The Breeze

October 26 2017                                                                                                           Bluegrass band Special Consensus to play at Court Square Theatre          Abigail Wallen                                                                                                      

With the leaves changing and the weather finally cooling down, autumn is in full swing here in Harrisonburg. In addition to apple-picking and pumpkin-carving, one local venue downtown is offering students and locals another Virginia autumn classic — live bluegrass music. 

This Friday, the internationally acclaimed bluegrass band Special Consensus will appear in Harrisonburg at the Court Square Theater downtown. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $12 in advance, and $15 at the door.

Founded in the late 1970’s and still going strong, Special Consensus originated in Chicago and continues to reach audiences across America, Australia, the UK and even Finland.

“What we really like to do is have it sound like good bluegrass music, but more current,” Greg Cahill, the manager and banjoist for Special Consensus, said. “We try to keep the material just about everyday life now, in the present.”

Special Consensus got its start back in the ‘70s when a group of friends attended a bluegrass festival together in Chicago. The group heard the music and instantly began trying it out themselves, playing their instruments and singing in the hallways during the festival. They soon after decided to form their own bluegrass band.

“We were really all good friends,” Cahill said. “All of us were coming from different musical backgrounds and loved bluegrass music. Because we were all from different musical places, but loved bluegrass, it was a consensus, you know, a special consensus.”

Over 40 years later, the band has branched out far beyond Chicago. Special Consensus continues to play all around the country, especially in areas where bluegrass is most popular. The band just finished a performance in Nashville this past Saturday before heading up to Harrisonburg for their performance this Friday.

In 2016, Special Consensus released its most recent album “Long I Ride,” for which it received its third International Bluegrass Music Association award. The album contains diverse tracks ranging from upbeat, toe-tappers like “Fireball” to more mellow ballads, such as “New Shenandoah.”

The band originally heard about the venue while playing at a festival in Pennsylvania. They were told that the theater had a great reputation with a strong crowd of bluegrass lovers, so they decided to add it to their tour. They now try to come back to Harrisonburg whenever they can. This Friday will be the band’s second appearance at the Court Square Theater, its first being in the fall of 2015.

“We were kind of branching out trying to get new bluegrass acts,” Mark Finks, manager of the Court Square Theater, said. “They definitely got a very warm reception from the crowd. Everyone seemed to really like the show. They put on a great performance.”

The Court Square Theater is a part of the Arts Council In The Valley, a non-profit organization geared toward supporting the local arts community in Harrisonburg. In addition to Special Consensus, Court Square Theater hosts many events geared towards Harrisonburg locals, such as plays and film screenings.

“We’re a community theater,” Finks said. “We’re a non-profit, independent organization, so I think a lot of people like to support that.”

In addition to supporting and promoting music groups like Special Consensus, the Arts Council hopes to encourage JMU students to experience the local art community through attending shows like the one this Friday.

“Something we’re working on in particular is encouraging JMU students to come out of their bubble,” Cate Bruns, communications and administrative assistant for the Arts Council, said. “We want JMU students to know how much we are doing out here.”

The performance this Friday will include some of Special Consensus’ most popular tracks, with a few non-bluegrass numbers thrown in such as a cappella songs and Celtic tunes. “We just kinda mix it up,” Cahill said. The band hopes that the show will have a little something for everyone.

“The audience is as important to the performers as the performers are to the audience,” Cahill said. “It’s all one big connection, and that’s a great thing. We just want to be able to go be part of the show, and forget about the trials and tribulations of everyday life.”

Augusta Free Press

October 20 2017                                                                                                           The Seldom Scene to perform at Arts Council of the Valley’s Court Square Theater                                                          

Arts Council of the Valley welcomes the Grammy-nominated Seldom Scene band to its Court Square Theater stage on Friday, November 3.

Described as Americana and bluegrass, The Seldom Scene formed in 1971 after one too many informal jam sessions in founding member Ben Eldridge’s basement. The band soon became local favorites and quickly developed a national following for their merging of bluegrass with music from outside the genre, including folk and rock ‘n roll.

