The Biggest Thing in Town: Old Theatre Finds New Life in a Small Town

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The O.K. Theater has been in Enterprise, Oregon as long as I can remember. I got a month’s supply of nightmares at the O.K. when I saw the film based on Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” many years ago. But with the competition of streaming services and struggling local economy, the O.K. had shut down as the town (and county’s) only movie venue.

Until recently. New life has come to the O.K. as a music venue. Last week there was a rafters-shaking, foot-stomping concert by “Joseph,” a group with local roots and whose namesake is the Wallowa County town of Joseph. The level of excitement when Joseph took the stage would have busted the applause meter on “The Amateur Hour.”

Darrell Brann, who is a musician himself, among other things — few people get by with one job here — purchased the O.K. several years ago. With a lot of community support, Brann has been gradually restoring the facility.

New comfortable seats mean that your knees aren’t scratching your chin. Woodworking by local artist Steve Armant decorates the performance stage. At the concert, Armant and his partner sat in one of the two raised boxes, stage left. He grinned like the Chesire Cat as he waved at friends in the seats below.

The opening act that evening was Meredith Lane, who happens to be the Darrell Brann’s daughter. The whole family is musical. Brann’s brother, Craig, is a well-known jazz guitarist in New York City. Meredith had a CD release concert just before the pandemic that was another sell-out. At that one Uncle Craig was among the accompanying musicians.

At this one theater-owner, Darrell, on guitar backed his daughter. Meredith had just returned from a tour of her own in Wyoming. After the show, Darrell, a big, full bearded man with a warm smile, met people at the door, shaking hands and thanking them “for coming to the O.K.”

The place was packed, with people and anticipation, the seats all taken by 7:15 for the 8:00 show. The all ages, audience which ranged from grandparents (including the white-haired grandmother of the “Joseph” singers) to lots of kids. That  gave the event a community feel — which it was. “We’re here to support our girls, of whom we are so proud,” was the palpable unspoken. In struggling small towns like Enterprise, local success means a lot. Success for local artists is shared success.

There was free ice cream for kids. Beer and wine on sale for adults.

“Joseph” is a group made up of three sisters, two of them twins. Their grandparents live(d) here. And now one member of the group does as well. Lots of lovely and complex harmonies in their hard-driving sound. They brought the house down more than once on numbers like “(Burn the) White Flag” and “Without You.”

The group became a national sensation with a round of appearances on all the late night shows about several years ago, then by being the featured artists on “Spotify.” They were thrilled to be playing before a live audience again, and particularly before this live Wallowa County audience, filled with so many friends and relatives.

I’ve been a “Joseph” fan since their first album came out in 2014. We tried to see them when they played The Triple Door in Seattle before the pandemic, but the show was sold out long in advance. As a live act they truly “leave it all on stage.”

The combination of great live music, the old-timey theater with a new look, and an audience of locals loving on their own put a smile on everyone’s face as they shook hands with a happy Darrell Brann and exited the O.K. into the summer night.

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Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This story reminds me of the early days of discovering and converting Town Hall Seattle. Speaking of which, during the 2 years that Town Hall was closed for renovations, they did a lot of programs in satellite venues in the neighborhoods. One idea floated at the time was to sustain one or two such satellite venues once the renovated main Town Hall reopened. Seems like a good idea, particularly as customers are more wary of downtown venues, working at home, and cherishing their neighborhood gathering places. Affordable too!

  2. I like the satellite venues; in church world this is a common move, a central location/ campus with satellite congregations. Contemporary technology provides multiple forms of aid/ assistance in such efforts.

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