100-year-old Howmet Playhouse to celebrate 40 years of Amaryllis

 

at the beginning

Ruth Tetzlaff, Steve Reeths and Max Bloomquist – “Amaryllis” 

WHITEHALL — Some anniversaries seem destined for each other.

In 1976, the year of the United States’ bicentennial celebration, West Michigan musicians Ruth Tetzlaff, Steve Reeths and Max Bloomquist founded their folk/bluegrass trio Amaryllis.

Amaryllis pilfered its name from an Elizabethan poem that, Max Bloomquist said, “one of us found when we were, frankly, searching for a name for the band.”

The new group debuted, albeit as “Ruth Tetzlaff and Friends,” at the Festival of the Arts in nearby Grand Rapids.

The band played on. During 19 ensuing years, Ruth and Max married each other, and Amaryllis grew in popularity; not only along the Lake Michigan shoreline but also throughout Michigan and other many other states.

Forty years after Amaryllis first played, the band is reuniting to play a venue that this year is commemorating its centennial.

The 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23 “Amaryllis — 40th Anniversary Celebration” concert at 100-year-old Howmet Playhouse is expected to again pack the historic, 400-seat theater that opened in 1916.

Although Amaryllis disbanded in 1995, its members remained friends, intermittently getting back together for one-shot reunion gigs.

One of those, a capacity performance in 2008, returned Amaryllis to Howmet Playhouse, where the Bloomquists continue to play regularly, lending the current concert a sense of homecoming.

“I always enjoy performing there,” Ruth Bloomquist said. “Over the years I have seen the love return to that wonderful theater. There is a real personality to the place, like the theater itself is a member of the cast. I feel so at home there.”

Tickets for the Amaryllis show are $17, plus a $2 processing fee. They are available in advance on the Howmet Playhouse web site, http://www.howmetplayhouse.org; and at Whitehall City Hall, 405 E. Colby.

Tickets also will be sold at the door, 304 S. Mears.

Maybe.

“The last time Amaryllis played there it was a sellout,” said Max Bloomquist, “so we encourage people to order tickets in advance.”

With Max primarily on bass but also guitar, lead singer Ruth on guitar, Reeths on a variety of string instruments including mandolin and banjo, Amaryllis plays an acoustic blend of folk, bluegrass and country music.

Their eclectic repertoire has served the band well.

Amaryllis has opened for such national acts The Kingston Trio, Alison Kraus, Richie Havens, Lou Reed and Carolina, Riders in the Sky, and Garrison Keillor of National Public Radio’s famous “A Prairie Home Companion” program.

Shows have taken Amaryllis to slews of festivals, as near as Muskegon Summer Celebration, Grand Haven’s U.S. Coast Guard Festival and Oceana County’s annual National Asparagus Festival; as far as The Grand Marais Music Festival in the state’s Upper Peninsula, and the 2006 Bluegrass in the Bayou festival in Baton Rouge, La. Travels have taken Amaryllis to Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York and Kentucky.

Two generations have flown by.

“It hardly feels like 40 years since Amaryllis began,” said Ruth Bloomquist. “Actually I’m not sure what 40 years is supposed to feel. I know that we always did the music like we would like to hear it performed for us. Steve has this remarkable gift for arranging harmonies that gave us our memorable sound.”

Amaryllis members eventually went their separate ways.

The Bloomquists, ubiquitous throughout West Michigan, still perform together, and Ruth has garnered acclaim not only as a singer but also a songwriter: She has released several solo CDs, and her single “By the River” won the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at the annual Merlefest in Wilkesboro, N.C.

Reeths and his wife, fiddler Sue Kittredge who played with Amaryllis in the 1990s, moved South. Living in Destin, Fla., the two have played together as The Kittredge-Reeths Band, Square One and, currently, Coconut Radio.

According to Ruth Tetzlaff Bloomquist, the whole thing has been quite a ride, touched by something akin to immortality.

“Someone recently called us legendary,” she said. “Well, I guess if you live long enough and keep doing the same thing for a very long time, people write legends about you.”



Categories: Music

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