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James Wolpert gets back to his EPAC roots
Most people know James Wolpert as a semi-finalist on season five of NBC’s hit television sing-off program, “The Voice.” His appearance on national television is just a part of what made him what he is today — a star on the rise. He owes a lot to EPAC, where that star first started to shine.
“I was in high school, probably around 15-years old. I was just getting into music,” said Wolpert from Nashville. “I started playing in a band doing Red Hot Chili Peppers covers.”
It was about the same time, 2007, Wolpert was approached by Jo Carole Dodson, his former third-grade teacher and occasional choreographer at EPAC. She encouraged him to audition for the theater’s production of “High School Musical.”
“I went ahead and did it,” recalled Wolpert, who was looking to get into theater because many of his friends liked to act. “[The audition] was very nerve-wracking. I remember I was coming directly from my first job as a caricature artist at Dutch Wonderland.”
His first foray into theater was a huge success. EPAC’s presentation of “High School Musical” was well attended and gave Wolpert a full-fledged longing to be on stage. He went on to act in plays and musicals at Lampeter-Strasburg High School and other EPAC productions, like “Altar Boyz” in 2009.
“It kind of all snowballed after that,” said Wolpert. “EPAC was the first time I committed to being on stage…. The moral of the story is that EPAC was really kind and wonderful to me. I am so, so grateful and thankful that they are around and that the people who are running it are as wonderful as they are.”
This is why Wolpert is returning to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre on Oct. 21 for a benefit concert, proceeds going to the theater’s Annual Fund “to continue bringing high quality theatrical productions” to the theatre. Wolpert will perform songs from his new album, “The Entire City,” which was released in Jan. 2015, and a selection of covers he describes as “tasteful” and “some the audience may recognize.” He was tightlipped about naming the actual cover songs, but categorized them into two groups: songs “that complement the motif I’m trying to cultivate” and songs “familiar to a stint … I had on ‘The Voice.’”
Fresh off a west coast tour, Wolpert tells fans to “expect a bombastic rock attitude and a very energetic and theatrical performance.” He will be joined by three other members of his band. Gerald Ware started playing drums when he was seven-years old. At an early age, the Nashville native was tutored by Joseph “Lucky” Scott, bass player for Curtis Mayfield. This lead to musical influences like jazz greats Miles Davis and Buddy Rich.
“He’s one of the most mild mannered and nicest people that I’ve ever heard smash on a drum kit,” said Wolpert.
This week, Wolpert started working with a new bass player for the EPAC show. On guitar is Berklee College of Music professor Colin Sapp. The Bostonian (by way of Detroit) has recorded on more than 20 albums and engineered the sound of even more with more than 150 recording credits to his name. When not playing with Wolpert or teaching at Berklee, Sapp fronts the Boston-based jungle band, Infinite Out.
“They apparently encourage professors to get gigs where they have to travel. So, he’s the perfect man for the job,” said Wolpert. “He actually played on the record I released earlier this year.”
Consider Wolpert’s performances on “The Voice” as a warm up for what he brings on his first LP, “The Entire City.” On “The Voice” Wolpert introduced himself to the judges by singing Jack White’s “Love Interruption.” White’s influence on Wolpert’s sound is made abundantly clear immediately on “The Entire City” with track one, “Bats.” “Bats” is a soulful, deluge of emotion with a pounding, rocking, anthemic composition, which almost guarantees concert goers to rise up out of their seats. The album’s title track reveals Wolpert’s influences by rock royalty by channeling elements of U2, Led Zeppelin, and Queen, while later tracks on the album harken back to the sounds of surf rock and emulate the popular, new Americana sound. “The Entire City” is available at jamespwolpert.bandcamp.com and anywhere digital music is sold.
With or without knowledge of his album, Wolpert promises to put on a show for those coming out to support the arts at EPAC. Tickets are on sale now for $30 and can be purchased online at ephrataperformingartscenter.com or by contacting the EPAC box office at 733-7966. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 21.
Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure, covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.