har-har harrisonburg no. 24: no strings attached.

There’s something about improvisational comedians that appeals to us all. Maybe it’s that we’re impressed by how quick on the trigger they are. Maybe it’s that they are MacGyvers of comedy, creating humor out of some random words, a feather boa, a Q-tip, and a plunger. Still maybe it’s that they find themselves squirming in the most uncomfortable situations but manage to emerge without anything exploding. Or perhaps it’s that improv comedy is a reflection of life itself–the beautifully strange daily occurrences in all our lives.We are all improv comedians (or tragedians) in that way.

Still, it’s fun to go out and see people act ridiculous.

On a warm May evening, Brandy and I took her kids to see a performance by No Strings Attached, Harrisonburg’s own improv comedy troupe. The performance was at Plan B, a cute, little BIG coffee house in Broadway. I was glad to finally see that place. Spacious and comfortable, it houses a mix of modern and vintage mid-century furnishings, two bars, a toy area for kids (or whomever, really), and a cozy fireplace. They also display lots of local artwork–some for sale–and they use real plates, mugs, and silverware–nothing disposable. It just feels good in there.

No Strings Attached, starring (on this night) Rachel Jenner, Tony Lopez, James Oates, Steve McClay, Jeremiah Meadows, and Gbenga Adekunle, took the stage at about 7pm for a two-hour set and were introduced by an employee of the establishment who sat at the sound booth. Brandy had a weird Wizard of Oz moment as she looked around for the source of that voice. “…Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Except there were no flames or any giant, misshapen, green heads.

Rachel explained a few things to the spectators. First, all their material is unrehearsed and supplied by the audience. Second, they often ask for volunteers to assist on stage, and she insisted that “if we ask for volunteers, it’s to make us look stupid, not you.” Hm. I happen to believe in “stupid by association,” but okay.

Then the show started. And although I’ve seen them before, I’m familiar with what they do, and I was all equipped with my notebook and pen, I’ve never tried to take notes at one of their performances–and it was a nightmare. Everything happened and changed so fast, and nothing made sense for more than like a minute and by the time I wrote anything down, it had morphed into something else, plus I kept getting distracted by the performance itself, PLUS I was laughing my butt off at times… so my notes are but a random collection of… weirdness. Like, “Remember that dog that was licking on it?” And, “Why am I supporting his head? He’s dead.”

???

I remember that those two lines came from the same skit, but I have no idea what the skit was about.

My favorite part of the night was a charades-like game where the group asked the audience for two adjectives and two nouns. They got “transcendental” and “photogenic,” and “dog” and “sponge.” The group divided into two teams. One team had to mime “photogenic dog” to Gbenga and get him to say it, and the other had to act out “transcendental sponge” and get Steve to guess it. WHAT?! And as they guessed out loud at each other, Steve and Gbenga were actually hurling really bizarre insults at one another. Now, get ready to write some of these down for future use:
“You’re modular.”
“You’re circular.”
“You’re a transcendentalist square.”
“You’re a transcendentalist nerd.”
“You’re a fixture.” ???
“You’re a person that’s not a king.”
“You get smaller and you go through the air and your eye pops out.”
Okay, so maybe you had to be there.

Steve, puh-leeeeez UNDERSTAND this!

Somehow Steve got “transcendental sponge” before Gbenga guessed “photogenic dog.” Here’s how to act out “transcendental,” in case you ever need to:
1) Act like a train. (trans)
2) Hold up ten fingers. (cen)
3) Act like you’re at the dentist. (dental)
Voila!

And for sponge:
1) Pretend to wash dishes.
2) Pretend to wash a car.
3) Pretend to wash a dog.
4) Act out an ocean floor scene.
5) Get frustrated.
6) Do lots of squeezing motions with your hands.
7) When your partner STILL doesn’t get it (ugh, Steve!!), do lunges, and somehow that’ll work.

I’m sure between the photos and this entry you have a crystal clear picture of what to expect when you go see No Strings Attached. Ha. Catch them on Harrisonburg’s next First Friday at Downtown 34, and be sure to like them on Facebook to stay informed of other upcoming performances. Prepare to giggle, snort, cringe, guffaw, squirm, gasp, and possibly even sneeze. I’m sure it’ll be excruciatingly uncomfortable and side-splittingly funny for all involved!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

that’s why it’s called ROCKtown: MaCRoCk 2012.

When I handed Brandy the press pass, she actually squealed. And the night only got better from there. Well, except that she kept flashing that thing like she was the fire marshall or something. As if people don’t already get out of her way when they see her coming with that monstrous camera.

