We rehearsed at the house of Doreen Peri and Clay “Lightning Rod” January, in Sterling, VA. Beautiful house. Spacious. Splendid art and photos on the walls, much of it the work of doreen herself. Amps, books, couches, plants, wide windows & windchimes, and plenty of electrical outlets to plug in our gear. Food. Doreen had cooked chili! I was in Heaven.
Kevin Pierce, an airplane pilot who currently performs in an aerial show, did a run-through of his “Jungle Buck” routine. This guy should be in Hollywood. He goes on stage as the shy, mild-mannered Massengil Ticklepink, but then a “possessed” pith helmet follows him around on stage, so he dons the pith helmet and it transforms him into Jungle Buck. He’s funny.
Clay played his song, “Talking To Noah About the Flood” on his electric keyboard so I could figure out a bass-line to go with it. I love the way he sings that song. He’s got a jazz-blues style that can’t be beat. I was really happy to be a part of that. While we rehearsed, Ronnie (Yabyum) showed up! It was great to see him. Ronnie just epitomizes to me what ‘beat’ is about. He travels a lot and I believe he keeps his eyes open. He reads his poetry loud, with genuine feeling, and doesn’t tend to participate in anything “staged.” He also loaded and unloaded my amplifier for me. It’s a heavy son-of-a-bitch and I don’t like lifting it, but Ronnie swung that thing like pack of roofing shingles, like he knew what he was doing.
Then Levi and Caryn arrived. It really was good to see them because they are such cool people and you just want to perform around them for some reason. At least, I do.
We loaded ourselves into cars and made our way from Lightning Rod Headquarters to the Warehouse Theater in Washington, D.C.
Cabaradio was the brainchild of Doreen Peri and Clay (Lightning Rod) January. It featured the LitKicks Action Poets with musical and dramatic interludes by the Renegade Theater Company, directed by the very capable Laurie Gilkenson. Ms. Gilkenson was on Broadway as a child in the original Sound of Music (she played Marta) and in The Music Man. She also took piano lessons from the great Marvin Hamlisch. Not only that, but Mr. Hamlisch was sometimes her baby sitter when she was a child!
Lightning Rod was the host, complete with a desk and chairs for his guests, in the style of David Letterman or Conan O’Brien. Sharing the stage with LRod was his lovely sidekick Doreen, who served in the role of hostess, introducing the acts…”Who’s on next, Doreen?” He appointed me (Bill Ectric) to fill the role of the Paul Shaffer Band. “Let’s say hello to our good friend, Bill Ectric…” The band consisted of me, on bass guitar, over at the side of the stage. As Lightning Rod read his “Top Ten List” of “Why People Hate Poetry” I tried to approximate the old “rim shot” with some bass flourishes.
Now, how can I describe the wonderful voice with which Doreen delivered her spoken word piece, “Deathrap”? It’s a perfect pitch blend of knowing sexuality and natural innocence, like Cher in the 60’s when she was a hip, intelligent counter-culture icon. Accompanied by tough, compelling bongo jazz and wailing guitar riffs, “Deathrap” brought to my mind words like “hip”, “cool”, “noir”, and “downtown.” She also performed her poem “Duct Tape & Plastic”, which she describes as being “about the little panic stores the government is going to be setting up at intersections and the color coded fear tactics… (or something like that).” And on top of all this, Doreen was dazzling in her micro-mini skirt!
The Momentum dancers were impressive. Exhilarating moves and colorful individual costumes gave each dancer their own identity while they moved in perfect harmony in styles ranging from jazz to hip hop. To quote from a Washington Post review, “The Momentum Dance Theatre has style as well as substance, with a zany sensibility.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Caryn is a trip. She is an amazing poet and performer. When she took the stage in that sparkling miniskirt, her pixie cuteness did not prepare anyone for her spoken word piece, “Down at the Motherfuckin’ Bourgeoisie” which she delivered fearlessly and with great cheer, sometimes almost scatting the words rap-style. I was honored to be asked to accompany Caryn on my bass guitar as she recited her poem. Soon after the piece began, a woman was seen quickly removing her children from the audience, no doubt shocked by the rawness of the thing. The kiddies passed in front of me as I sat cross-legged on the side of the stage, playing my bass. I tried to give a sympathetic smile to show I understood the lady’s decision to exit, but I’m afraid under the stage lights and my concentration on the fret board, I succeeded only in giving a twisted leer which further traumatized and terrorized the innocents as they fled. It’s alright, though, kids will hear things sooner or later and words are only words. Not far away from our event there in Washington D.C. words are spoken which literally set wars in motion. Hopefully, by the time these children are old enough for the military, there won’t be any wars and free speech will have contributed to that outcome.
Levi Asher, the founder of Literary Kicks, was introduced as the next guest. Levi first answered Lightning Rod’s interview questions about the website, then gave a gripping rendition of his spoken word piece, “This Poem Is About Me.” Next, Levi played acoustic guitar and sang. He started with John Lennon’s song about the horrors of drug addiction withdrawal, “Cold Turkey” and segued into “I’m Losing You.”
There was the highly polished singing duo, Jeff Obermiller and Gilly Conklin. Jeff sang the Rodgers and Hart classic, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (a song that has recently been covered by Rod Stewart and Cher) and together, Jeff and Gilly sang, “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby.”
Ironically, the enthusiasm which Yabyum (Ronnie) instills in those around him may have obscured the very message he was trying to express in his spoken word piece. Levi and I made a last minute decision to back up Yabyum’s poem with some punk rock. Between my chunking guitar chords and Levi’s thumping bass, another reviewer (Professor Gloom) wrote, “I would like to hear the rant read without music so I could actually hear the words.” Sorry, Ronnie. I’ve heard it without music and it’s a powerful thing. Next time we’ll give you the space you need to throw down.
The grand finale was Levi Asher conducting the Litkicks Action Poetry Orchestra. We had been hearing about this idea of Levi’s for some time before the rehearsal and we knew it would be something weird. It was. Levi had a group of us sitting in chairs, each with a different piece of writing, which we read out loud as he directed the flow by the motions of his hands, like a music conductor. One person started to read at Levi’s signal, then he brought us each into the mix, one by one, the various disparate words bouncing off each other to create a symphonic buzz of syllables, sounds, rhythms. Levi continued to direct with his arms & hands: read slowly — quietly — now whisper — a little faster now — a little bit louder now — even louder — and on to the ending crescendo. Levi looked at us as if to say. “We pulled it off! We did it!”
The official Cabaradio show was followed by open mike and festivities in bar up front. I’m happy to say that no one seemed offended by my song, “Let’s Cook the Dog.” I had a blast. I’d like to thank jota for doing the press release and I will end with some quotes from other people who were there:
“Well done, but might stand a bit of polish with out diminishing the charm. Truly an honor to attend.” – Professor Gloom.
“We got a lot of compliments from strangers, and that says a lot.” – Levi Asher
“Very talented bunch, I must say!” – Laurie Gilkenson.
Lightning Rod (Clay January)
Yabyum, Caryn, Levi
Caryn, Yabyum, Bill Ectric, Levi, Lightning Rod
Levi tries out my Peavy electric guitar
Lightning Rod, Levi, and Doreen Peri
The Cabaradio Band (Bill Ectric)
Doreen, doin’ the Deathrap!
The Momentum Dance Company, led by Roberta Rothstein
Levi Asher (brooklyn)
Ronnie’s rant backed by Bill on guitar, Levi on bass
Bill Ectric, cooking the dog
Kevin Pierce as Dr. Otto von Wheezenkoff in the Flying Circus