Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds performing with The Fogcutters during Big Band Syndrome Volume 5 at the State Theatre on Dec. 11, 2015. Photo by Dean Merrill

There’s big news from 19-member Portland big band The Fogcutters.

Big Band Syndrome, the annual show that ran from 2011-2015, is back with new music and guest singers Griffin William Sherry (The Ghost of Paul Revere), Kenya Hall, Dominic Lavoie (Dominic and the Lucid) and Gina Alibrio (Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew), along with rock band Rigometrics, Friday at the State Theatre.

The Fogcutters features vocalists Chas Lester and Megan Jo Wilson, a rhythm section and a whole lot of horns. The band leaders are horn players Brian Desmond Graham and John Maclaine.

Graham said that he and Maclaine came up with Big Band Syndrome as a way to shine a spotlight on the Portland music scene. “After the first year, we realized it was an incredible event that brought the community together in a way we had not anticipated.”

The first Big Band Syndrome, in 2011, featured guest artists Sly-Chi, Zach Jones, Spose, Dominic Lavoie, The Mallett Brothers Band, Lyle Divinsky, Darien Brahms, Dave Gutter and Jacob Augustine.  All of the artists performed their own songs with a big band arrangement, and the recording was released as a double album.

The 2012 guests were Kyle Gervais, Andi Fawcett, Spencer Albee, Adam Waxman, Anna Lombard, Lady Zen and Eyenine. That show was also put out as an album.


Over the course of the original five-year run, there were 38 guest artists, 79 arrangements of these artists’ songs (and more than 3,200 pages of music), more than 90 hours of rehearsals and 11 hours of original music performed.

Those numbers are about to rise, and the return of Big Band Syndrome has a new element, which is the main reason for its revival.

Graham said that he and Maclaine have written a bunch of new songs, and this year’s guest artists will be singing them, along with their own. The Fogcutters are putting out studio versions of the new material leading up to Friday’s show and will continue to release singles throughout the year.

So far, “Get It” with Griffin William Sherry and “Need You With Me” with Dominic Lavoie are out and available on streaming platforms.

The Fogcutters Big Band Syndrome
8 p.m. Friday. State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland, $22 in advance, $25 day of show.

Eliza Ruth Watson as Cass Elliot. Photo courtesy of Footlights Theatre



Executive artistic director Michael Tobin of Footlights Theatre has been a fan of the late singer Cass Elliot his entire life.

Elliot was a member of the ’60s folk rock band The Mamas & The Papas and also released five solo albums. The Mamas & The Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2022, Elliot received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tobin’s interest in Elliot was renewed when he learned that Elliot’s daughter, Owen Elliot-Kuggel, had written the memoir “My Mama, Cass: A Memoir,” published this week. Elliot-Kuggel was 7 when her mother died at age 32 in 1974.

Before he started to put the show together, Tobin knew it had to star Gray-based singer Eliza Ruth Watson, who was in Footlights’ Christmas show last year.

“I knew I had found my ‘Mama’ and immediately started to write the show,” said Tobin, who described it as a multimedia experience that incorporates actual TV, radio and print interviews with Elliot and includes 13 live songs sung by Watson with the original orchestrations.

Watson is a native Mainer who earned a bachelor of music degree at Vassar College and spent a decade in New York City as a cantor with the St. Paul’s Chapel Quartet. She’s also a founding member of the  Khorikos Chamber Choir and sang with The MetropoliTones.


Since returning to Maine in 2014, Watson has frequently performed with local theaters, including the Schoolhouse Arts Center and The Footlights Theatre.

Watson said her familiarity with Cass Elliot, prior to this show, was similar to most people. “You associate her with The Mamas & The Papas, she was this big, loud character in voice and in size.”

When Tobin reached out to Watson about doing the show, she was both terrified and excited. Watson has performed several solo concerts but said those are different than crafting a show around a specific performer who has her own persona and her own relationship with all the people who might be coming to see a show about her. “There’s a great deal of responsibility that comes with a production like this, ” said Watson.

Watson said that one of her favorite Elliot songs to sing is the title track of the 1972 album “The Road Is No Place For A Lady.”

“I think it’s the one song in the show where she’s vulnerable, and I think that’s really important because there’s rarely any footage where you see a vulnerable Cass Elliot,” said Watson.

“Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore” is another standout track that Watson said is fun to sing and the show also has a three song torch song medley.


Watson didn’t reveal anything else, so that people will be surprised.

Odds are good, however, that “The Best Part of My Life: The ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot Story” will include the 1969 single “Make Your Own Kind of Music” with the lines: “You’ve got to make your own music, sing your special song, make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along.”

Audience members might get asked to not sing along during the show, but the low hums and smiles won’t be denied.

‘The Best Part of My Life: The ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot Story’
7 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Through May 25. Footlights Theatre, 190 Route 1, Falmouth, $20.

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