Recounting The Great American #ConspireToSmile Kickoff
When I was day dreaming about #ConspireToSmile a few months back and thinking about how it might all play out, there were lots of open questions. One of them was whether or not anyone would "get it" and, if so, would it have the intended effect? I started to think about who might play on the record and what songs to record and so on and so forth. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to hold a kickoff concert at the Great American Music Hall, because the venue holds such a special place in my mind. I wasn't exactly sure who would join me as my "folks," but when they asked me how to bill it I said bill it as Reid Genauer & Folks and told my booking agent Josh not to worry about it. The truth is, he probably should have worried a tad. I certainly did. The whole thing kind of scared the shit out of me, but fear is a great motivator and passion is an even better one and the gig held a healthy does of both.
First Set: video credit @brianmarkowitz @deadheadland
Fast forward 2-3 months. The answers to most of those questions are still kind of evolving organically, but mostly they are coming into focus and a set of occurrences are, well, occurring that reinforce my conviction that #ConspireToSmile will serve our little circle as I hoped it might. Even if it's just a few hundred people. Even the act of talking about the album with my band mates began to create a little sparkle in my brain. A bright spot. Then came engaging conversations, phone calls and emails started flying around. One fateful day a Dropbox folder with a dozen drum tracks emerged from Dave "Double D" Diamond, then guitar tracks, bass tracks, vocals, pedal steel, piano violin and wouldn't you know it... rough tracks - songs I say. But more importantly, there is a palpable buzz. The very act of making the recording is generating literal and metaphorical smiles, a creative connectivity for me certainly but also for my fellow co-conspirators. A broad-mouthed big-hearted thought experiment is taking root with our bohemian community of miscreants and spiritual gangsters. The conspiracy to smile has ever so subtly started to sing on its own.
This past Friday, I was going kinda pre-show mental. I had the pre-show jitters. I guess I felt like the evening was an unveiling of something bigger than a show and bigger than an album. It was a shared unveiling of explicit statement of shared solidarity that happened to have my name on it. I get that the notion can come off as cliche - I'm not really a rainbow and unicorn kinda guy - I like dirty jokes, boozy parties and movies with swords and sex. But last Friday, I drove up in my VW snacking on carrots and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (that my wife made me) and wrestling car seats out of the way to free my gear. It never occurred to me that the venue would have my name sprawled across it. That was both amusing and kinda intimidating. And so I found myself writing set lists and re-writing them. Writing guest lists and rewriting them. Tweaking out more or less - frenzied.
Three things set me right. One - I met Brewster Kahle, the founder of Archive.org backstage and the man lit me up. He was talking about digitizing 150,000 vinyl recordings from the '30s and '40s of obscure American music - stuff like people yodeling and whistling and singing bizarre old folk songs. I love Archive.org. (between Assembly of Dust and Strangefolk we have some 1,300 recordings up there) and I was thrilled to meet Brewster. He's a hero of sorts. I was interested in the content of what he was saying, but I was equally as captured by his person, his passion, his facial expressions and his large and welcoming presence. The unspoken emotion and the twinkle in his eye as he talked about the things he loved. His natural ability to conspire to smile set aside all of my concerns and the backstage clatter faded. I was left with him, his nephew, his friends and that big ole shit eating grin.
The second was simply taking the stage. We could feel the chemistry on stage and in the room. I've heard artists and athletes refer to it as "the flow" and it happens, I would wager, every third gig or so, but what was cool on this particular evening is that "the flow" was already in 5th gear when we took the stage; the air was thick with good intention. It felt like leaning on a bubble. Everyone came to the show with the explicit intent to smile for a while. Everyone there had a need and/or an objective to commune with the sweeping souls of rock and roll.
Lastly, talking with "folks" throughout the night, musicians, friends and fans alike made my night. We all enjoyed the hell out of the performance. We felt mutually happy with our makeshift band for having made it happen. However, I'm not sure I have ever given or received so many warm personal greetings in my life, maybe with the exception of my wedding. So as I look back at last Friday I see it as a kind of successful "beta test" and I feel a growing certainty that for those of us who need it, who best believe it, we can and will #ConspireToSmile. A heartfelt high five to my brethren - Jon Trafton, John Leccese, Jay Lane, Dave Diamond, Jason Crosby, John Coretto, Uncle Jim Ratner, Jon Hart, Andre Gardner, Roger McNamee, Colonel Alex Koford, Mike "Fat Jimmy" Pascale, Casual Craig 'cMac" MacArthur, Ross James & the rest of The Mermaids and madmen. To @BobMinkin, @Jayblakesburg, @JamieSoja for rock photos and to each of you who tested the #ConspireToSmile raft and set it afloat - you my friends lay the the f*cking dust...!
- R. Reinhold Genauer
PS: Special thanks to Brian Rhashap and the Bearded Unicorn Band. You rock (ever so softly).
The Colonel & The Mermaids: video credit @brianmarkowitz @deadheadland