You might think classical music and Bluegrass music have little to do with one another — that fans of the two styles would be worlds apart in their tastes.
But you can hear otherwise Saturday night at the Historic Yuma Theatre when Billy and the Hillbillies, a Los Angeles-area bluegrass band, performs with five orchestra groups from Yuma — the Civic and Civic Light orchestras, String Ambassadors, Young String Ambassadors and the Twinklers.
Together they’ll create a musical blend that Evan Marshall, fiddler and mandolinist for Billy and the Hillbillies, calls “classgrass.”
And while they’re at it, they’ll throw some slapstick comedy into the mix.
“There will be no moderation with the comedy,” said Marshall. “But it’s definitely good clean fun. We’ll show people the down home side of Beethoven, if they haven’t seen it before.”
The concert is sponsored by the Yuma Orchestra Association, which this year is marking its 40th anniversary as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting classical string music in the Yuma area.
The concert begins at 7 p.m. at the theater, 254 Main St., with general admission tickets available for $10 at the door or in advance. A reception to help the orchestra association celebrate its four-decade milestone will take place at the Yuma Art Center following the performance.
Marshall concedes it might be hard for people to wrap their mind around the concept of melding classical and bluegrass.
“It’s a new experience for the audience, and it tends to be a new experience for the orchestras as well,” he said. “We’ve played with some of the ‘major orchestras’ in some of the biggest cities in the country. ...Often times members of the orchestra will come up to us afterwards and say, ‘Before we started rehearsing, I was a little hesitant about doing a concert with hillbilly (music), but it ended up being a really enjoyable concert.”
Founded a quarter-century ago by Marshall’s brother John, Billy and the Hillbillies has performed with in symphony halls in cities such as Houston, Buffalo, Phoenix, San Antonio and Baltimore, as well as at theme parks, state and county fairs, bluegrass and folk music festivals, and at colleges.
So how does Billy and the Hillbillies mix classical and bluegrass to make classgrass? One example, says Evan Marshall, is the band’s rendition of a Chuck Berry hit song.
“There will be a rendition of ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ but it will include some orchestral excursions into a few Beethoven symphonies and conciertos during the course of the song,” he explained.
“And one of the pieces we’ll do in the program is a six-minute symphonic hoedown that Richard Hayman wrote for Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra.”
Marshall said one of the reasons Billy and the Hillbillies came about was to be able to incorporate comedy into its performances.
“The way the comedy comes in is that basically the premise of Billy and the Hillbillies is it’s not a traditional bluegrass band,” he said. “A traditional bluegrass band tends to be, for lack of better words, pretty serious,” he said.
“There’s a lot of slapstick, and it’s not to diminish the music, but rather just to help audiences feel like they’ve had a more complete entertainment experience.”
Joining the Marshall is his brother John, the group’s founder, leader and bassist; John Eaden, comedian and guitarist, and Arshag Chookoorian, percussionist and guitarist.
The Yuma orchestra groups will be under the direction of Janet Jones, artistic director for the Yuma Orchestra Association.
The Civic Orchestra consists of advanced string musicians from the area who play a university-level repertoire. The Civic Light Orchestra consists of string music students who play at an intermediate level, with aspirations to join the Civic Orchestra.
The String Ambassadors consists of motivated seventh- through 12th grade students who have performed both in Arizona and California. The Young String Ambassadors is a performing string ensemble for elementary and middle school students in early stages of their musical development, and the Twinklers are elementary school students who are beginning string players.
The program for Saturday’s performance includes:
• “Pops Hoedown,” a rousing collection of Bluegrass fiddle tunes with a symphonic flair.
• “Mountain Music Medley, Part 1,” featuring “Momma Don’t ‘llow,” a tongue-in-cheek song about teen rebellion that features a fiddle and mandolin.
• “Mountain Music Medley, Part 2,” featuring a hillbilly version of the surfer tune “Wipe-Out.”
• “Mountain Music Medley, Part 3,” a Bluegrass rendition of the Chuck Berry hit “Roll Over Beethoven.”
• “Elvis Medley,” which is Billy and the Hillbillies’ tribute to the King of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.
• “Ashokan Farewell,” a well-love fiddle melody that served as the theme music for filmmaker and historian Ken Burns’ documentary series “The Civil War.”
• “Picked Suite,” a medley of tunes written by noted bluegrass musicians Carl Jackson and Alan Munde, including “CJ’s Breakdown” and “Deputy Dalton.”
• Finale of the “William Tell Overture,” Evan Marshall’s mandolin arrangement to what is sometimes known as the Lone Ranger’s theme.
• “God Bless the U.S.A.,” a rendition of the hit made popular in the 1980s by country music star Lee Greenwood.
• “Orange Blossom Special,” a widely popular country fiddle tune.
Tickets can be purchased at the door, at the Yuma Art Center, 254 Main St., and at Fretworks, 1150 S. Castle Dome Ave.