Most people, it seems fair to say, have never thought of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as being a country band.
Sure, they've got fiddles (though they don't call 'em that), and have played with a few pickers in their time. But the BSO's sound isn't exactly twangy, nor are you likely to find its music on the jukebox at your local honky-tonk. So what in blazes is the orchestra doing out at the Rocky Gap Music Festival tonight?
Playing Aaron Copland and Buck Owens -- what else?
Though the Copland is more in keeping with the orchestra's usual fare, the Owens -- which will be performed with country star Emmylou Harris -- is more typical fare for the Rocky Gap Festival. After all, over the last six years, the annual country and bluegrass festival has brought some of the biggest names in Nashville to Rocky Gap State Park outside the Western Maryland community of Cumberland.
This year's festival, which runs through Sunday and attracts up to 7,500 concert- goers a day, features performances by Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard and John Anderson (tomorrow); Martina McBride and Billy Ray Cyrus (Saturday); and the Mavericks, Tracy Lawrence and Wynonna (Sunday).
Actually, the symphony will be splitting the bill with Harris and her band.
"It's not going to be a classical performance," says George Alexsovich, the BSO's general manager.
"It's going to be a light classical performance for the first half hour, with an hour of Emmylou's music after the intermission."
Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Hoe-down" from "Rodeo" will be on the first half of the program, while the second half will include everything from country classics like "Tennessee Rose" and Owens' "Together Again" to pop-oriented fare like the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere" and Bruce Springsteen's Tougher Than the Rest."
Alexsovich isn't worried about the symphony and the country singer being compatible, by the way. "We've seen her [arrangements], and we know that the show is going to be, musically, a success," he says.
"We work from time to time with artists who know absolutely nothing about symphonies, and usually end up writing arrangements for the orchestra that don't give them much of a role. But from what I've seen of the music, and what I've heard from people around the country who have worked with her, is that [her] arranger/conductor, Don Johnson, has really integrated the symphony into the music that she does."
David Lockington, the BSO's associate conductor, will direct for the first part of the concert, and Johnson will take the baton for the second part.
"These guys are real pros," says Alexsovich, "and I think it's going to be very effective."
Ironically, back when the BSO first contemplated playing at Rocky Gap this summer, the symphony board hadn't really considered doing a country show. "The thought was to take advantage of the park site, to take advantage of the great stage they have out there, and do something the day before the festival," says Alexsovich.
It was Gary Jackson, the producer who books the music for Rocky Gap, who suggested pairing the orchestra with Harris to kick off the festival.
And while Alexsovich doesn't really expect this musical marriage to broaden the BSO's appeal among country fans -- "Not being naive, I think that there are going to be more people coming out to see Emmylou Harris than the BSO," he says -- he admits that he's looking forward to the show.
"I really enjoy Emmylou Harris," he says. "I may be the general manager of the symphony, but I have very eclectic tastes in music. WPOC is on my car radio as often as WJHU.
"As a matter of fact, sometimes more often," he adds with a laugh, "depending on my mood at work."
1994 Rocky Gap Music Festival
When: Gates open at 8 a.m. today; 7 a.m. tomorrow through Sunday
Where: Rocky Gap State Park, Allegany County
Directions: From Baltimore: Take Interstate 70 to Interstate 68 West; the park is off Exit 50
Tickets: Today: $15, all seats are general admission; tomorrow and Saturday: $25 each day, $2 for children, $64.50 for three-day pass for general admission seating; $35 to $30 each day for reserved seats
$ Call: (301) 724-2511
C98 p.m.: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Emmylou Harris
5 p.m.: Neal McCoy
6:30 p.m.: Merle Haggard
8 p.m.: Tammy Wynette
#9:30 p.m.: John Anderson
11:45 a.m.: Bill Harrell & The Vir- ginians
p.m.: Northern Lights
2:45 p.m.: Daron Norwood
4:15 p.m.: Martina McBride
5:45 p.m.: Bellamy Brothers
7:15 p.m.: Victoria Shaw
'9 p.m.: Billy Ray Cyrus
1:15 p.m.: Claire Lynch
2:45 p.m.: The Lonesome River Band
4:15 p.m.: The Mavericks
5:45 p.m.: Shenandoah
7:15 p.m.: Tracy Lawrence
SOUNDS OF THE GAP
To hear samples of the BSO and of Emmylou Harris, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6130 after you hear the greeting.