Arts Desk

A Mini-Retrospective on Run for Cover, Which May End This Year

Run for Cover, the annual cavalcade of high- (and low-) concept cover bands that's been at the Black Cat for the better part of a decade, may come to a close this year. Maybe. It's not entirely clear. But tomorrow night marks the 10th Run for Cover, and for organizer Joe Halladay, it feels like a good time to wind it down.

"We've approached this year with the idea in mind that it's the last one," says Halladay in a phone conversation Thursday. "Things can change I guess, I dunno."

There's a certain, very small corner of D.C.'s indie-rock scene that has done Run for Cover almost every year. At this point, most of the early generation is fanned out all over the place—like the guys in Dismemberment Plan, for example, and the former members of Motorcycle Wars, an early-2000s band led by the late Clark Sabine. But each year it's grown a new limb, enriched by new blood, and people who really dig Warren Zevon.

Yeah, there's going to be a Zevon cover band at tomorrow's Run for Cover. And an Eddie Money band. The Prince cover band, concocted by Dismemberment Plan members, had to bail. So did the bluegrass Fugazi act. But something usually comes along to fill in the gaps. "Of the nine bands we're gonna have this year, three of them just got added on in the last week," says Halladay. He's mostly tight-lipped on the other acts playing tomorrow. "Typically it seems like the bands tend to keep that kinda close to their chest, you know? I think it's not like, you know, shrouded in mystery or anything like that, but the element of surprise kind of goes a long way."

He's right. Take 2005, when D-Plan did a Duran Duran cover band called The Girls On Film. Bernie Wandel, the former Rollins Band bassist and then-general manager of Black Cat, had played in batshit, terribly unskilled cover-ish bands at Black Cat anniversaries between the late 1990s and early aughts. He'd wanted to do Run For Cover for a while, but hadn't been formally invited. Bassist Eric Axelson got in touch with Wandel and pitched something like this: "Rio" required a sax solo, but they didn't have a sax player. David Durst could fake the solo on his keyboard, but they still needed someone to pretend to play the sax. Would Wandel like to do it?

"I start gagging," says Wandel. "I was like, I feel sorry for you...I would rather vomit daily than listen to Duran Duran most of the time." But he would do it, he said, with one stipulation: "I wanna do it wearing nothing but the saxophone." Axelson wasn't so sure (a claim Axelson denies). "He's like, 'I don't know if the guys are gonna go for that.' And I'm like, fuck you, man! Who's gonna get in trouble here? The guy who's the general manager of the club? Or the band? The naked guy's the one who's gonna go to jail."

Halladay didn't know anything about the nudity scheme in advance—or even while it was happening. "I can remember being like 'What, he was naked?' But I was drunk, it was the end of the night, I don't know." Wandel did the sax solo, and it was almost like no one realized he wasn't actually playing. Axelson theorizes people were just too busy looking at Wandel's junk to realize the sax had no mouthpiece, and his fingers weren't moving.

Run for Cover began at Halladay's house in Falls Church, Va., in 2002. It involved a Ministry cover band that, realizing they might be one-upped by another act, decided to take it to the next level. "Those guys [were] like, "You know what, we need to step this up right now,'" says Halladay. They left the party, drove to Home Depot, and picked up a chain-link fence. They played their set with the fence as a prop. Since that night, Run for Cover has taken place at the Warehouse on 7th Street NW, then later the Black Cat, every year except 2008, the year Halladay relocated to Brooklyn. He still lives there. Run for Cover is always a benefit, it often sells out, and the one-upmanship lives on.

As far as Halladay is concerned, the band to beat is any lineup with Aaron Estes, the former Bellman Barker frontman who's now in Black Hills. This is Estes' sixth year doing RFC. In 2010, he and his bandmates did C&C Music Factory. Last year, it was Daft Punk. "If this werent the 10th one," says Halladay, "we would not be doing this this year because that Daft Punk band was like the best thing anybody's ever done at Run for Cover." Estes and Co. are back on the bill tomorrow night, but he's hesitant to reveal what they have planned. All he'll say is the band is named Solsbury Phil.

Run for Cover begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $10. Proceeds benefit Girls Rock D.C.

Photo by Flickr user ann gav used under a Creative Commons license.

The original version of this article inaccurately said Wandel was a member of Black Flag. He was a member of Rollins Band.

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