Historic OK Theatre celebrates Centennial with Grammy-winning artists
By Katy Nesbitt
Wallow Valley Online
ENTERPRISE, Ore – The Historic OK Theatre celebrates its centennial this summer with Grammy-winning artists in the heart of the Wallowa Valley.
Headlining the event is rhythm and blues musician Jon Cleary. Born in England, Cleary lives in New Orleans where he has absorbed the city’s culture into his music for more than 20 years. In 2016 he and his band, “The Absolute Monster Gentlemen,” won a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Music Album.
Grammy winner Dom Flemons, a Wallowa County favorite, returns with music from his latest album, “Black Cowboy” a tribute to the African-Americans of the frontier West.
Portland artists Ural Thomas, a rhythm and blues aficionado, and the Caleb Klauder Band, with its alt country sound, are in the lineup as well as Enterprise’s own Bart Budwig Band whose sound ranges from folk to rock to country – with a backbone of funk and rhythm.
Owner Darrell Brann said he wants to celebrate the theater’s 100th birthday with a bang and hopes to get a couple thousand people to show up for the two-day event.
“The theater has long been the heart of Enterprise’s downtown and we want to celebrate its birthday with fantastic music and a really fun weekend,” Brann said.
At the end of 2013 Brann and his wife Christy bought the theater to feature premier acts like the Infamous Stringdusters, Del McCoury and Mark O’Connor as well as regional acts gaining national recognition like the Shook Twins, Fruition and Joseph.
A $100,000 grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office has helped rebuild the stage and a new proscenium designed by local artists Anna Vogel and Steve Arment, as well as install ADA bathrooms and new furnaces.
Brann said his dream of rehabilitating the building was also enabled, in part, by Restore
Oregon, a Portland-based group whose mission is to “preserve, reuse, and pass forward the historic places that make our communities livable and sustainable.”
“Since we bought the theater, Restore Oregon helped connect the dots for us from hosting clinics to encouraging our membership in the League of Historic Theaters,” Brann said.
Diane Daggett, long-time supporter of Wallowa County arts, wrote the grant funding the renovation. “Hats off to the Brann family and the Enterprise Merchants. Their foresight in reviving the theater as well as all the investment of passion, time and energy will benefit our local economy, community and culture.”
While local contractors the Sinclair Brothers were hired for the demolition work, Brann said volunteers are to thank for hauling more than 100,000 pounds of debris out of the theater. A committee has now formed to guide the planning effort for the Centennial.
Vicky Searles, executive director of the Wallowa County Chamber, serves on the planning committee and said the theater is a draw for music lovers around northeastern Oregon.
“When the theater opened in January 1919 one of Wallowa County’s pioneers J.A. Burleigh said, ‘Nothing more superior exists in all of Eastern Oregon and its only possible rival was a theater in Baker,’” Searles said. It looks like Darrell Brann of the OK Theater has the same aspiration.”
The Centennial celebration begins Friday, July 12 with dinner at a community table stretching down Main Street followed by a melodrama performed by Lisa Closners’s Merry Heart Theatre with a cast of local performers.
Saturday, July 13, donuts from Vali’s Alpine Restaurant will be served in the theater while film curator Dennis Nyback shows classic cartoons and vintage movies.
At noon the music starts on an outdoor stage on the corner of Main and Second streets and continues until 10 p.m. Food vendors organized by Wallowa Slow Foods will line the street – wine and Terminal Gravity beer will be served in Enterprise’s Warde Park.
For more information, visit OK Theatre on Facebook.