Kirsten Paludan has a long history with the Lawrence Arts Center.
“It goes back to middle school, maybe sooner,” Paludan said. “My mom was very much involved. She taught classes and I’d go to some of her classes. When I was old enough, I got involved in summer youth theater every year. It was an incredible experience for theater kids.”
Saturday night, Paludan will perform at the arts center with her band the Starhaven Rounders, who will host “Cowboy Cabaret II,” a followup to the inaugural cabaret at the arts center in August.
The “honky-tonk variety show” was founded on a concept Paludan came up with in early 2015 when, after quitting a job, she decided she wanted to get more involved in the Lawrence arts scene. So she met with Susan Tate, the CEO of the arts center.
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“I was trying to work more as an artist and wanted to extend my reach in Lawrence,” Paludan said. “So we met and she asked if I had any ideas and I suggested a cabaret show. She loved the idea. Once the arts center got involved, the idea got more fleshed out and I came up with the ‘Cowboy Cabaret.’
“I wanted something modeled after old-school shows like ‘Hee-Haw’ and ‘The Porter Wagoner Show,’ a variety show where we could introduce different musicians and give musicians who don’t play together a chance to play together.”
The Rounders were natural hosts for the event. They’re a classic-country cover band that performs renditions of songs by legends and favorites like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Lefty Frizzell and Conway Twitty.
With help from Rounders bandmate Bill Sundahl, Paludan curated a show with just the kind of variety she had in mind: music, burlesque and comedy.
“The Rounders were hosts, of course,” she said. “We also had Maria and Tess (Cuevas) of Maria the Mexican, who were joined by Garrett Nordstrom; Jeff Stolz of Drakkar Sauna; Kasey Rausch and Mikal Shapiro; Scarlet Harlot, a burlesque artist from Lawrence; and Ric Averill, who is the arts center’s art director and someone I’ve worked with for years and has been instrumental in making this happen.
“And a friend of mine, Marah Melvin, who’s a really good actress, did sort of a Daisy Mae role and she told some jokes. And we had a donkey. Bill’s friend dressed up like a donkey. It was all very off-the-cuff and a little unpredictable and lots of fun. It sold out, and we’re hoping to do it again with this one.”
This year’s lineup: the Rounders; the traditional fiddle/banjo duo of Betse Ellis and Clarke Wyatt; country-folk singer/songwriter Sky Smeed; the Vogts Sisters, a fiddle/mandolin duet featuring Maggie and Abigail Vogts (pronounced “votes”); and Averill and his wife, Jeanne, who will provide the comic relief.
“It’s a really great lineup,” Paludan said. “Betse and Clark are amazing. Bill (Sundahl) introduced me to Sky and he’s a real nice fit. And the Vogts Sisters, who are from Chanute, like Sky, have the voices of angels. One of the sisters sounds almost exactly like Alison Krauss; it’s spine-tingling scary.”
Another twist: For the second set, the Rounders will be joined by bassist Terry Williamson, father of drummer Wade Williamson. “Terry was really the inspiration for the band, which was named for his ranch, the Starhaven Ranch,” Paludan said. “So that’s going to be really cool.”
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the arts center’s theater, which holds about 300 people. The theme is “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning: Songs of Redemption and Sin.”
“The idea came from Ben Ahlvers, who is the gallery director at the arts center,” Paludan said. “He started the (center’s) 940 Live Concert Series, and he had this idea for a long time, before the Marty Stuart album a couple of years ago. It’s (Saturday Night/Sunday Morning) been a recurring theme in bluegrass and country music for many years. He suggested we do that theme, and I thought it was a great idea.”
Paludan said “Cowboy Cabaret” will take a season off from the arts center but might travel to another locale. In the meantime, she will continue to teach a musical theater singing/performance class. It’s her way of giving something back to a place that has provided so much to her and her community.
“I can’t say it enough,” she said. “I’ve had such a great experience doing this. The arts center is an incredible resource for artists in this community. There’s really nothing like it.”
“Cowboy Cabaret II” starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. in Lawrence. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students.