It’s been at least ten years since I’ve attended MACRoCk, definitely before my kids were born, and it’s even awesome-er now than back when I didn’t tire out so quickly. Brandy and I went on the first night (Friday, April 6) because it was also First Friday downtown (post forthcoming!) and there were so many cool things to do. How do two girls on one night cover an event that spans thirty-one hours and showcases more than eighty bands? We really can’t. Child protective services would be at my door (JUST KIDDING.), Brandy’s camera would explode, and my notebook just isn’t that big. Sorry. But we can do the best we can and have fun. With so so many bands participating and no clones of ourselves, we had to be focused and disciplined. We wanted to see a couple of local bands, for sure, so we let that goal carve a path for us that evening.

First up, Elephant Child at Downtown 34. This local three-piece suit features John Hostetter (guitar and vocals), Aaron Propst (bass), and Scott Whitten (drums). The crowd grew as the performance continued, and soon the place was full of fans all nodding their heads to the music. Which of course is a sign of approval, but it might also have been involuntary because those three guys were so chest-thumping loud, the whole place was vibrating.

Sidebar: I love music, I love live music, and I love loud music, but I’ve noticed that spectators do strange things at shows. Like clapping. From a very young age we are taught to bang our hands together. Why do we clap? When and where did this start? I mean, who was the very first clapper, and how did clapping evolve into the custom it is today? Don’t get me wrong… I clap, too. Enthusiastically. But I find it strange. And sometimes I watch myself clapping and think, “How odd of me to do this.”

Okay. “Beehive” was a great number… “We drove out to the canyon and we lost our minds…” Heads nodding, hands clapping… we wish we’d gotten more than forty minutes of them.

It was dinner time, so we grabbed some food. It didn’t take as long as we thought, so we had time to meander from the path and go to Court Square Theater for a couple of shows. Once there, Brandy’s press pass suddenly acquired magical powers, because I looked up and she was just gone. I think she teleported in there or something. Anyway, the band that was playing–The La De Les, from Ohio–had already started, and I entered the theater just as they finished a number. Now, I embarrassed Brandy when I said loudly, “BRANDY SOMERS,” but I was not going to scan all those hundreds of people, looking for the back of her head. And where was she? Front row. Yep–press pass. Once I was finally settled in, we really liked the performance. Again it was just three people–Jocelyn, Aaron, and Cody–and they sort of all played everything.

Jocelyn sang and played keyboards; Aaron played a bass, a drum, and his Mac, all in bare feet… he even recorded a drum track as he played; and Cody sang and played guitar. Their sound was like, according to the MaCRoCk program, “golden beams of light shining through huge white fluffy clouds.” I’d say that sounds about right. I love all the technology they used and how they played with sound. Lots of layering of sounds that distilled into this ethereal, melodic effect.

We stayed put for the next band–Timbre out of Nashville. As soon as I saw the harp, I knew two things: I’d love this band, and I’d cry at some point. Timbre, the female harpist, wore a gown and a long braid and reminded me vocally of Leslie Feist plus Joni Mitchell (my all-time fave, by the way). Her frighteningly massive range revealed a pure and unfaltering voice. There was also a cellist and a percussionist, and I was absolutely glued to their performance.

There was no head-nodding, no clapping… not a sound anywhere but on stage. I think we all stopped breathing. They closed with a gauzy, goose-bump inducing cover of Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates.” After their set, Brandy and I sat there stunned, then looked at each other and said, “Damn. That was good.”

It was time to head to Clementine to catch Invisible Hand from Charlottesville. The place was PACKED and just kept getting packed-er.

It was 10pm. We’d started our adventure at 6:30, and the evening itself was shaped like a piece of music–an energetic, yet low-key beginning, followed by an emotional bridge, and now crescendoing into a beautiful crowd of happy people all smushed together to see this four-piece blow the roof off.

Brandy flashed the pass and wiggled her way to the front. And anywhere else she wanted, for that matter. They had two drummers–one standing and one seated–two guitars, and a bass. Loud and fun and quirky and dedicated, they were very much loved by the crowd.

At this point, I must admit, I was TIRED. Happy, but tired. And though I wanted to see Valkyrie at the Nile, I didn’t. Brandy, however, was NOT out of energy,  and she went. Infused with the power of the mighty press pass, she found the endurance needed to see MaCRoCk Night 1 through to the end. She said Valkyrie was awesome, so awesome that “everyone went crazy and I feared for the safety of… my camera.” No worries–she got some shots of them and got out with no scratches or cracks.

I was unable to go again on Saturday, but Brandy did–and you can see photos of The Cinnamon Band, Bison, Bib-bi, The Turlocks, Psychic Teens, and The Beets at her photography page here. Wowee–that woman is busy!!

MaCRoCk staff and participants, thank you for a crazy night of talent. Ya blew our minds.