Monday, March 3, 2008
Rocking in the Free World
After two strange gigs in a month's time (Neil Young Tribute Show, backing Daniel Johnston), my main man and notorious fellow culture vulture Mark Cutler (and favorite aging rocker)somehow managed to up the ante and took some more time out to fill me in on his third odd gig, a little rock and roll noise before Rock Star Obama's appearance at a hugely attended recent rally in little Rhody.
Bob Giusti, Mike Tanaka and I, (3/4’s of The Dino Club), were the musical entertainment at the Barack Obama rally at RI College Sat, March 1st, 2008. Our good friend, Senator Josh Miller from RI suggested to his campaign people that we do the gig. Josh called me and asked who I was supporting in the presidential race and I said that I was an Obama man. Josh put me in touch with Mike Brush, one of Senator Obama's campaign organizers and we went over the logistics. We were to play for just 20 minutes. It wasn't a paying gig but Mike B. promised that we would get some face time and a photo with Senator Obama. Bob, Mike and I needed to be vetted by the Secret Service, so I gave Mr. Brush our personal info and he contacted me later that day to say that we passed. It was good to know that my rock and roll pals and I don't have any black marks in the Secret Service permanent record book. I have to admit, I was pretty excited to be playing at the rally. I got up extra early in anticipation. I got up during the night trying to think of what songs would be appropriate. My girlfriend Kristen’s brother in-law Matt Hodge suggested the old Canned Heat song ‘Let’s Work Together’. I agreed. I thought of ‘Fortunate Son’ and an original called ‘Heart Keep Beating’. From there, we would wing it.
It was a long day to say the least. My entourage, which included Mike T., Bob G., my son Danny, my girlfriend Kristen, our good friend Carrie and Danny's friend Dylan arrived at 10:30 at the RI College Rec. Center. It was raining and it was cold. I had been in contact with Barack's people throughout the morning. Pauline was our contact person there and told us where to park. We had some amps, drum kit and guitars (kinda like the Daniel Johnston set up detailed a few blog entries below)) and we had to carry the equipment through sleet and mud about 200 yards to the press entrance. We got all our equipment there, thanks to our entourage's help and a couple of volunteers named Max and Debbie. However, we weren't allowed to bring our equipment inside until they finished sweeping the arena for bombs and such. In the meantime we were with all the press people from all over the world sitting at the front of the line trying to protect our equipment. After about 45 minutes, they let us bring our equipment in. Eureka! We thought we were all set however, once the equipment was inside, they asked us to go back and wait with the rest of the press in the sleet and cold. We went back out and stood in the weather for a few more minutes and finally were allowed back in for the duration.
We were shown to the stage where the candidate would be speaking and there was his podium. We had to set up around it but that was ok. It was like Barack was our front man. I stood at the podium just to see what it would be like and I gotta say it was pretty sensational to be standing in the spot that (hopefully to me) a future president would be standing; we set up our stuff and were even allowed a sound check. John the soundman was really cool. He did the best he could to make it comfortable for us. As we were doing our sound check song (“This is the Place”) people were filtering in. By the time we finished there were at least a couple of thousand folks applauding. That was really sweet and the positive vibe could not be ignored. I told the folks the name of our band and that we would be on shortly. We walked off the stage and waited in a special area until show time. I was really happy that I got to share this moment with Kristen and my son Danny.
Showtime arrived we went on; the crowd was ready and excited. We had no set list and we were about to play a bunch of songs we never really played before. No problem, we’re professionals, don’t try this at home. Right before we went on, I told Mike and Bob that the first song would be ‘Let’s Work Together’ “It’s really nice to be playing for all these Barack Obama supporters.” Screams. “There are three more of us onstage.” More screams:
Together we stand
Divide we fall
C'mon peoplem let's get on the ball
Let's work together
It was ragged, but that was ok, we were playing an opening set for Barack Obama, holy shit!! I couldn’t hear my vocals and my guitar seemed like it was coming from the twilight zone but that was ok. I’m glad I remembered the words. After that, I told the crowd that it was really cool to be part of this witnessing of history. They yelled their approval. Next song was ‘Fortunate Son’. Honest to God people, we never played it before but it just made too much sense to play it here, so we did. In the key of B and again I remembered most of the words:
Some people born with star spangled eyes
Oohn they wanna send you out to war
(That line could make you cry couldn’t it?)
We then played “Honky Tonk Blues” by Hank Williams just cuz, I love that song. I wasn’t sure what to play next so I asked the folks if they wanted to hear a Rolling Stones song and they mostly said yes. “Jumpin Jack Flash” at a presidential rally. Yes, the times they are a changing.
We then closed with an original “May Your Heart Keep Beating”. Before we played it I said to the crowd, “It feels like we’ve been walking in the woods for almost 8 years and we’re finally seeing the daylight.” They screamed and my heart soared a bit. We ended the set; the people politely responded. We moved our equipment to a corner behind the stage and were escorted to a special section to watch the proceedings.
RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch came and said a short but effective speech. He even thanked the Dino Club for playing. Then we waited and waited and waited for a couple of hours and finally Patrick Kennedy hit the stage to introduce our man. The screams, the excitement, the tension and the heat made this a very intense experience. The Secret Service men were scanning the crowd. We had a great unique vantage point. We were about twenty feet to his left in front of the press photog booth. It was his stump speech but we were testifying right along with him. After the speech, he walked offstage and shook our hands. This couldn’t be the promised face time, could it? We waited until we had clearance to get behind the stage in order to get our equipment. I contacted Mike Brush and he said that we were to meet with the candidate shortly. Holy shit! It was going to happen. I really wanted to meet him but more importantly, I wanted my son to meet him. Danny was getting antsy but I told him he would thank me later on in life that I made him hang. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Finally we were escorted to the back area of the arena. There were policemen, firemen and state policemen waiting to have their pics taken with Mr. Obama. I have to say that the Secret Service men were pretty cool, they didn’t seem at all like the way you see them on the ‘Simpsons’ or ‘American Dad’.
Finally he arrives. He’s supposed to be heading to Cleveland for another rally, but he was so patient with everyone there. He took photos with students, volunteers, the police, firemen and finally us. He shook our hands and I got to say to him, “This is my son, and his friend and we don’t want them going to Iraq.” He squeezed my hand tighter and said, “I know, neither do I.” Senator Obama took a couple of photos with us and we left. After the experience, you know, he comes across as a pretty regular guy. He’s approachable and he’s got grace. I hope he wins and I hope he’s a great president. Thanks to Senator Miller for letting me in on this experience.