The members of the Montana Logging & Ballet Company neither split wood nor pirouette -- at least not for a living.
No, they're just a bunch of wise-crackin' political satirists, who do things like help Democrats get elected to the Senate and Archbishop Desmond Tutu out to Helena.
"That's HELL-a-na," says group leader Bob FitzGerald, "not Hel-EEEEE-na."
When this all started, 15 years ago, it was supposed to be an alternative to "those wine and cheese receptions" frequently known as campaign fund-raisers. The candidate, Max Baucus, heard about a couple of guys doing political satire and comedy routines to lure kids to attend Rocky Mountain College. He thought: Hey, if it works on college kids, why not money-packing political supporters?
They raised $750,000, says FitzGerald -- in a state, he adds, that has about 300,000 voters.
FitzGerald became Baucus's campaign manager.
Since then, the troupe of jesters -- FitzGerald, Rusty Harper and brothers Tim Holmes and Steve Garnass-Holmes -- has been whipping up ditties dissing a host of political characters. Some are sung a cappella, some are set to guitar and harmonica. Robbins often acts them out, because, says FitzGerald, "he does great things with his body."
The objective is to get folks to laugh at what's happening around them, loosen them up, so the troupe can "pull the subjects together with hope," says FitzGerald. "Our theme is to use comedy to build hope."
But don't think all that "hope" talk means these guys are wusses. As FitzGerald puts it, "Whoever's in office, whoever's the powerful, takes our gibes."
Like George Bush and the Iran-contra deal: "The big white house and the little white lie."
Or like Republican administrations and Saddam Hussein:
There once was a despot named Saddam
If it's weapons you want, well, he's got 'em
We think he's insane
But we are to blame
'Cause we are the place where he got 'em.
Last year, FitzGerald wrote a letter inviting the Nobel Prize-winning Tutu to visit the grand capital of Montana. And Tutu came, all the way from Cape Town. It was, in fact, his only stop in the States during his whirlwind world tour in December.
One reporter apparently asked the bishop why, of all the places in this fine country, did he choose to go only to Helena?
"Of all places," Tutu replied, "it is the one with the Montana Logging & Ballet Company."
Nice plug, guys.
The Montana Logging & Ballet Company is performing at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church on Friday night at 8 for a fund-raiser for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Tickets are $15. For information, call 202-544-7190. NIGHT FOLK
Pittsburgh-native Susan Graham White was a contemporary folkie in the mid-'70s, strumming her guitar and singing her songs at coffeehouse-inspired clubs such as Philadelphia's Main Point.
"I don't know if you remember when things like disco came up," she says, "but when they did, and things changed, I left the music scene." She moved to Maryland and became a fine equestrian.
Around the same time, Southern Marylander Grace Griffith found herself singing in small, coffeehouse-inspired clubs such as Washington's Iguana, and later, in the early '80s, in Celtic bars with a local Irish band called the Hags. "But I went through something of a hiatus," she says, and put show business on hold to pursue a career in physical therapy.
In the past few years, folk music has made a comeback. As a result, former folkies such as White and Griffith have picked up their guitars and started singing again. Both were performing in open showcases at area coffeehouses when, in 1987, a mutual friend introduced them.
"It's kind of curious," says Griffith. "We were both great admirers of each other, but also very shy of each other. But once we started working together, it was immediately apparent that something was there."
That something became Hazlewood, a lush blend of traditional country and contemporary folk. Griffith confesses that she loves to sing Patsy Cline songs. White says one of her main songwriting inspirations is Joni Mitchell. Their latest self-produced album, "Journeys," is filled with yearning, confessional ballads (White won regional songwriting awards for two of them), complete with backup by local acoustic guitar whiz Pete Kennedy.
So it seems White and Griffith have got just what they want: serious, respectable jobs by day and a fulfilling second career by night.
"When we started it," says White, "we said, 'Let's just see. Let's see how far we can get.' "
"The fame part is not something we feel a need for," says Griffith. "To have the opportunity to play a lot of music and create a lot of songs is great. But I think both of us keep in mind that with folk music, we probably won't hit that star."
Hazlewood is performing at Folk Alley, in the Washington Ethical Society building, Friday night at 8. Tickets are $7. For information, call 202-686-9210. OYSTER AND TEASE
"We don't know where June is!" cries English folk singer June Tabor's New York publicist. "She was supposed to be home yesterday!" It has been snowing awfully hard in the British Isles for the past week.
"Can you mention to Ian that we're still looking for her?" asks the publicist, sounding completely exasperated.
"I believed she's turned up," says Oyster Band fiddler Ian Telfer over the transatlantic phone line. "People in New York sit on telephones all day and expect instant access with people. Not with little cottages in the north of England," he says, letting out a boisterous laugh.
Have England's premier folk chanteuse and its funkiest of folk-rock ensembles joined forces to terrorize New York publicists? Not exactly. The taunting and teasing just comes naturally. There's a tinge of the devil-may-care in Telfer's Scottish brogue -- enough to make you think it's a trait that bonds this group. Just listen to his story on how they all met:
"We knew June a little socially for some years. Then one night we found ourselves drinking in a bar. And you know how it is after a couple of beers. You get this exuberance. And we found ourselves saying, 'Why don't we make a record together.' "
It took two years since that brilliant idea burst through the thick haze of smoke and hops. But then, like all good brews, it takes time. You have to find the right combination of ingredients -- in this case, the Oyster Band's rollicking fiddles, mandolins, accordions and melodeons, and Tabor's smoldering alto. And, of course, you have to let it age.
They have. "Freedom and Rain" (Ryco) is a potent, stirring album that be simultaneously moody and joyous. There's a nice balance of pop covers, such as Billy Bragg's "Valentine's Day Is Over" and Lou Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties," and arrangements of more traditional ballads such as "Dives and Lazarus" and "Susie Clelland."
"We did all covers, since June is known almost as a folklore singer, a dark-voiced singer of ancient ballads," says Telfer. "We wanted to surprise people who thought they knew her work by doing contemporary songs."
Ah, a touch of the taunt comes through again.
June Tabor and the Oyster Band are performing at the Birchmere tomorrow night at 8:30. Tickets are $10. For information, call 703-549-5919. BETWEEN THE LINES
The medium is not always the message. The romance of poetry and song often masks -- or unveils -- truer feelings. And in Spain and Latin America, it often elicits images of mysticism and darkness.
"Poetry has a sinister mission," says Cuban-born poet and George Washington University professor Roberto Valero. "It's poetry's only mission, because it is the only way to discover the human condition. It forces us to look at the world in another way."
Valero will discuss the purpose of poetry in "Spanish Dark," a survey of Spanish and Latin American culture and arts, beginning with an analysis of various poems and how they have changed our outlook on everyday life, how they change our opinions. For example, he cites T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land":
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
"In Washington, we have the cherry blossoms, so we think April is beautiful," says Valero. "But then we look and see April has eaten the ugliness of winter. We can be like April. We have a winter soul."
His lecture will be followed by a concert featuring Spanish and Latin American composers, from Rodrigo to Garcia Lorca, performed by soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, guitarist William Feasley and flutist Karen Johnson. The songs will be juxtaposed with Hugo Medrano's readings of poems by Lorca, Machado and Neruda. "Spanish Dark" will be presented at 6:15 p.m. and the concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Vernon College. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $9 for seniors, students and artists. For information, call 202-331-3467.