Arts & Events » Music

Circus Folk

A traveling band of entertainers comes to town and encounters a performance-enhanced version of a favorite band.



An itinerant circus performs at Gallery5 next week. Among the wonders on display: Breakout Richmond jazz ensemble Fight the Big Bull expanded to fully twice its normal size.

The June 30 event is the first helmed by the ubiquitous Cameron Ralston, bassist for the Bull, Glows in the Dark, Ilad and so on. If the interconnections of the local improvisatory-art scene were displayed in a Venn diagram, Ralston would be in a central, deeply overlapping spot. But who knew that one of his rings contained a circus?

The Runaway Circus and Loose Caboose troupe is funny, funky and surprisingly, subversively adept. Based on its YouTube videos, some of the settings are fully, quirkily realized, but one shows a complexly choreographed, multiplayer juggling routine performed for the sparse but appreciative audience of a small-time roller derby. “We are the minor leagues of the circus,” member Brett Tyler says, “but several of our members have studied at Circus Arts in Seattle [a serious performing school] and some have been on the tour for seven or eight years.”

The group has planned an epic summer season — culminating in a joint sailboat barnstorming tour of Pacific Northwestern coastal towns with Seattle's Aqua Chautauqua. It chose Richmond as an ideal early stop, and Tyler, who knew something of the local scene through his childhood friendship with an elder Ralston brother, Cary, knew who to call.

Ralston quickly identified Gallery5 as the ideal setting, with its proscenium stage and high ceilings (although the group ultimately couldn't get permission to rig the trapeze). “It definitely had the right vibe,” Ralston says. “[Gallery5 has] done burlesque shows, circuslike events before. There is a wild energy in that place.”

The scale and intimacy met the Runaway's needs too. “We have a lot of audience participation,” Tyler says. “Getting into the crowd gets the crowd into us.” Everyone in the troupe plays instruments — trombone, miniature tuba, accordion, cello, guitar, banjo and occasionally, musical saw — and provides accompaniment to others' acts. Tyler would like to figure out how to collaborate with the Richmond musicians, but the tight routines and lack of rehearsal time leaves limited room for improvisation.

Of course improvisation is home territory for Fight the Big Bull, which will beef up to Fight the Giant Bull for this performance. “Basically the band is a pretty consistent eight players, with Brian Jones sitting in as the ninth,” leader Matt White says. “But occasionally we need a substitute, and everybody has their one person they call on. As a result we have a complete backup roster that knows all the charts — a ghost band. I thought it was fun and funny to combine the two into one huge group.”

Fortunately it turned out that, on this particular Tuesday night everybody was available. With so many performers coming together, that Venn diagram is getting pretty full. S

The circus comes to town with Fight the Giant Bull opening, followed by the Runaway Circus and the Loose Cabooses, and Ilad on Tuesday, June 30, at 8 p.m. at Gallery5. Admission is $10. 200 W. Marshall St. 644-0005,


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