Although Eldridge retired in 2016 after nearly 45 years with the group, The Seldom Scene has remained strong with the addition of Rickie Simpkins, who plays banjo and fiddle. In addition to Simpkins, the band’s lineup includes Dudley Connell on guitar and lead vocals, Fred Travers on dobro, Ronnie Simpkins on bass, and Lou Reid on mandolin.

The Seldom Scene is slated to perform at Arts Council of the Valley’s Court Square Theater on Friday, Nov. 3.. Doors open at 7:00pm with the performance beginning at 8:00pm. Tickets are $27 in advance and $30 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 540.433.9189.

Augusta Free Press

October 18 2017                                                                                                            The Special Consensus to Scare Up a Bluegrass Crowd at Court Square Theater                                                                                

On Friday, October 27th, Arts Council of the Valley’s Court Square Theater Music Series will continue with the Grammy-nominated Special Consensus.

The Special Consensus, also known as The Special C, is a four-person acoustic bluegrass band balancing a classic vein with modern sensibilities to attract every ear. The group’s impressive repertoire includes traditional bluegrass, original compositions, and  songs from other genres performed in the bluegrass manner.

Founded by bandleader and banjo player Greg Cahill, The Special C formed in the Chicago area in 1975. Joined by guitar player Rick Faris, bass player Dan Eubanks, and mandolin player Nick Dumas, the group has spent the past four decades touring Europe, Oceania, and South America. Domestically, the band has performed on outlets such as National Public Radio, The Nashville Network, and the Grand Ole Opry, as well as appeared in concert with numerous nationwide symphony orchestras.

The Special C has long been recognized for their dedication to the bluegrass genre. In 2012, their release Scratch Gravel Roadwas Grammy-nominated for Best Bluegrass Album. In 2014, two songs off of their release Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute To John Denver won IBMA awards for Recorded Event of the Year and Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year. Most recently, their song “Fireball” was awarded the 2016 IBMA Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year Award.

The Special Consensus will perform at Arts Council of the Valley’s Court Square Theater on Friday, October 27th. Doors open at 7:00pm with the performance beginning at 8:00pm. Tickets are $13 in advance and $16 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 540.433.9189.

Arts Council of the Valley’s Court Square Theater is located at 41-F Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia

The Daily News Record

October 17 2017                                                                                                           A 'Complicated' Character: Valley Playhouse Takes On Powerful 'Agnes of God'                                                                                                                              Shelby Mertens                                                                                                    

A nun in New York discovers she’s pregnant. Was it a virgin conception as she claims? And who kills the baby?

“Agnes of God” skirts around these questions while subtly asking the bigger questions of human existence. Valley Playhouse is performing the powerful drama at Court Square Theater until Oct. 22.

Director Tom Arthur is using the script written by John Pielmeier in 1982. A film of the play was then released in 1985.

“It’s really beautifully written, and it raises a very serious question in a comical and ironic way and is approached with great depth,” Arthur said.

Arthur has directed dozens of Valley Playhouse productions over the years. He helped start the theater program at James Madison University in 1973 and served as the department head.

The role of Agnes is played by Emma Leweke, 21, a senior theater major at Bridgewater College. Agnes has a “beautiful, angelic” voice that will be heard through the production’s musical numbers.

“My character is a young of mind and heart woman who is frightened of her past, frightened of things she’s done, frightened of things that have been done to her, and she’s working through how to admit to some of those things and telling people about some of the trauma she’s faced, while owning up to some things that she’s done,” Leweke said.

Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist, visits the convent after Agnes’ baby dies. The Mother Superior tries to protect Agnes from the psychiatrist in fear of a scandal that would put Agnes in jail.

It’s up to the audience to decide how Agnes conceived her child and whether Agnes is innocent of the infant’s death. And, if she did commit the crime, was she sane?

“It’s really left up to the audience about how she gets pregnant, whether it’s a divine thing from God or if she was raped, or if she seduced someone,” Leweke said. “People who come from a faith background might believe that it was divine, and other people might not.”

