By J. Freedom DuLac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009
At the intersection of rock-and-roll fantasy and the realities of life, Washington lawyer Patrick Hand is the guy in the black T-shirt emblazoned with the hippy-trippy logo for the 1960s band Love.
At 51, with a wife, three children and a successful private practice, Hand is spending half of August -- and, as it turns out, a healthy sum -- promoting a summer concert tour featuring a psychedelic folk-rock band that once appeared on TV's "American Bandstand" but over the decades became an obscure combo with a cult following.
It's everyone's fantasy: With the years slipping by, successful career man decides he must live his dream, in this case liberating the rock fanatic within. Who among the middle-aged doesn't dream of chasing a passion, even if it means cracking the nest egg in the process? How could Hand have known that he would end up sitting in an empty concert hall, wondering whether anyone else shared his dream?
"Some people choose to spend lots of money to go to Antarctica or to climb Mount Everest," Hand says. "I get to go on the road with a great rock-and-roll band that's almost Hall of Fame quality. I get to spend time with a great group of guys and see a great show every night. I've enjoyed every minute of it. Well, almost every minute of it."
Hand's California '66 Revue tour is not going well. At all. The other night in Chicago, 55 people came to a club that holds 473. Several shows have been canceled, including the tour finale, which had been scheduled for Tuesday at the Birchmere in Alexandria.
Birchmere manager Michael Jaworek sympathizes with Hand's passion but had to pull the plug. "It doesn't do anybody any good financially or aesthetically to see 50 people in the music hall," he says. "It just wasn't selling at all. At some point, someone has to be the voice of sad, painful, brutal reason and say that this is not going to work."
Tuesday's concert has since been rebooked at the Velvet Lounge, a U Street NW club that's one-fourth the size of the 500-capacity Birchmere. The show will go on. Will anybody show up? (If they do, Hand isn't putting them on the comp list, no matter how close they may be. Even his wife and her friends must pay for their $12 tickets.)
His summer of Love started with the Electric Prunes, the psychedelic garage-rock band that Hand considers, as he wrote in a news release announcing the tour, "the best rock band in the world right now. The Electric Prunes are the only band from the 1960s who are putting out better music now than then."
After he saw the Prunes in concert last year, Hand realized that "this is just something I wanted to do. I've never wanted to be defined just as a lawyer."
In the real world, Hand represents clients in serious criminal cases, some of them high-profile. On the floor of Love's tour van -- a customized Dodge Sprinter 2500 outfitted with oversize leather seats, a flat-screen television and Hand's name on the rental agreement -- there's an enormous file marked "JACKS, BRITTANY." (Hand represents the estate of the 17-year-old girl whose mother, Banita Jacks, was convicted in D.C. Superior Court last month of killing Brittany and her three sisters.)
Now, many thousands of dollars into his summer adventure, Hand insists it's all "pretty exhilarating." But the Prunes backed out a week before the first show after a series of disagreements over logistics and finances. It was a crushing blow. As personally thrilling as the experience might be, the California '66 Revue isn't much of a revue anymore.
All of the artists except Love have dropped off -- or dropped dead. Sky Saxon, the singer from the '60s garage-rock band the Seeds, died of heart and kidney failure in late June, which in retrospect wasn't a particularly good omen. Nor was the van accident before the tour opener in Hoboken, N.J., where Hand's friend backed the Sprinter into a parked Prius -- then told Hand he didn't have insurance.
"It's almost like every night you're putting on a party," Hand says. "Except you're not just concerned about whether people are going to have a good time. You're worried about how many people are going to come and about whether you're going to make any money, or at least not lose any. It's obvious that I'm going to lose money on this. But I'm still having fun." It is also, he says, "my tale of woe."
Hotel rooms in Chicago, via Priceline: $75 each.
Rented band gear: $2,800.
Two-week van rental: $4,200.
Living the dream: Priceless?
Hand won't say how much the tour will wind up costing him, only that "I didn't put in more than I can afford to lose."
His wife, Katie Griffin Hand, says she loves her husband's passion and gumption. And the money? "Oh, that," she says. "Every 10 days, I'd say: 'Listen, honey: I'm so glad the tour's going well. Can we have the money talk now?' " She laughs.
After the Prunes bailed out -- and with advance ticket sales abysmal -- venues began canceling. The tour opener in Philadelphia was scrapped, as was a show in Foxboro, Mass.
"I've never been involved with a tour that's had this much tsuris [distress]," says Cary Baker, the Los Angeles music business veteran who is doing publicity for the Revue.
