Pat McGee at Strathmore, Sept. 28: a Homecoming of Sorts
The Washington Post described Pat McGee this way: “looks like Brad Pitt, sings like James Taylor, sweats and struts like Springsteen. You can’t deny McGee’s charisma.”
Well, I’m gonna have to wait and see on that. But I did talk to McGee, a homegrown, in-50-different-ways guy, on the phone. He sounded to me like a guy you could sit with at a diner here, or where he lives in Rhode Island, or where he came from—Alexandria—or somewhere on the road, where he is often, performing as the Pat McGee Band with its brand of semi-country-rock-hard-driving-sound rock.
McGee will be here performing Friday, Sept. 28 (and opening the 2012 season) at the Music Center at Strathmore, something he’s been looking forwards to for a long while. (The Pat McGee Band concert will be preceded by a first-time ever tailgate party at 5:30 p.m. The concert is at 8 p.m.)
“Oh, man, yeah, I’ve been wanting to play here, because you hear about the acoustics here all the time,” McGee said. “Plus, it’s sort of a homecoming, like every time I play in the area, we play at Wolf Trap and the Barns and I’m from Alexandria. So, I think people are pretty familiar with us.”
Still, listening to McGee, who is 39 now, you hear a man with some life experience under his belt, a thoughtful guy who’s watched how the music business itself, and the world of performing has changed. “Oh sure, we all thought about being rock stars, you know playing the music the road, lots of fans,” he said. “And we’ve done that to some extent. But things change, you grow up a little. Plus, just the way music is sold and delivered—on the Internet, iTunes and on phones, downloading and everything, makes everything different. You have to keep up with that.”
McGee formed the band in the 1990s, and got it going good when the band was signed by Warner Brothers, from which emerged the album, “Shine,” in 2000 with such hit singles as “Rebecca” and “Runaway.” Another album, “Save Me,” followed in 2004 . There have been nine albums altogether, including the latest, “No Wrong Way to Make It Right,” a bitter-sweet album full of songs about youthful memories, relationships, the future, and full of guitar-driven rhythms.
There’s still a lot of youth in his songs and voice—and in photos and videos, he can play the part of a rocker, but a rocker who knows whereof he sings. He thinks about music—all kinds of music, a lot. To McGee, things have been about change, about moving forward, and still playing the music strong
“To me, performance is the most important part of music. It’s what I think we should respect the most,” he says. “I love performing on the road with other musicians.”
In that case, the Strathmore gig should be a hoot—he’s brought together a lot of people for the ride. “This is going to be like a reunion show, you know,” he said. There’ll be current and former Pat McGee Band members like John Small, Michael Ghegan, Patrick McAloon and Ira Gitlin. And there’s Eddie Hartness, the lead singer of Eddie from Ohio, and Nate Brown from Everything and John "Red" Redling from New Potato Caboose. He’s also invited former high school student musicians from his alma mater Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va.
That’s right. McGee is a local boy in more ways than one.
Not only is he an O’Connell grad, an Alexandria native, he started out like a lot of would-be rockers, with a band playing in the Richmond area, but later, also up here in Georgetown. “We played in a place called Dylan’s Café . . . [near] where Café Milano is, in that courtyard. And then we played the Bayou. And, man, when we did that regularly, that’s when I knew we could make it.”
“No Way to Make It Right” is kind of a reunion effort, too, with old music comrades like Jason Mraz, Emerson Hart, Stephen Kellogg, Keaton Simons and Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel, and working with producer Doug Derryberry who produced the group’s first album. Plus the sound is both fresh and familiar. It’s the sound of folk instruments like acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle and bouzouki.
He thinks he’s mellowed, gotten a better bead on the future. He’s writing more and more, and the writing is mature. It has something to say and reacts to the things that happen in life—from “riding in my grandma’s Cadillac when I was a kid” to a song called “Elegy for Amy,” which he wrote early on his career. “See, when we were playing in clubs and bars, there’d always be this group of girls sitting up front, and then I went away for a while and when we came back, I noticed that this one girl named Amy, always a fan, always nice and enthusiastic, wasn’t with them. They told me she had died of a really fast-acting cancer. So, I wrote this song.” Then, there’s the powerful “Come Back Home,” written in 2009 and dedicated to the troops serving in the Middle East.” It was also dedicated to his drummer Christ Williams who died of a heart attack. Williams’s younger brother Blake was killed in Iraq.
McGee now lives in Barrington, R.I., a few blocks from his ex-wife with whom he shares custody of their three daughters, Juliet, 6, Elizabeth, 8, and Anna, 10. Both McGee and his ex have moved on to new marriages.
"I guess I’ve grown up some, being a parent and things that happen will do that,” he said. “I want to do more writing, writing country songs and I’ve been going back and forth to Nashville, trying to make that happen.”
But this Friday, he’s here. It will be, for the Pat McGee Band, like old times, from the beginning, the journey until now.