Bits 'n' Pieces: Local fiddler's band heads to bluegrass festival

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John Melnichuck started out in a little four-piece family band with his brothers. He learned to play most everything but gravitated to the fiddle.

Many decades later, Melnichuck is still playing the fiddle -- and his band is headed for the Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, 720 S.W. Rock Creek Drive in Stevenson, on July 27 and 28.

The Sleepy Eyed Johns are "your typical bluegrass band instrumentation," Melnichuck said, with Ian Joel on banjo, Bill Wyatt on mandolin, Mark Klassen on lead guitar, Chuck Davidshoffer on bass and Melnichuck on fiddle. Everybody's from south of the Columbia River except Melnichuck. They'll give hourlong performances at 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.

Melnichuck is also once again coordinating the Saturday instruments contest. That's where the hottest -- or nerviest -- players strut their stuff, solo.

"Besides performers and friends jamming all night, we have this competition that goes on for several hours. It brings out a lot of young people who are aspiring and gets them some experience on stage. It is very exciting for them, so it's exciting for the rest of us, too," said Melnichuck.

Learn more about the Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival at http://columbiagorgebluegrass.net. Listen to the Sleepy Eyed Johns at http://www.myspace.com/sleepyeyedjohns.

— Scott Hewitt

Community theater pays tribute to drama teacher

In honor of Vancouver Community Theater's 20th anniversary season, co-founders and sisters Louise Clair and Joyce Brown are searching for the right actors to bring to life the script penned by their beloved Clark College drama teacher Hermine Decker.

Over the years, as they continued working together in local theater, Decker became "a dear friend," Clair said.

And she often shared her work in progress, including "The Notorious Ladies of Humbug," set in the 1880s in the Washington Territory town of Humbug.

"I fell in love with the characters," Clair said.

After Decker's health deteriorated, Decker's daughter, Elisia, asked Clair to complete the screenplay.

"I was honored," Clair said, adding that she and Decker "were on the same wave-length."

"The main thing is finding the right people," Clair said, "We try to encourage new talent and reach out to people."

That inclusiveness has nurtured the theater bug in others.

In its auditions for Hermine Decker's "The Notorious Ladies of Humbug," Vancouver Community Theater is casting three women in their 20s to 40s and three men. Open auditions are by appointment. Call 360-892-4292 or email vancouvercommunitytheater@gmail.com. Performances begin October 12.

—Ashley Swanson

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.