"Patrick came at this as a music fan," says Prunes bass guitarist Mark Tulin. "He didn't try to cheat us or take advantage of us. We still like Patrick. He's a really well-intentioned guy who had this belief of how it would go, and part of it was based on his belief in the bands, which is really heartwarming."
Tulin adds: "Patrick just thought it would be fun. Go on the bus and hang out with the band as they travel. I hope he doesn't lose too much; I feel sorry for him."
More dropped dates: One in Detroit, and another in Montreal. Instead of that trip to Canada, Hand drove the band to Vermont for a barbecue at his parents' house. They spent the night at his brother's vacation home. More dropouts, too: Saxon's replacement in the lineup, former Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller, bailed last week, the day before he was to have joined the tour. Hand wanted Miller to revise his contract, "but he didn't want to do that, so I bought him out. In essence, I paid him not to play because it saves me money."
Hand knows what you're thinking: midlife crisis. You're thinking: "Dude, it would have been easier -- and cheaper -- to lease a new Porsche." But Hand says he had already come to terms with his age.
"I went through a midlife crisis back around '93 and '94, when I got sick of practicing law and wanted to be a writer," he says. "I never thought when I started this tour that I'm going to give up the practice of law to become a rock-and-roll promoter. I've been around long enough and been to enough concerts to know that there's not enough money to be made, at least not by me."
A quarter-century ago, at a club on Connecticut Avenue NW, he went to see members of the Band and the Byrds, "and there were about 14 people in the venue," Hand says. "I counted them. I was 26 years old at the time, a year or two out of law school, and I remember thinking: Practicing law may not be a bad gig."
Hand yawns incessantly. It's Tuesday afternoon in Milwaukee, and the two-week tour is at the midway point. Hand has taken over driving duties after sending the tour manager back to England in another cost-cutting move. The show is booked at Shank Hall, a rock club named for a venue in "This Is Spinal Tap," the 1984 rock-and-roll mockumentary about a fictional heavy metal band suffering a disastrous concert tour. Tickets are $25.
Hand, who negotiated the deals with the clubs despite having never booked a concert in his life, will collect 70 percent of the gate, with no guarantees. He wonders about ticket sales: "We were at 29 yesterday; did we sell any more?"
Maybe, he's told, but with Miller backing out after the loss of Saxon and the Prunes, maybe not. A sign at the door advises that the lineup is down to Love alone, with full refunds available. While Hand is at the bar, staring at the stage, a man comes in and returns five tickets.
Would the California '66 Revue have been a hit if the tour had gone off as planned, with the Prunes and Saxon joining Love in flashing back to an important time in youth culture? "I don't think so," Hand admits. "There's just not enough interest in the genre and these acts. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts." Ah, hindsight.
Steve Baenen, wearing a Deep Purple concert T-shirt, approaches the table where Hand has set up shirts, CDs and posters. His long hair pulled back in a ponytail, Baenen has made the two-hour drive from Green Bay, because "it's hard to find a trippy show anymore." He buys $30 worth of CDs. Hand gives him a concert poster that still lists the three original acts.
"What happened to the Prunes?" Baenen asks.
Hand: "Not enough advance sales. Not enough money to pay for everything."
Baenen: "That's a bummer, man."
Hand: "It is a bummer."
When the band takes the stage, there are fewer than 50 people in the room, including bartenders, waitresses, the sound guy, the door guy and the musicians.
"This show is not about who's not here; it's about who is here," guitarist Mike Randle tells the audience. (Offstage, Randle says he once performed in front of a single ticket-holder, in 1993. )
Love performs for 90 minutes, and Hand watches most of the set alone from a table at the side of the room. He has plenty of space to play air drums along to the music.
He decides later that it's the best show the band has played on the tour. The final count: 25 presale tickets and 15 walk-ups. But 10 of the presold tickets weren't used, meaning they are likely to be returned for refunds. For now, Hand's take is $525, which won't come close to covering the hotel rooms, per diems, publicist, van rental, gas and equipment rental, let alone the six band members. Hand says he has averted what "could have turned into a financial disaster for me" only by trimming expenses and dropping some shows. So, next summer: a nice trip to the beach with the family? Not necessarily.
"We've been talking about going to South Africa during the World Cup," he says.
"Yeah, with Love maybe opening for a bigger band. Hopefully, we can do it. But that's only with guarantees. I'll have to do it a lot differently. But I think it would be cool."
His wife isn't so sure about that. "He loves music so much," Katie Hand says. "If you can't support your spouse, I don't know whom you can support. But you know, we're not going to do it again next year."