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Andy Sullivan sang as a soloist with the Portland, Maine, Symphony as a tween, he picked up guitar as a teenager and he played with a Minnesota country-rock band in his 20s. Copy editing supplemented his income, but “the label fell apart, the van broke down, the girlfriend kicked me out.” He changed careers — Sullivan now works as a Congressional correspondent for Reuters — and the timing was perfect. “I was leaving music right as the music industry was about to be destroyed by the Internet,” he said. “And I made the wise career choice to go into another field that was about to be destroyed by the Internet.”
His hard-rock band, Dirty Bomb, has recorded unarguably the finest concept album ever inspired by the Jack Abramoff saga. He plays a Paul Reed Smith Mira guitar and has an onstage strategy: “Go completely over the top and employ every hackneyed rock-and-roll cliche with enough enthusiasm that it will tend to lift people out of their seats.”
When he’s not gigging at a local Irish bar as part of the acoustic group Paddy Goes West, Dennis Dunlavey is the senior Washington editor for ABC News. He’s had his Martin D28 acoustic guitar since 1970 — about as long as the band members have played together. The songs on their set list are all linked, historically or culturally, to the old country. And as a true testament to their semi-professionalism, they have found polite ways to refuse all requests for “The Unicorn.”
Then there’s Toles. After drumming in the requisite garage band of his youth, he got back into drumming based on a casual conversation at a party, soundproofed his basement a little and started jamming with friends each week. The success of Suspicious Package has spurred a second band with Toles as a drummer, which is also playing this year’s contest. Lethal Bark is guitar-free and plays original songs. It also practices in Toles’ basement — it is the Motown Studio A of journo rock — and the repertoire includes “a courtship song that features a catapult as a method of transportation.”
Suspicious Package “won” the battle last year, in that voting is measured by the charitable donations stuffed into ballot boxes. Those interviewed, professionally able to spot a leading question, generally declined to throw other bands under bus or predict victory, noting that it’s a fun charity event. Post columnist John Kelly would only shove his co-worker in the bus’s direction: “I always thought that if you won the Pulitzer Prize, you weren’t allowed to compete in other things.” Kelly drums and sings for the Stepping Stones, a Monkees cover band competing in its second Journopalooza. “I’m loud, and I have a good sense of time,” he said. “I have a van big enough to fit the drums in, and I have a basement. That’s all anyone wants.”
Sullivan, after an unethical level of goading, went for the jugular: “Tom Toles must be stopped. ... You notice how he’s cheating by having two bands?” Altamont could break out at any moment.