His work was done on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, two blocks from his studio. Howard did window displays for department stores in New York City, set design work for photographer Richard Avedon, and sets and backdrops for fashion and photography.
Also in the Cohen Gallery until April 8 is "WALfLWR" by Carolyn Coyle, winner of GoggleWorks' 2011 Juried Show, "Inside Outside." Her paintings are created from words that are developed in radical designs that are a part of the images she creates.
In conjunction with the 22nd annual Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest, happening March 23 to April 1, the Frank Scott Memorial Art Show, "The Art of Jazz," is presented by the Berks Arts Council and celebrates this year's theme, "Celebrate Jazz." The show runs through March 27, and was juried by Dick Boak, director of artist and public relations at Martin Guitar.
"Confrontations on the Green Wall: Anne Heimann" features a series of work from the 1980s enhanced by the extremely detailed treatment of the images, both man and animal, and celebrates the complexities and mysteries of nature. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally in museums, aquariums and science centers. The exhibit runs through March 29, in the first-floor lobby. For further info: goggleworks.org
Saturday, March 10 will be a big day in Lancaster County, when buses from across the region will be transporting passengers to opening day of the world premiere of the family musical, "Jonah,"at the Sight & Sound Millennium Theater. The production, which runs through Oct. 27, follows the journey of Jonah, one of the Bible's most colorful and misguided prophets. If you've not yet experienced a musical production at Sight and Sound, imagine a Christian-based musical being performed at Radio City Music Hall. The quality of talent and set design is that good – and it’s happening all so close to home. For further info: sight-sound.com
"ROCKin Broadway," an original musical revue celebrating the influence of Rock 'n Roll on The American musical, will be presented Wednesday, March 14 at 8 p.m., at Civic Theatre of Allentown. Tickets are $20. It's all part of the cooperative effort undertaken by the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley, Discover Lehigh Valley, and local businesses with the museum's current exhibit, "Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present." For further info: discoverlehighvalley.com
The annual exhibition by adult students of The Baum School of Art in Allentown is currently under way through March 23, in the David E. Rodale and Rodale Family Galleries. The show also includes the work of adult students who are pursuing an associate’s degree through Lehigh Carbon Community College. For further info: baumschool.org