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Dana Rossi: A Very Musical Story League at Black Cat

Dana Rossi for Story League. (Courtesy Spencer Ritenour)

Dana Rossi for Story League. (Courtesy Spencer Ritenour)

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.

On Friday, January 18, Story League will introduce singing into its wildly popular storytelling show at the Black Cat (1811 14th Street NW).

We chatted with the host of the show, New York-based Dana Rossi, to see what is in store of the tell-all (err … sing-all) night.

Borderstan: What exactly is the Soundtrack Series and how did it come about?

Rossi: Soundtrack Series is basically stories about songs. We’re a live NYC event and podcast that gets writers and performers to pick a song, then tell us the story or memory they always revisit whenever they hear or think of that song — the place or time in their life that song always takes them back to. In the early summer of 2009, I was walking home from the gym one day and this idea just sort of popped into my head. I had always connected my memories with music so I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to put together a show where people came and shared the stories they connect with specific songs?

But, I wasn’t so sure people would be on board with this idea. And then Michael Jackson died a few weeks later. And when he did, people on Facebook were talking about him nonstop — and mostly telling mini stories from their lives that they connected with Michael and his music. Buying the album Bad in the middle of the summer, and having to listen to it holed up in the one room in the house that had air conditioning. Learning the Thriller dance with friends and being the only one who consistently zombie shimmied the wrong way. I thought, holy crap, everyone does this. And then bam! Soundtrack Series.

Borderstan: How is it different from other storytelling events? 

Rossi: Storytelling as a “thing” is enjoying a great boom right now with the popularity of shows like The Moth and This American Life, but what makes Soundtrack Series part of that but still different is that this isn’t just telling stories that fit rotating themes. It’s more of a music experiment in which we’re trying to show — through personal stories — the endless ways that music factors into our lives and underscores both the everyday and the extraordinary moments. Plus, starting next week, we’re kicking off every live show with The Rock & Roll Throwdown – where two people argue over music’s weightiest issues. Like Beatles vs. Stones. Or whether or not Tupac is still alive.

Borderstan: What can attendees at this weekend’s show expect? 

Rossi: This weekend I’m taking a quick breather from Soundtrack Series to host Story League Sings — which is a show produced by SM Shrake and Jason Pittman. Basically, people will be telling stories about “romances gone bad,” then immediately following their stories, they’ll be singing a song accompanied by The Harikaraoke Band. Their stories won’t necessarily be ABOUT the songs they’ll sing, I think this is gonna be more like how musicals are laid out — I’m talking, I’m talking, I’m talking, and then I just can’t express this in words anymore, so, SONG!

Borderstan: What is your favorite music-to-memory experience? 

Rossi: You mean my favorite story I connect with a song? Well, I have a lot, but one I really love that’s kind of a simple memory is that every time I hear “November Rain,” I remember how I used to sit up all night watching overnight MTV waiting for that video to come on. Way back in the land before time, when your favorite song or video was NOT just a thought and an Internet connection away, you had to wade through 20 videos that were not “November Rain” (but probably were ”Baby Got Back”) before seeing “November Rain.” And then I would watch it, try to understand it, fail, and wait for it to come around all over again.

“November Rain” was the first video that I remember being totally confused by. And I had to work to understand it because I had to wait around to keep seeing it. And while most of me loves that we live in a time where information is so readily available, part of me really misses the time when it wasn’t — when finding the answer to something meant you really had to want to find it.

Borderstan: Telling a story about songs… Does one ever just break out into song? Or do you save that until the very end when the band comes on? 

Rossi: Well, with Soundtrack Series we don’t have a live band and people generally don’t sing the songs they’re talking about. But sometimes they DO sing a few bars a capella within the context of their story. In fact, Story League’s SM Shrake did this when he came to NYC to do Soundtrack Series — he told a story about his childhood obsession with Barbra Streisand, then ended his story singing a few bars of “Papa, Can You Hear Me.” And at our last show of 2012, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn told a story about high school and the song After Hours by Velvet Underground, then ended by singing it and accompanying himself on guitar.

But with Story League Sings this Friday, everyone is telling stories, everyone is singing songs. Again, their stories might not be about the songs they sing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be punctuating their sour romance anguish by belting one out.

Borderstan: And now I have to ask… is there anything in the show about the inauguration/politics (it’s kind of a big deal this weekend in DC)?

Rossi: Not that I really know of. But hey, if the big guy shows up and wants to tell a story and then sing some Hall & Oates, I mean, we’re not gonna stop him. Oh wow, how great would that be if Obama AND Biden showed up to duet on “Private Eyes?” Ok. Now it needs to happen.

The show starts at 9:30 pm. For more information and tickets, visit the Story League website.  

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