Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hang with Your Hometown

An unusual gig is coming up this Friday at the Birchmere - a sort of Western themed musical called Hangtown Dancehall - spearheaded by ex- pat Washingtonian Eric Brace and Karl Straub. This one of a kind project involves a cavalcade of local musicians and features another formerly local player Kelly Willis as well.  Since Eric used to write  the "Nightwatch" colum for the Washington Post, I thought I'd let him tell you how this collaboration came about. His story includes a lot of old local stuff which I'm always a sucker for:

"I first encountered Karl Straub in the early '90s at Alice Despard's little club Roratonga Rodeo. Alice had opened Roratonga Rodeo in Clarendon in, perhaps, 1991, wayyyyy before Clarendon was cool. Before the Whole Foods!  I was in two bands then: One was called The Beggars, and I was playing bass in Kevin Johnson & the Linemen. Both bands played at the Roratonga Rodeo, and it became a hang out even when I wasn't playing. I'd park in the crumbling lot of the empty Sears (where the Barnes & Noble is now) and spend hours at Roratonga's little bar. (Alice transformed it into Galaxy Hut a few years later.) 

And the Rodeo was where I first saw Karl's band -The Graverobbers- which immediately became my favorite group in town. They also had a Sunday night residency at IOTA when that opened in '93, back when it was 1/3 the size it is now. I loved the band's bash-it-out garage rock, loved Karl's singing and guitar playing, but especially his songwriting -- surreal lyrics floating over spectacular melodies and chord progressions.

Karl was also one of my inspirations for starting my band Last Train Home, partly because there were songs of his I always wanted to sing like "Tonight" and "It Doesn't Matter." 

But I always wanted to be in a band and collaborate more with Karl. We would have long conversations about songwriting, guitar playing and a myriad of things like Ernst Lubtisch's pre-Hollywood musicals.

The Gold Rush was always in my head. Being a kid in Northern California, I always imagined digging up a big old gold nugget. As an adult I read up on the history of that time, and was hit by how many great songs could be written about it. As I started crafting a story line to hold the music together, I remembered Karl's thoughts on movie scores, and I asked him if he would be up for composing an overture to the whole thing. (He had recently gotten a degree in composition from Howard University.)
He said he'd get right on it. 

That never happened.

But he did become part of the whole process. He co-wrote much of "Hangtown Dancehall" with me as well as some of my favorite moments all by his lonesome including "Smile and a Little Skin" and "Hangtown Fry." 

For more details, here's a review of the show from Steve Kiviat  or just come and see for yourself.  It's sure to be a hometown kind of thing with lots of reunions going on both on stage and in the audience.

No comments:

Post a Comment