The CD: Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs about 43 Presidencies written by Jefferson Pitcher, Matthew Gerken and Christian Kiefer. The 44th song, Someone to Wake, was premiered on NPR and can be downloaded here.
The project: A live performance of 30 of these songs by a collection of different bands and artists on the weekend before the Inauguration.
The details: 6 Sacramento musicians (and one currently from Canada) formed the core band, performing 15 of the songs with several guest singers. 15 other songs were spread among a small collection of other bands and performers. The show was at a newer popular DC show venue, the Historic Synagogue at 6th and I.
We’ve all been regaled with stories about the surprising hospitality of natives of foreign lands, taken in strangers and treating them as family. These narratives often end with a barbed comment about the infrequency of such scenarios in the good ol’ Yew Es of A. “You just don’t see that here in the states.”
About 12 musicians and artists discovered that the natives of the village of Reston, Virginia apparently have either never heard these stories, or simply vowed to prove that this country of ours can be competitive on the hospitality front as well. 2 families adopted our ragtag crew which ranged from a professor of psychology to a thick-headed gym owner, and although we never took the party to a Caligula-like bachnalia, we were treated to a level of debauch that kept us in minor rock star status. Okay, so the craziness was barely above a 3rd graders birthday party and far below an office Xmas party, and we were often in bed at a reasonable hour (and a reasonable level of sobriety), but it wasn’t from lack of hospitality to we didn’t rage every night. We’re just old guys, and I’m the first to admit that I never was much of a ‘rager.’
We were informed on the morning before we departed for our journey that we wouldn’t be needing our sleeping bags. This was a small relief since most of us condensed our clothing and personal items into carry-on luggage, since we needed to check half a dozen guitars, a keyboard, an amp and an accordion. The sleeping bags were getting in the way.
(note to poor traveling bands: if you’re flying to a show, unless you want to drop about $500 to haul the gear each direction, send your stuff Fed Ex. It is actually cheaper).
Upon arrival to Dulles, we drove to our destination; a pair of houses that turned out to be big enough to not only put up a big handful of wayward minstrels, but we each got our own room! Part of of our crew was a trio of brilliant musicians who form the core of a band called Silver Darling.
These young, struggling vagabonds who dedicate themselves to music with a passion that keeps them barely one step above homelessness were treated to the poolhouse, which was a 2 bedroom, 3 story “mini-house” (about 3 times the size of my apartment), while I had to make do with a room that had a giant screen TV with Wii, Guitar Hero and a small-but very-helpful collection of workout gear (hello, adjustable dumbbells).
There were no warnings about how well we were going to be treated by these two families. We were caught off guard. If a lesson for human adaptability was ever needed, we displayed raw courage and perseverance. We would survive this onslaught of kindness, no matter what it took. Apparently it took suffering through about a dozen bottles of wine and an open larder. Although consciousness lost me to the comfort of a queen-sized bed hours before (me being the teetotaler of the group), my less-than-sober bandmates decided that the best way to overcome this unfair show of generosity was to simply humor our hosts and indulge. I commend my comrades for displaying such determination. I’m not sure who won that round, but thus began the battle of the incredibly-giving hosts vs. the desperately-needing-help musicians.
We were, of course, going to lose (thank god).
So it was agreed that our trip was off to a pretty good start. So many things that could’ve gone horribly wrong went wonderfully right, thanks to the graciousness and support of our new friends in Reston (thank you Janet, John and Carol). There isn’t enough blog space to show our appreciation for our two host families. Let it be known that we have been taught what true hospitality is, and we’ll be darn sure to try to pass that lesson along.
So the next morning greeting us with a struggle between what we had to do (practice) and what we wanted to do (relax in the geo-thermal comfort of our new temporary homes nestled in beautiful Virginia country side). In another stroke of native selflessness and altruism, one of the DC-area bands that was participating in this show gave us carte blanche with their practice space, which was in the basement of their home. Middle Distance Runner, who, the next day, would perform a version of Such a Marvelous Dream (the Reagen song) that would give me shivers, let us abuse their equipment for the better part of a day, enabling us to add the Canadian contingent to our core band.
