Battle of the Bands: An NYPL Recap
Last Saturday I was able to breathe freely for the first time in months. This was due in large part to an event that occurred on the preceding Friday. You see, roughly six months ago I had an idea. A loony idea. A crazy, kooky, madcap INSANE idea. I had noticed in my travels, you see, that children’s editors have similarities that extend beyond their love of producing quality literary fare for young ‘uns.
To wit: Children’s book editors enjoy joining bands.
This first came to my attention when a friend of mine’s husband (Dennis Shealy) appeared to be in a band called Mr. McGregor with a fellow editor of my acquaintance (Jim Thomas). Then Namrata Tripathi created that great song “Randolph Caldecott” with her band The Effin’ G’s. Finally, I recently noticed that there was a band out there called Tiger Beat, fronted by none other than YA author Libba Bray.
Something was happening.
Eventually I proposed an idea to the bands and to my library: To create the ultimate Battle of the Bands. It would consist of three bands composed entirely of people working in the children’s/YA publishing sphere. Oh yes. It was a dream and we were going to make it a reality.
The problem? I don’t have a clue what bands need or are composed of or any of that. I was never into guys in bands. Guys in musicals, yes. Cause that’s the kind of badass hard rocking librarian I am. But bands? Sheesh no.
Fortunately, my library got right on it. They were hugely helpful and by October 16th we had ourselves a night to remember. I carefully separated out the green M&Ms and placed them in the Green Room (along with the rest of the M&Ms as well). I gave everyone teeny tiny water bottles (weirdly enough, that’s all we had). And after wrangling with questions of how late we could play, where the band would unload the instruments, sound checks, etc. we were good to go.
The tricky part of the whole evening was the fact that the doors of the library would have to officially shut at 6:30. That meant that only some folks could come in from after work. Ah well. By the end the count came to about 130 people all told, which ain’t half shabby for something as niche as editors with instruments.
First up were The Effin’ G’s, looking fab as always. For those of you keeping score at home that’s Namrata Tripathi, the band’s founder, on lead vocals, Lynne Polvino on bass guitar, John Adamo on drums, and Jim Thomas on another guitar.
You may recall that I made a music video out of the Effin’ G’s song “Randolph Caldecott”. That meant there was at least one song that evening that I knew all the words to.
I should mention another element to the evening. What I really wanted was a couple of celebrity judges for spice. The essential flaw of any band night is, as far as I can tell, the set-up and breakdown. Between sets you need to keep the audience engaged, right? So I did the thing I always do; I went whining to Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett with email pleas that sounding something akin to, “Come oooooonnn. Puh-leeze, guys? Please please please?” My cries were for naught, mind you, since both Mr. Scieszka and Mr. Barnett would not be in town for my spectacular night. However, since they are both stand-up guys with a well-defined sense of humor, they agreed to tape and edit together some repartee about the bands, sight unseen. This is what played after The Effin’ G’s.
Virtual celebrity judges are all well and good, but I still wanted the physical kind. Daniel Ehrenhaft was instrumental in getting all four of our judges. These included:
Jennifer Bell (The Seven Year Bitch)
Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants)
Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes)
E. Lockhart (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)
So when Mac and Jon finished I called up my first guest, Ms. Lockhart. Not knowing how much time we would have to kill I quizzed her mercilessly on everything from the music she was into as a teen to what was currently on her iPod. She stuck it out, and soon the next band was ready to do their thing.
Mr. McGregor may be the band behind all of this, you know. When I moved to New York my friend Marci from college was working in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume department (I always notice that her marble stone steps make mine look doggone dinky in comparison). Marci was friends with Jessica and Jessica was married to Dennis Shealey. Ipso facto, I ended up seeing quite a few Mr. McGregor concerts. They were the first publishing band to come to my attention, but clearly not the last.
Here you can see Dennis Shealey, sometimes on lead vocals and sometimes on guitar, along with Mo Botton (also sometimes on guitar and vocals) and Jim Thomas on drums. If Jim looks familiar, that’s because you just saw him on guitar for The Effin’ G’s.
I would like to point out that my clerks, who are not into rock and roll, helped me out with this event and later informed me that the bands sounded really good. So. There you go.
After the band ended it was time for the run-down from Jon and Mac.
Next, I lead a deafened Maureen Johnson onto the stage. Same quiz questions, different answers. Maureen noted that she liked the last band but was having difficulty hearing any more. Then she discussed the judging, and I made a mention of the fact that I had no idea if there would even BE judging at which point she made it pretty darn clear that judging there would be. Ooooooh, there WOULD be judging!!!
All this ended just in time for Tiger Beat to get set up. I placed them at the end of the roster, since I figured their tunes would be just the right sort to close out the show. Plus I knew they had a big fan base, and I intended to hold people to their seats.
Here you can see Libba Bray on vocals, Daniel Ehrenhaft on a guitar, Natalie Standiford on bass, and Barnabas Miller on drums. They were a lot of fun. They did some great covers, but they also managed to work in original numbers like “YA Song”. They even got my library’s programming specialist Jack Martin to hold up the lyrics as they happened. The chorus, as you can see, is:
(Translation: “And Holden Caulfield is NOT an asshole.”)
If you’d like to see them play this song in the flesh, you need merely watch this video from their performance at Books of Wonder not too long ago.
They were good, but would Jon and Mac dig it?
They didn’t know that this would be the last song of the evening, of course. Ah well.
After that we brought out all our judges (I interviewed Ms. Brashares and Ms. Belle briefly, but we were pressed for time) and they decided that there was only one way to determine the winner of the evening. Since this was a benefit, folks were told to give money to the band they loved the most. Whoever got the most for NYPL would win.
The Effin’ G’s!
And that was that! For a recap by Ms. E. Lockhart herself, you may read this blog post on the subject.
And very very special thanks to Namrata Tripathi and Daniel Ehrenhaft for all the blood, sweat, and tears they put into this. Thanks too to the band members, many who took off a day of work to help us set up, and who put up with a million little difficulties (parking the van, the closing of 40th Street, etc.). Thanks to each and every one of you, and to your spouses as well (you too, Barry). Couldn’t have done it without you. And thank you Brian and our sound guy Kevin who made everyone sound like the rock stars they were. Cheers!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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