A '60s Tour With Few Takers Is Still a Rock-and-Roll High
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.