Jefferson Pitcher, one of the 3 main songwriters on this project, lives in a remote part of the great white north and so this was the first we were able to practice with him.
It gelled fast enough that we cut out of practice earlier than expected only to soon find ourselves at the locked gates of Mount Vernon, which had closed about 20 minutes earlier. The temperature might have peaked around 10 degrees about an hour ago, but as the thermometer decided to crawl back down in the single digits again, we at least spent a few minutes in the Mount Vernon gift shop, just happy to be within spitting distance of Washington’s casa, the home of the largest alcohol distiller in the newly formed country at that point in time. Who says booze and politics don’t mix?
Back ‘home,’ we were treated to more food and friendship before getting shut eye for events of the next day. Somewhere during this period was my one workout of the trip. After a substantial mobility warm up (there was enough space in my room to roll, twist and tumble without hitting anything), I clicked the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells to 75 pounds and cranked out the following:
squat presses/swings/turkish get ups. 4 sets of 10/10/2
I finished the workout with about 2 hours of Guitar Hero, losing repeatedly to Luke and Laura, the teenage wunderkind who inhabit the house (seriously brilliant children, both). I did beat Simon, the aforementioned psych professor who actually plays guitar, every time we battled, so I finally went to bed victorious.
(Simon and I relax before the show,. He looks a bit defeated, doesn’t he?)
There is a reason I’m not a professional show reviewer. To keep things simple, here’s the cliffnoted version of the show:
There were many folks involved with this project, including Reid MacLean, who not only sang a wonderful version of God Will Strike You Down (the Buchanon song), but also painstakingly MC’d the show (no small task). DC sons These United States opened the show with a powerful energy that set a remarkable precedent that the rest of us tried to keep up. Hiss Golden Messenger brought an intensity to the show through a quieter, softer brutality than any amount of volume could produce. Joe Pug owned the stage as the only man standing during Illuminating the Bright Lines (the Roosevelt song). Jukebox the Ghost put a big smile on everyone’s face with their rendition of the Ford song, which even made Matthew Gerkin, the writer of the song, turn to me and say “This is AWESOME!”
Behind us during the show was a constantly morphing and very engaging video montage created by artist wizard Bart Woodstrup, who has a vast collection of amazing work that covers many different medias.
And most of the photos on this blog were taken by Jeff Hutton, who was EXTREMELY patient with our long, less-than-exciting practices and soundchecks. Here’s more of his work….
“The Captain” leads our Sacramento posse, with Jefferson and Jason on the left and Matt on the right.
Nellie McKay helped round out the amazing roster of performers.
Tim Fite. Words fail me here. I gotta see this guy again. Look him up on Youtube (including our performance of Beard of God with him). You be amazed.
Laura Burhenn absolutely destroyed When Ike Walked the Land (the Eisenhower song), and I mean that in the most hip vernacular way. It was spellbounding and very powerful.
Dension Witmer, whose voice makes Bodytriber Amanda’s knees buckle, and whose delightfully witty girlfriend Jenny made the trip to DC with him, offered wonderful depth to Suits and Fine Trousers (the Truman song)
Backstage (well, upstairs actually): The greenroom was filled with teenagers (a local Drum and Fife troupe who led the band into the first song), alcohol (a constant theme of this trip, no?) and musicians from all over the country. Somehow no arrests were made.
Dr. Simon Ennis leads the charge onto the stage, with BodytriberJason Roberts, who doesn’t suffer Guitar Hero losers lightly, keeping a safe distance behind.
Jeff Pitcher reflects while Jessie and Kevin from Silver Darling debate.
Bodytriber Jason Roberts displays his reason for enjoying life: “I heart Nicole and Jude” displayed proudly on his git-fiddle.
The man who pulled this all together. The Captain, Dr. Christian Kiefer.