Like most people, Vince Gill recalls good days and strange days when he looks back on his high school years.
Given his superstar success as a singer/songwriter/musician, it isn't surprising that some of his vivid memories of Northwest Classen High School center on the auditorium, including the first time he played that stage around the start of his freshman year.
“There was a local rock band called Mother's Ghost ... They were going to play ‘Mr. Bojangles' 'cause ‘Mr. Bo-jangles' was popular. And they found me, I think through my sister; my big sister told them I played the banjo. They needed a banjo on it, so that's the first time I ever played in that auditorium is playing the banjo with Mother's Ghost on ‘Mr. Bojangles.' So maybe that'll be my closer,” Gill said with a chuckle during a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
The Country Music Hall of Famer, 55, will be the headliner Sunday for a benefit gala celebrating the grand opening of the revamped auditorium, now called the Hudson Performance Hall. The concert also will be a homecoming for musical alumni Cleve Warren, Jim Demopolos and Rick White, who will play with a recreation of the popular mid-1960s San Francisco rock band The Mojo Men, and Bill Maxwell, who has produced eight Grammy-winning records and played drums with the likes of Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Anita Baker.
The Northwest Classen auditorium was originally built in 1954 when the school opened, but it has been transformed into an intimate performance hall.
Sunday's concert will fund an endowment and additional amenities through the Friends of Northwest Classen Foundation.
“The first time I played in the auditorium there was kind of a big deal for me, so I'm excited to see the kids that are gonna go to school there have the opportunity to have a great place to share music and do things that are associated with the arts,” Gill said.
Like Gill, Cliff Hudson has many fond memories of Northwest Classen, where he and his wife, Leslie, graduated in 1973.
“I performed there in the school choir as a freshman. I performed onstage in a talent show as a sophomore, did some assemblies and skits onstage as a junior, performed onstage in a senior assembly as a senior. Walked across the stage at commencement exercises. ... My wife was in modern dance, she danced on that stage,” said Hudson, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Sonic Corp.
The extensive renovation of the 1,413-seat auditorium into a performance hall capable of hosting national concerts, Broadway-style productions and local performances was funded in part by the MAPS for Kids initiative. The Hudsons donated $500,000 for additional upgrades, including the installation of state-of-the-art sound technology.