But Arthur said the question of a virgin birth isn’t as important. The main point of the play is to explore the depth of wonder.

“What do we do if we don’t believe in anything anymore?” he asked. “That’s a problem that we face today. We can explain, or we think we can explain everything, but if we don’t respect the singularity of what we are, the oddness of what we are, the wonderfulness of what we are, what are we? We’re just machines.”

Although the play takes on serious topics, Arthur said the script is full of ironic humor and pop culture references that the audience will appreciate. The stage will be simple: just two chairs with a table in between. The lighting, however, sets the mood.

Leweke said Agnes has been a pleasure to play on the stage, as she can relate to her on some level.

“She’s very complicated,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting into her character and figuring out what goes on in her mind. And even now, I still don’t understand her.”

The remaining showtimes are Oct. 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance or $14 at the door for adults. Senior tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Tickets can be purchased online.

Harrisonburg, VA

October 13 2017                                                                                                           City Partners with Arts Council to Solicit Local Art                               

Harrisonburg, Va. – The city of Harrisonburg is again partnering with the Arts Council of the Valley to encourage local artists to submit their artwork.

The Virginia Municipal League (VML), of which Harrisonburg is a member, has collected local handmade ornaments from localities around the state of Virginia for the past two years. These ornaments are sent to the Executive Mansion in Richmond, VA to adorn the holiday tree.

Harrisonburg and the Arts Council of the Valley are asking local artists to submit handmade ornaments. From the ornaments that are received, one will be selected and sent on behalf of Harrisonburg to be displayed on the tree in the Executive Mansion.

All other ornaments received will be displayed on the city’s Christmas tree in the lobby of City Hall, which greets residents, employees, and visitors.

Questions? Contact Mary-Hope Vass, public information officer for Harrisonburg, at 540-432-7701 or

Guidelines for ornament submissions:

• Each participating locality is asked to submit one holiday ornament to the Executive Mansion. All other ornaments will become the property of the city for annual display on the Christmas tree.

• The size of the ornament should be no longer than six inches and the shape and material is totally up to the artist/artisan. The finished ornament should be submitted along with the name of the locality and artist placed on the back of the ornament.

• The artist/artisan should reside in or near the locality.

• No purchased ornaments.

• Deadline for submitting the ornament is Monday, October 30.

• Submissions can be sent to the City Manager’s Office at City Hall by mail or in person to 409 S. Main St. Harrisonburg, VA 22801. City Hall is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.


October 12 2017                                                                                                            Eastern Mennonite University Celebrates 100 Years                                       Monica Casey                                                                                                  

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Eastern Mennonite University is marking its centennial celebration this week. The school has eighty-six events and activities for the community and alumni through the weekend.

The week kicked off with a "teaser" from the centennial play called "What We Bring, What We Leave, What We Take."

Thursday includes a golf classic, and Friday the centennial art show opens at 4 p.m. Saturday is the big day, with a festival including a concert from the Steel Wheels.

Louise Hostetter has been planning this event for three years. She graduated from EMU in 1979. Hostetter was president of the EMU Alumni Council, and from 1999 until 2012, she was an intensive individualized instructor at EMU.

Hostetter accepted the role as centennial steering committee chair in the spring of 2014. She currently serves on the advisory boards for the RMH Medical Center Foundation and JMU's Forbes Center, as well as the Arts Council of the Valley.

She says her passion comes from her own memories attending EMU. She met her husband there, and all three of their adult sons attend the university.

"The preparation for life after college is important, with the opportunities to travel globally with the cross-cultural and, not only off campus, but on campus," said Hostetter.

Jeff Shank is also an involved alum. He gets together with friends from college at least once a year.

Shank is the Director of Alumni and Parent Engagment. He reminded us that EMU is up and coming, with a new engineering program and doctorate nursing program. He says it's not just a school for Mennonites.

"The university welcomes people from all over the country, all over the world actually. It's an extremely special place. Professors care about the students, the education is top notch," said Shank.

For the full schedule and list of events, visit