Valley News -

By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

The 'Chain Gang' presents true Americana folk music at the Hemet DVAC


Last updated 8/10/2018 at 2:19pm

Tony Ault

The Chain Gang sing-along group with Shaundra Sorrell, from left, Michael Tennant, Paola Cifuentes and Debbie Merriman sing an ever-popular folk song in an appearance onstage Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Diamond Valley Arts Center in Hemet.

Why not folk? That's what drama teacher Michael Tennant thought.

And that's what they played Saturday night, Aug. 4, when the "Chain Gang" stepped out on the Diamond Valley Arts Center stage to lead an audience-sing along with some of the greatest standard folk songs of the 60s and 70s.

The song "Chain Gang," led the performance with Tennant, guitar in hand, who introduced his "prisoner crew," wearing striped shirts as they were all let out in the "yard." A little bit of improv and a lot of harmony quickly brought the audience's attention to the brightly lighted stage.

And it began a night of delightful music with Tennant sang lead vocals and played guitar, Debbie Bussey Merriman on tambourine, Paola Cifuentes and Shaundra Sorrell. Backing up the Chain Gang were Anthony Shields and Caleb Spikes on guitar.

Next was the ballad of "Tom Dooley," which was made famous by the Kingston Trio and written by Thomas Land. Few in the audience did not know the words, but those that did quickly joined in the sing along with the group and the evening began.

Merriman kept time with her jingle-jangling tambourine through songs like "Jamaica Farewell," which was made famous by Harry Belafonte and Jimmy Buffett, and Bruce Springsteen's, "Brown-eyed Girl."

The venue shifted with a few favorite cowboy songs like "Red River Valley," "Don't Fence Me In" and "The Gambler." Hardly anyone in the audience could hold back joining the Chain Gang with the words from some of the songs learned in their childhood, schools or in summer camps.

Bringing cheers applause were favorites "Snoopy and the Red Baron," and John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" and others.

Then the focus turned to some fine old English and Scottish folk tunes harmonized by the "prisoner" girls with the "Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond." Sorrel and Cifuentes and Tennant were joined by Anthony Shields in duets. "Danny Boy," sung by Sorrel was a delight. Tennant came in with Shields with "Starry, Starry Night" and "Earth Angel." The entire Chain Gang led by Merriman topped the set off with "Greensleeves."

Capping off the evening the gang ended with the most appropriate the Beatles tune "On the Road Again."

Tennant, a teacher at San Jacinto Valley Academy, brought his "Chain Gang" together to sing the folk music from the true Americana while teaching drama at the charter school and from long time acquaintances in the music field. Tennant and other musicians gather together often to come up with theater presentations through his comedy and dinner theater website, "Play with Your Food."

Tony Ault

Michael Tennant and Paola Cifuentes, from the singing group The Chain Gang, perform a duet during the music group's appearance Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Diamond Valley Arts Center in Hemet.

The trio will again be appearing with Tennant in the dinner theater production "Lucky Luciano's Hot Vegas Nights," coming Aug. 24-25 to the Simpson Center in Hemet at 305 E. Devonshire Ave. Tickets are $30 limited to 200. Call (951) 663-8401 or email [email protected] for more information.

The Diamond Valley Arts Center at 123 N. Harvard in historic downtown Hemet is a nonprofit organization that promotes culture and fine arts in the Hemet San Jacinto Valley. The DVAC has a fine arts gallery open to the public and presents concerts and theatrical performances on a professional stage throughout the year. The DVAC fall-winter program schedule will soon be announced.

For more information, call (951) 652-3822, visit or email [email protected] Memberships in the Diamond Valley Arts Council, 140 E. Stetson Ave., PMB 297, that supports the center are also available to individuals and community groups.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]


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