The Big Fame: A Night of Old Radio & New Songs
w/ the Grimm Generation and Girlfriend Project, March 23, 7 p.m., $10, Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut, 115 Pierson Lane, Windsor, (860) 673-0518, vrcmct.org
Way back when, the family would congregate around the warm, vacuum-tube glow of the household radio every evening, to soak up scintillating, one-size-fits-all tales of femme fatales, gumshoes and Martian invasions, side-splitting comedic skits and the latest pop hits from Tin Pan Alley.
Not much has changed, right?
At least not in Windsor, Conn., and not this Saturday, when the fabulous Vintage Radio and Communications Museum — a joint stockpiled with heaps of switchboards, transistors and dials — hosts The Big Fame: A Night of Old Radio & New Songs.
Carmen Champagne and Jason Krug, co-founders of local band the Grimm Generation, conceived the show as a simple, radio-ready revue. It's since grown into a dramatic, multimedia happening, complete with food (provided by two area sponsors, Newington's GoldBurgers Restaurant and Get Baked, a Windsor bakery), additional musicians (singer-songwriter Julie Beman's Girlfriend Project), a narrator (Ginger Miller) and the full GG band — Krug and Champagne, Lys Guillorn (lap steel, banjo, bells and guitar), Eric Bloomquist (bass), Julie Drechsler (cello) and "Killer" Kerry Miller (drums). The show might even be broadcast over the airwaves, using the museum's studio.
"That is potentially happening," Champagne said. "They'll broadcast it live, but their reach is only out to the train tracks in front of the building. It's not anything that's going to be heard."
Krug is largely responsible for the script (Champagne wrote the introduction), loosely based on "Blink, I'm Gone," a memorable song from a recent EP, Coming Home, about a troubled character named Asher. The rest of the show weaves together songs from their extensive back catalogue (Krug and Champagne are incredibly prolific) and material written for an upcoming CD, to be released sometime this summer. Old-style radio commercials, promoting the two sponsors, are plugged in along the way.
"We like doing different things," Champagne said. "We like to create events out of our shows, and this was a great way to do that. We work together well. If one of us gets an idea, they run with it. Jason was inspired one day and put it all together."
When you string them together, songs shift and squirm. They take on unintended (if not quite unwelcome) meanings. Our minds naturally connect dots we may not consciously realize are there. Even in the age of the $.99 single, we tend to group bite-size musical pieces into larger, dramatic forms. Depending on the nature of the songs, finding a story that runs through them all, without too many seams, can be daunting.
Not for Grimm, it seems. "All our songs tend to be of that genre, pretty much relationship-driven," Champagne said. "So to string together a narrative based on the songs we have in our catalogue was not a far stretch. It came together fairly easily."
The museum, meanwhile, lined with essentially every type of radio/communications gizmo imaginable from the beginning of time, is the ideal venue for the Windsor-based duo. "The Radio Museum is in Windsor," Champagne said, "so we were very aware of it and had actually scouted it out at one point as a video possibility, but that never came through. They were looking to start a music series. Just being what we do, kinda noir, it all fell together."
Radio, as a vibe, also appeals to Champagne and Krug. "It's the generation that we're from, not the old-school radio shows, but we grew up on radio," Champagne said. "That's always been a connection between Jason and me. It's about the music. It's always been about the music. When you're given an opportunity like this, you really have carte blanche to create the show."
There's tweaking to be done — to the script, the music, the costumes — up until the day of the show; a final dress rehearsal took place over the weekend. When the show ends, the GG are considering shopping the show around to other area venues. "It's a nice little package," Champagne said. "We'd absolutely like to take it on the road if the idea presents itself."
"This was a nice way to get musicians who take the time to create original music to get it heard in a way that is different than just a gig at a bar," she continued. "This is something that might appeal to somebody who may not want to go to a bar to listen to music but who would like to go to a show and be entertained."