Notes of Optimism

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By Steve Desroches

Top Image: Photo: Colin Stark

“So long sad times
Go long bad times
We are rid of you at last
Howdy gay times
Cloudy gray times
You are now a thing of the past”

The intro lyrics to the classic 1929 song “Happy Days Are Here Again” capture the imagery of dark clouds beginning to part as the sunshine pokes through. A rousing anthem of optimism, it became the campaign song in 1932 for President Franklin Roosevelt’s successful first run for the White House. To paraphrase a joke by comedian Kate Clinton, “As Che Guevara once said, ‘Optimism is the weapon of the true revolutionary’…. or maybe that was Cher.”

Current headlines may have us singing the blues, but we are getting there. Brighter days are on their way. Musician Edmund Bagnell believes that as he points out where we were this time in 2020, not just with the pandemic, but socially and politically. Progress has been made and there is more on the way. We just need to feed our spirits to make it so. Thus his brand new show at the Crown & Anchor Happy Days Are Here Again isn’t a declaration of an outcome, but the joy of believing we can make things better, together.

“Coming out of last year we do have to recognize what has improved,” says Bagnell. “Over last year I found music helped me tremendously. I listened to all kinds of music. Changing genres can change your mood. I listened to disco, yacht rock, that kind of 1970s soft rock, 80s dance music, country, classical. A lot of feel good stuff. For this show I picked the music that makes me happy.”

In a way Happy Days Are Here Again is Bagnell’s pandemic and political tumult playlist meant to maintain a sense of hopefulness over gloom and doom. Bagnell is perhaps best known as the lead violin and vocalist from the Provincetown-born classical pop phenomenon Well Strung. After a decade of touring the world, the group is on a hiatus as the members pursue solo projects. Last year Bagnell presented his first one-man show with He Plays the Violin, a scripted evening of music and stories in collaboration with the Art House’s Mark Cortale’s New Works Provincetown, a developmental theater lab. With Happy Days Are Here Again Bagnell presents a looser concert with songs like Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”, Tom Jones’ “Its Not Unusual”, The Drifters’ “Up On The Roof” as well as a disco medley and a few original works.

 Bagnell has shaken off the nerves of going out on stage alone after years of performing with his three Well Strung compatriots. It’s just him and his violin, an instrument he fell in love with years ago growing up in tiny Lexington, South Carolina. When he was in second grade his grandparents bought him a violin. But it was a full size instrument, too large for a young child to learn on. He was nevertheless completely charmed by it and his parents decided he should have lessons on an appropriate sized violin. While he hated practicing, he loved performing. And the only way to perform was to practice. So he did, and in high school he began to study vocal performance, too. All of that hard work led to New York University where the small town kid flourished in the big city. During his senior year he landed the role of Tobias Ragg in the national tour of John Doyle’s visionary revival of Sweeney Todd. That led to more roles and opportunities in New York City and around the country. But it was in 2012 that he, Chris Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, and Trevor Wadleigh, along with Cortale, captured lightning in a bottle when they formed Well Strung based on an idea Cortale and Marchant had to turn the latter’s Provincetown busking into a smash hit show.

“It’s kind of amazing, I don’t know how to word it, it’s not that it was easy, but how quickly Well Strung took off,” says Bagnell. “There was just this immediate path that opened up that just blew my mind. I’m so grateful. I love performing with those guys. It was such a special experience.”

Based on original photo by Michael von Redlich

Well Strung landed the guys on the Today Show and performing with Broadway superstars Kristin Chenoweth and Audra McDonald as well as performing for Hillary Clinton when she came to Provincetown in 2015 for a fundraiser for her presidential campaign. Small Provincetown provided each with big opportunities. Like everywhere, the pandemic put a halt to performances for musicians and actors, but Bagnell used that time at home to work on new projects and record, releasing a Christmas album last December. He also recorded a disco track titled “Pink Lemonade” and an homage to Provincetown called “The Water” as well as an EP set to be released in September called The Road. That album is aptly titled as he’s hitting the road again after Provincetown starting in Kennebunkport, Maine, then several dates at New York’s 54 Below before heading out west to Arizona and California. But no matter where he travels Provincetown isn’t far from his mind as the world really opened up from here for him.

“Oh my gosh, I adore Provincetown to put it mildly,” says Bagnell. “I came here in my twenties and I’d heard of it, but I really didn’t know much about it. I quickly learned what a great community it is. How supportive of the arts and artists it is. It’s so welcoming. It’s the most beautiful place to make music.”Edmund Bagnell performs Happy Days Are Here Again every Tuesday at 6 p.m. through August 31 at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430