March 04, 2011

The Ghosts of Celilo

Native American musical 'The Ghosts of Celilo' returns to Portland's Newmark Theater

By Marty HughleyEarly March marks a sad anniversary in the history of the mid-Columbia River and its Native American tribes. At 10 a.m. March 10, 1957, the gates of The Dalles Dam closed, and the mighty river's waters quickly inundated Celilo Falls, an area eight miles upstream that, for thousands of years, had been one of the busiest--and most sacred--fishing and trading sites in North America. Observers later recalled Native Americans "crying and singing the religious songs that they sing at funerals."

Perhaps that's where the ghost came from--the ghost that keeps after Marv Ross.

Several years ago, a Native American elder suggested that a ghost must have gotten ahold of Ross and was compelling him to tell a story about the loss of Celilo Falls and the way of life centered there. Ross is best known as the songwriter and guitarist for Quarterflash, a Portland pop band that scored platinum records in the 1980s, and the guiding force behind folk-music favorites the Trail Band. But beginning in the 1990s, he spent a decade obsessively developing what would become "The Ghosts of Celilo," an innovative and moving work of musical theater that premiered in September 2007 at the Newmark Theatre.

The show was a success, earning glowing reviews, selling out most performances and having its run extended. For a while, the ghost that spurred Ross seemed satisfied, even as it came time to remount the musical--which returns to the Newmark for nine performances, beginning Friday night.
Comment:  Here's a roundup of articles on the new production, which is getting a surprising amount of coverage:

Native American musical 'The Ghosts of Celilo' in Portland again:  Our coverage

For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

Below:  "Native American fishermen harvest salmon in 1937 at Celilo Falls."

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