Booker Dee (Chris Johnson) and I returned from a two-week trip late last Friday night. We played public shows in Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida, and visited friends, school audiences, and a radio show along the way, stopping also in Tennessee and West Virginia.
We made this jaunt primarily to play two public shows at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa, FL on May 14th. I grew up in the Tampa area but I've never brought the whole band there so I was very excited -- and nervous. Otto von Dee (Ely Levin) and Moby Dee (Ari Dolegowski) were unable to make the two-week trip but flew down special to play these shows.
By anyone's estimation, the shows went well. We had good-sized crowds of kids and parents, most of whom had never seen us before. They got up and down and did all the interactive nonsense that's part of every DDDs show and many many people stayed after to ask us questions, catch up, have us sign stuff, etc. I got to see old friends and was proud to show off our wonderful band. Ultimately, though, these concerts were just two more shows out of the hundred or more I play every year. It wasn't until the next day, Sunday before last, that I really felt that unique thrill that professional live performers like us only get every once and while.
We played as part of the service at Thonotosassa United Methodist Church, a church where my stepfather Dennis is the pastor. Booker Dee / Chris, as you might know, has a day job as a church choir director and has asked the Dees and other musicians we play with regularly to join him on occasion to flesh out the tunes during the services he music directs in Jersey City so it made sense for us to stop by and help Dennis out. To be honest, though, we didn't really think of this church stop as one of the official Gigs (intentional capital "g") of the tour, just a fun, nice thing to do while we happened to be in Thonotosassa (a ruralish suburb of Tampa near the University of South Florida).
As it turned out, this gig / not gig was by far the most meaningful stop on the tour for me. Not for any religious reasons. Although I like church as a place to go, I'm unsure about what I believe and... I don't want to go into that right now. What made this such a powerful event was the unique enthusiasm of the congregation, a mostly elderly group that stood up to dance with us on "Tub-Tub-Ma-Ma-Ga-Ga;" sang "He's Got the Whole World," "Great is Thy Faithfulness," and other hymns loud enough to drown out the band; and gave a standing ovation to "Shalom Aleichem," an old sacred Jewish tune that Moby / Ari led. I should mention that Ari is the driving force of one of the grown-up incarnations of the Dees, a band specializing in klezmer and swing primarily for synagogue and other Jewish audiences. We wanted to make sure to share who we truly were with this small church: four friends from different religious and cultural backgrounds who have somehow figured out how to create lots of great music together for years.
This trip made me question whether we should even bother playing for the general public anymore. I'm being dramatic -- I'm not saying we're going to stop doing public shows. But on this trip it was the school audiences (in Lexington, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Atlanta) and that one church group that really made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. I came back resolved once again to figure out a way to bring our music to new audiences, audiences who we we'll never reach via expensive public concerts, television shows, parenting websites, magazines or any of the other outlets that I spend so much of my time (mostly unsuccessfully) pursuing. Ever since I formed the Dees, I've wanted to be a service-based band, one that not only shares our music as widely as possible but also gives voices to people who aren't usually heard. How to do that better I don't know. Ideas?
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Lloyd (Ulysses S. Dee)