The Trail Band is hitting the road again for its annual Christmas tour, but Marv Ross says this year marks the end of the trail.
After the band wraps up this year's series of shows, which includes a stop Saturday night at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis, the band is retiring its stockings, Ross said in a recent interview from his Portland home.
Fittingly for a band that was formed to mark the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail, it's been a long road for the eight-piece ensemble, which specializes in brass and string arrangements of traditional and original music.
But even though Ross still loves the band and performing with it, he said he and his wife, Rindy, felt a need to let go of the "big production stuff and many, many weeks of planning" involved in preparing the band's holiday show. "We just need to simplify and enjoy our 60s."
But not before one last Christmas bash.
The Trail Band's holiday shows almost didn't get off the ground, Ross recalled. Ross originally formed the band in 1991 at the request of the Oregon Trail Council to perform music from and about the era of the trail, complete with costumes, diary readings and traditional tunes. The band performed throughout Oregon through 1993, the 150th anniversary of the trail.
"I was totally digging the band," Ross said. "I was getting a lot of offers. I said, 'well, we should continue. We should just find something else.'"
Inspiration as to that "something else" came when Ross caught an Oregon Public Broadcasting show featuring musicians performing holiday music on traditional instruments.
"I just went, 'that's it. That's what we can do.'"
So Ross and his bandmates worked up a set list, booked some dates and played its first Christmas show in 1994 at Portland's Festival of the Trees.
Here's Ross' brutal assessment of that very first show: "It flopped. It was boring. It was too laid back. It moved too slow."
And that might have been it for The Trail Band's Christmas shows, except for this fact: The band had eight or so other dates already booked.
So, Ross decided "I'm going to rewrite the whole show, from top to bottom," with an eye toward building it around the musical strengths of each member of the band.
It helped that those strengths were considerable: In addition to Marv and Rindy (arguably better-known as the founders of the band Quarterflash), its members include Mick Doherty, on hammer dulcimer and bass; multi-instrumentalists Phil and Gayle Neuman; Eddie Parente on violin and trumpet; musical director Cal Scott on guitars, keyboards and other instruments; and percussionist Dan Stueber.
The revamped show played more like a musical variety show: "It's going to go in 15 directions in two hours," Ross said.
That musical eclecticism has remained a hallmark of the band's Christmas shows, Ross said, and this final set of concerts also leans heavily on fan favorites. The show includes a cappella selections, a crowd-pleasing hammer dulcimer solo from Doherty, French carols, Christmas lullabies and polkas from Mexico, Bulgarian selections, plenty of holiday songs such as "Silver Bells" and "Winter Wonderland" and a pair of Tchaikovsky pieces from "The Nutcracker," arranged for the band by the Neumans.
Ross said audiences likely will come away from the show sensing something that he's known since its earliest days: "There is such a thing as chemistry in a band," he said. "The chemistry that this band has emanated on stage over the last 25 years is goodness. ... This is a group of really good people."
Which makes it that much harder to give it up, but Ross said the time has come.
"It's been a phenomenal success. We all love each other. Why not go out on top? It doesn't happen that often in show business."