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A cappella group After the Storm sweetly sweeps Metro commuters' cares away

By John Kelly
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; B02

"Face it, Metro could use some good publicity with those fares going up," says Jamie Lewis, tenor.

He's standing on the platform of the Farragut North Station with Tyrone Cloud (baritone) and Henry Miller (second baritone) , fellow members of the a cappella group After the Storm. (Bass Reggie Washington isn't present.) A black plastic bucket is at their feet, coins and dollar bills dropped in it, a few homemade CDs neatly spread out. It's about 8 on a weeknight, that time of the evening when the subway is full of people who've toiled at the office longer than they thought they would and whose bodies slump from the weighty realization that the day's almost shot and they'll be back at work before they know it.

After the Storm is there to give them a lift.

"Some people say, 'Man, you made my day,' " says Jamie.

And some people say, "Beat it." Busking isn't allowed, after all. The guys are still smarting from being lined up against a wall at L'Enfant Plaza by a transit police officer not long ago, the handcuffs cinched tight when they were arrested.

"They call us panhandlers," Jamie says. "A panhandler is someone who comes up and asks you for money. We don't ask nobody for nothing."

"Good point," says Tyrone.

"We're just providing a service for anybody who wants to hear it," Jamie says.

After the Storm has been around for 10 years and been singing in the subway for about four. Tyrone explains that the name comes from the fact that having a band or vocal group isn't easy. "Some guys don't wanna rehearse," he says. "Some guys are late. We went though a lot of storms as a group. Now this is after the storm. After the storm, you got a rainbow, the birds are singing."

Singing. The trio launches into "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" Whenever anyone drops a tip into the bucket, Tyrone salutes by touching the brim of his fedora.

After they finish, we talk about their competition, like those Andean pan-pipers who have become fixtures around the world.

"A flute don't tell a story," Jamie says. "We tell a story."

A story that isn't afraid to ask the big questions, such as: Why do birds sing so gay, as lovers await the break of day? Or the story about Papa, who was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home.

"We take them back to their era," Jamie says. "They don't even hear those songs on the radio. You gotta switch a whole lotta channels to hear those songs."

When the members of the group decide it's time to go out and earn some "paper," they meet at the McDonald's at 12th and F streets NW, then descend into their concrete concert hall at Metro Center, following the audience along the various lines. The acoustics are great in subterranean Metro stations, but there are challenges. It's no use singing while a train is entering or leaving, so they keep their eyes on the next-train signs.

"We see how much time we got, and that determines the songs we do," Jamie says. "If we've got four minutes, we'll do a slow song. If we've got two or three minutes, we'll do a fast one."

They might occasionally get grief from WMATA, but they say plenty of Metro employees love After the Storm. Tyrone says they've sung at two Metro employees' weddings and one funeral. Last weekend, the group went to New York and auditioned for NBC's a cappella competition "The Sing-Off." They're not supposed to tell anyone how they did, but, between you and me: Stay tuned.

"That sign says 18 minutes," Jamie reports, nodding his head at the display showing when the next train will arrive to take us tired office workers home. "We start singing, we make it feel like five minutes."

Summer lovin'

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For details and contest rules, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/30-second-summer.

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