Arts Desk

When Journalists Pick Up Instruments…

As much as the D.C. music scene will screech to a halt this evening in deference to The Dismemberment Plan's reunion show at the Black Cat, an assembly of reporters, editors, and a few government officials are not. Tonight's other hot ticket is the third edition of Journopalooza, an annual battle-of-the-bands fundraiser full of groups comprised of media types with rock 'n' roll dreams.

The event is the brainchild of Christina Davidson, a correspondent for The Atlantic currently working on a book version of her "Recession Roadtrip" series of articles (excellent reads, by the way). Davidson conceived Journopalooza after attending several basement shows by Suspicious Package, a five-member outfit that includes Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles. (The band also features former Bloomberg correspondent Tim Burger, Medill National Security Journalism Initiative Director Josh Meyer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Bryan Greene, and Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Christina Sevilla.)

"It started out as a running joke for about a year," Davidson said. "I was just trying to get them out of the basement and playing in public." Which is what happened in May 2008 when Suspicious Package finally emerged from Toles' basement for a debut performance at The Red and the Black.

Davidson, knowing a few other groups staffed by journalists—she mentioned Spencer Ackerman's group The Surge—wanted to organize a battle-of-the-bands-type charity event. Journopalooza 2009 and 2010 raised about $20,000 for journalist-friendly organizations like Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists. This year, however, Journopalooza is taking a leaf from other festivals ending in "palooza" and grabbing a few corporate sponsorships, namely from the Recording Industry Association of America, Flying Dog Brewery, and BAE Systems. But it's for a good cause and Davidson reports already meeting the fundraising totals from previous years, setting a pace to make the event more successful than ever.

To her credit, Davidson seems to admit the tongue-in-cheek nature of Journopalooza. The above promotional video, narrated in a very faux Cockney by Rich Edson of the Fox Business Network, is a pastiche of great rock movies.

One band playing its first Journopalooza tonight is Stepping Stones, a Monkees cover band named for "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" that features as its drummer WaPo Metro columnist John Kelly, who recounted his rock aspirations in his column Wednesday. Kelly played in the power pop band The Item while a student at the University of Maryland in the early 1980s. The band can be found in the annals of the D.C. hardcore scene (Kelly calls The Item a footnote), playing, among other venues, the Unheard Music Festival that landed them in a bill with Minor ThreatTeen Idles, and S.O.A.

"We were the only band that didn't play 'Steppin Stone'," Kelly told me yesterday. Though in performing the oft-covered song, the bands at Unheard Music Festival that did play it hewed much closer to the Sex Pistols' rendition. "We wanted to be like The Knack," Kelly said of his band's poppier sound.

How did Kelly come to a Monkees cover band then? First, he insists, Stepping Stones is not a tribute band. But Kelly, Post higher education correspondent Dan de Vise (vocals and rhythm guitar), UMBC economics professor Tim Brennan (lead guitar), and software consultant Chuck Dolan (bass) play a handful of The Monkees' greatest hits with a few deeper cuts, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" included. "I think we do a really good version of it."

I also asked Kelly if he had ever seen Head, the 1968 cult film in which The Monkees detonated their made-for-TV personas in a psychedelic fury. He had, though his viewing experience could be considered incomplete.

"You have to be on drugs to see this movie, and I wasn't, so it was a bit lost on me."

At the National Press Club. 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor. $25/$40. 6:30 p.m.

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