Rock ’n' Roll Fantasy

Each year, D.C. musicians ham it up — Tron Petty! Faux Doubt! — at this cover-band extravaganza

August 1, 2012

Tron Petty performs at Run for Cover 2010.

Rebecca Armendariz has been in a lot of bands in this town, but none that lasted very long.

Maybe you’ve heard of Geezer? No, not Weezer — though they did play Weezer covers, dressed in old-lady wigs and “Golden Girls”-style tracksuits. And there was Tron Petty, with Tom Petty covers delivered in glow-in-the-dark “Tron”-themed getups. And the truly inspired Gaga Gaga Hey — Lady Gaga meets the Ramones.

Rock ’n’ roll fame is fleeting, even more so for the stars of Run for Cover, D.C.’s annual cover-band extravaganza: Each group gets just one night of glory.

The event, now in its 10th year, brings together amateur rockers, scene veterans, librarians and local media wonks for an evening of cover tunes, over-the-top costumes and puns aplenty.

Preparation involves forming bands and learning some songs, of course, not to mention building elaborate stage props. (Someone once built a working cannon for Maximum Overdrive, an AC/DC cover band.)

But first, the bands must pick their tribute themes — the stranger the mashup, the better. “It’s something we talk about all year,” says Armendariz, a web communications guru at a D.C. health-care-consulting nonprofit. “It’s all about the creativity.”

Besides Gaga Gaga Hey, last year’s acts included Su Su Suicide (a combo that melded Phil Collins and protopunk band Suicide), the Roasters (a nod to Kenny Rogers), Faux Doubt (shades of No Doubt) and People of the Sun (a tribute to Rage Against the Machine, with band members in beach gear and a police beatdown closing out the set).

Back in 2001, local musician Joe Halladay of local band Citygoats (who’s since decamped to Brooklyn) was looking for a good excuse to play his favorite covers. So, he put together a small basement show. The next year (for the first “official” Run for Cover), he rented out a warehouse. Every show since (there wasn’t one in 2008) has been held at Black Cat, where they have sold out every time.

Librarian Tina Plottel (who also plays bass in local band Torches) has taken part in all but three Run for Covers, sometimes spending months refining her act. Last year, she played bass with Tron Petty and was the band’s ad hoc stylist, painting bike helmets with glow paint and rigging up a rave’s worth of black lights for the performance.

“It’s just so much fun,” she says. “You want the audience to be amazed.”

Run for Cover participants tend to get hooked on the experience, and many make repeat appearances. Coburn Dukehart, a multimedia and photo editor at NPR, caught the bug in 2005. In 2007, she sang with ABBAtite For Destruction, an homage to the Swedish pop group with a heavy-metal twist. 2010 brought We Got Da Butt, which reimagined go-go classics in the pop style of the Go-Go’s.

Dukehart says the draw of Run for Cover is playing with oddball musical combinations and fusing them into funny (yet listenable) acts. “It’s something unexpected,” she says. “There are a lot of cover bands out there, so you really want to go the extra mile.”

Then there’s the element of competition.

David Durst has been in all but two iterations of Run for Cover, which he calls “hilariously addictive,” in bands that riffed on Duran Duran, Elvis Costello and Queen. Durst handles vocals and keyboards for local band Poor But Sexy and also plays with a punk chamber-music band in New York.

“You’ll find a good percentage of the D.C. music scene playing, or watching, or both,” he says. “It’s this thing where we’re all trying to one-up each other. But there’s also a real sense of community.”

Maegan Wood, publicity and promotions manager at Black Cat, says people come to see their peers look ridiculous, to be seen and to support the scene itself. “Run For Cover is fun because it’s a community event, that’s the appeal,” she says.

For years, all proceeds were donated to the annual Fort Reno concert series. This year, funds will benefit Girls Rock! D.C., a weeklong rock camp for girls ages 8-18 where Wood and several other Run for Cover vets have volunteered as band coaches over the past few years.

So, enjoy your moment in the spotlight on Saturday, Any Money (which we’re guessing has an Eddie Money flavor): Next year’s superstars could come in the form of some 11-year-old girls

RFC 2012 Lineup
Can you decode these bands’ names?

Falling Spikes
The Hot Rock
Solsbury Phil
Midnight Leather
Any Money
Roadhouse Dudes
Hurricane Kicks
The See BS Orchestra

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Sat., 8 p.m., $10; 202-667-7960. (U Street)
Amanda Erickson is deputy editor of PostEverything.
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