Homages to the Great American Songbook by one of its foremost interpreters and to a classic rock group by its leader. String music by two award-winning quartets. Boogie music with a Texas twang. Good old a capella, meet rap and hip hop. A showcase of programs celebrating Asian influences on Western art.
This year’s Interlochen Arts Festival once again cuts across cultural boundaries, musical genres and age groups, with something new: first-time performers like OK Go, Diana Ross, and comedian/juggler Mark Nizer. And something—well, not old, but perhaps familiar, with returning artists such as Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Trace Adkins, and everyone’s favorite political satirists, the Capitol Steps.
Elaina Newport was one of the co-founders of the Capitol Steps in 1981. She and other staffers for Senator Charles Percy were planning entertainment for a Christmas party and came up with a set of songs parodying the politics of the day. “We thought it would be one show. We were afraid we would be told to quit or get fired,” Newport said in an interview from the Capitol Steps offices in Alexandria, Virginia.
Not to worry. Since that first show, Newport and her cohorts have performed in all 50 states and recorded 40 albums, as well as performing a show every Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C. “Politicians are constantly giving us material,” Newport said. “We look at the news every morning and don’t ask whether it’s good or bad for the country. We ask is it funny, and what rhymes with it?”
Since their debut in 1981, the group has expanded its membership and repertoire. Originally all the performers were required to have jobs in government, but that’s been relaxed over the years. Today there are 30-plus Steps; each show features five performers and one pianist.
The first president the Capitol Steps performed for was Ronald Reagan, who at his first show famously told the group to leave the rest of the politicians alone and only skewer him. Newport said Reagan had perfect comedic timing, and at the last show they did for him, he thanked them, and then told them, “You’re all fired.”
Since then, the group has performed for every president except President Obama. Newport isn’t optimistic that President Trump will restore the tradition, given his sensitivity to other comics who have poked fun at him, from Jon Stewart to Seth Meyers to Alec Baldwin. “George Herbert Walker Bush, the first Bush, was a very good sport. I think he even invited Dana Carvey (known for his impersonations of Bush I on Saturday Night Live) to perform for him. We’ve performed for both Bushes, Clinton, even Hillary and Gore.”
Even if they don’t perform for Trump, he’s already provided fodder for their shows, though Newport said the Steps have sometimes struggled to be more preposterous than their inspiration. “Comedy is based on exaggeration, being more outrageous,” she said. Newport wrote one song during the campaign in which candidate Trump sang, “Babies are losers.” Reality soon intruded. “Then he got into it with a baby he kicked out of a rally.”
The Capitol Steps remain dedicated to the proposition that politicians and political shenanigans make their jobs easy. They also take pains to make sure they zing both parties, though that can be more difficult when one party has all the power and is making all the headlines. “We hope people know we’ll try to get everybody. It’s just that the party in power is always going to be funnier. Tell your readers that if they want to see Trump sing a rock song or Bernie Sanders sing a show tune or Putin dance shirtless, they should come.”
When asked about the group’s future, Newport first quipped, “We didn’t think we’d be around for 10 years.” Hesitating only momentarily, she then responded, “In 10 years I hope we’re making fun of President Chelsea Clinton. The women in the show would love to play her.”
The Capitol Steps will perform at Kresge Auditorium July 3. Tickets for the Interlochen Arts Festival will be on sale to the general public on April 28 at 9 a.m.
As for the other shows referenced earlier, ZZ Top opens the summer June 1, while Ian Anderson closes the festival August 17 by celebrating the music of Jethro Tull. In between, Michael Feinstein will sing songs made famous by the likes of George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. The Danish String Quartet and Enso String Quartet provide chamber music, while Straight No Chaser uses just the sound of the human voice—10 of them—to fill the air. Rapper Tone Loc opens for hip hop queens Salt-N-Pepa, and taiko drums, film, and dance are among the performances highlighting the cross-pollination of Western culture by Asian artists.
Interlochen Arts Festival 2017 Schedule:
ZZ TOP with special guest Austin Hanks Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
PAUL SHAFFER & The World’s Most Dangerous Band, plus Special Guest Vocalist Valerie Simpson
Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m
June 30 and July 1, 7, 8
King Lear, Upton-Morley Pavilion, 8 p.m.
World Youth Symphony Orchestra Karina Canellakis, conductor Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
July 3, 5, and 6
American Hwangap by Lloyd Suh Harvey Theatre, 8 p.m.
The Capitol Steps, Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Michael Feinstein, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Film Screening: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – directed by Alison Klayman DeRoy Center for Film Studies, 8 p.m.
Shen Wei Dance Arts Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
World Youth Symphony Orchestra JoAnn Falletta, conductor, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Interlochen “Collage” Kresge Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.
Trace Adkins, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m
Nagata Shachu (taiko drum) Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Simone Porter, violin Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Straight No Chaser, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Diana Ross, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Amos Lee, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
World Youth Symphony Orchestra Cristian Măcelaru, conductor Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Book Reading: Lily Hoang The Writing House, 7:30 p.m.
Chris Janson with special guest Davisson Brothers Band Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Mark Nizer, 4D Comedy & Juggling Show Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Danish String Quartet Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Carlos Izcaray, conductor; Alon Goldstein, piano; Sarah Cahill, piano Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Nathan and Julie Gunn, Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall, 8 p.m
High School Musical Theatre Company Corson Auditorium, 7 p.m
World Youth Symphony Orchestra Les Préludes, Jung-Ho Pak, conductor Interlochen Bowl, 7:30 p.m.
Salt-N-Pepa with Tone Lōc Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Gavin DeGraw, Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.
Aug. 14, 16 and 19
Enso String Quartet Corson Auditorium, 8 p.m.
JETHRO TULL by Ian Anderson Kresge Auditorium, 8 p.m.