If getting the ear of Washington was half as easy as coaxing accomplished writers who moonlight as rockers out from behind their laptops and up onto stage, Mother Nature Network Co-Founder Chuck Leavell might very well already be running #ThisTown.
Between his musical stature (the veteran keyboardist is gearing up for another tour with the Rolling Stones) and environmental advocacy bona fides (he’s testified before Congress about forestry issues), Leavell seems like the ideal get for the celebrity maelstrom the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner has become. Instead of waiting around for others to court him, the budding media mogul is wooing music lovers via the inaugural White House Correspondents' Jam.
Leavell recruited five correspondent-fronted bands — Fortune Senior Editor-at-Large Brian Dumaine, Esquire scribe Tom Junod, CNBC Senior Economics Reporter Steve Liesman, New Yorker Editor David Remnick and Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Mark Rozzo are all slated to play with their respective outfits — to blow the doors off the Fairmont Hotel (2401 M St. NW) on April 24 from 7 to 11 p.m.
“Politics can get really heavy. This is an opportunity for everyone to say, ‘Hey! It’s just rock and roll,'” Leavell told HOH. Junod, who chronicled the birth of his performer persona last spring, is well aware he’s lucked into keeping terrific company by getting to know Leavell.
“He saw us lose another open-mic night last year and it turns out he’s a HUGE Cousin Billy Fan,” the newly minted singer quipped, adding that he and Leavell bonded a few years back over their mutual respect for the Stones' late pianist Nicky Hopkins.
Although relatively new to the trade, Junod appears to have embraced the rock-and-roll lifestyle.
“Unlike the other bands, we have no ringers — no members of Nada Surf, Guided By Voices and Cat Power [the makeup of Rozzo’s star-studded lineup], not that I’m mentioning any names — and we play all originals, misguided as that sounds,” he said.
But, the hook at this event is that Leavell is expected to join each featured band for at least one song — an opportunity Junod does not plan to squander.
“We’ll play one cover … a Stones cover, of all things,” he shared. “If that’s not tempting the gods, I don’t know what is.”
Remnick’s expectations are much lower. And he’s hoping the audience will extend him the same courtesy.
“I really don't know Chuck Leavell unless you count sitting in the audience to hear him many times with the Stones and the Allman Brothers. If he ends up sitting in with us, well, I apologize in advance,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author warned.
A lifelong aficionado of the art, Remnick dabbled in bands during his youth (“We were suitably horrible and as long-lived as a snowflake, but not nearly as original,” he said of one fleeting arrangement) but soon put away childish things.
“For a long time I didn't play at all — a really long time — and then a couple of years ago I started taking lessons, something to clear the mind,” he said of the liberating revival. Remnick said he tends to stick with what he knows (Beatles, Stones, Smokey Robinson, The Clash) — for a good reason.
“I listen to a lot of younger bands, but we don't play that music much; those bands should wake up grateful for that,” Remnick estimated.
While he’s no stranger to the music world, touring vet Rozzo (formerly of Champale and Maplewood fame) remains struck by all Leavall has accomplished.
“I met Chuck last year when he came through NYC, around the time of the U.N. Climate Summit. So impressed with that guy as a musician and as a human,” Rozzo told HOH about the multi-talented performer/policy wonk.
As an artist, Rozzo digs writing songs and recording original works. But he’s also jazzed about being able to play early Beatles stuff with the rest of Bambi Kino.
“We usually play about 80 songs a night,” he said of the ambitious set lists.
Should he return next year, Leavell would love to have even more musicians join the festivities. He invited Second Amendments Co-Founder Rep. Collin C. Peterson to the show (they’ve jammed together in the past), but a Peterson aide said the Minnesota Democrat does not expect to be in town that weekend.
Leavell also hasn’t given up hope of maybe gaining entrée to the so-called Nerd Prom. “I actually have feelers out to see if I can get an invitation,” he said.
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