The Critical Mass

People. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.


Connie Deming and Martha O’Connor. Photo by Aaron Winters.

People. Meh…

Crowds, that was the word for the weekend. I needed some new black jeans for Saturday night’s show, “What If Everyone In Rochester Wrote the Same Song?” So Friday afternoon, clutching 10- and 20-percent off Veterans Day coupons in hand, I drove over to the big box store to score a deal. As did everyone else. The parking lot was jammed. The lines in front of the two cash-register setups were – this is no typo – each 40 yards long.

At this point, sane people turn around and go home. I proceeded to the menswear department. My goal: Two pairs of jeans. This proved impossible. Crowds had spent hours pawing through the shelves, searching for just the right relaxed-fit jeans. Any organization was long lost, articles of clothing were flopped in piles like drunken sailors at last call. After 20 minutes I finally found the right size of boot-cut style and fled to what looked like the shortest of the two cash register lines.

I was now a prisoner to the comments of the people in front and behind me. It was like those stories they used to tell us in high school political science class, about how communism wasn’t working because in the Soviet Union people were always lining up for bread and vodka.

“This is ridiculous,” a woman snapped. “This is worse than Black Friday.” But she didn’t give up her place in line.

“Oh, that’s cute,” a grandmother-type said, pointing out a polka-dot top emblazoned with the outline of a schnauzer dog, definitely cheesy, not cute. Another captured customer idly recited the various Christmas-gift opportunities tantalizingly displayed on shelves as we crept by. “Peanut brittle…” “Mixed nuts…” “Milk-chocolate reindeer…”

An amiable codger strolled past and, joking with a woman, pointed at me: “That’s quite a line, he was clean-shaven when he got here.” I’ve been growing this beard for a year.

Fifty minutes later, I reached the goal. “It’s been this way since 9:30 in the morning,” the woman working the check-out line said.

Connie Deming makes a surprise appearance as Dusty Springfield as Martha O’Connor and I perform “How Did We Get Here?” Photo by Julie Gelfand.

Enough of people. We bailed on the Joni Mitchell tribute Friday night and took an offer for dinner at Tommy and Jen’s house. Dick Storms was there too, he was to be one of Saturday’s performers at “What If Everyone In Rochester Wrote the Same Song?” Storms’ version is a casual re-working of a song he’d already written and performed in the past, “Three Billion Hairless Monkeys.” It’s about too many people on the planet, and the havoc we create.

I got some sleep. And faced yet more people Saturday. Crowds of them.

At noon, J.D. McPherson was playing an in-store show at the Record Archive Backroom Lounge. The place was packed. McPherson’s from Oklahoma, but he’s built a strong Rochester following through a series of incendiary concerts over the last few years. Plus his drummer is former Rochesterian Jason Smay, of the Hi-Risers. This show was full band, rocking. The perfect example of a rock band as a well-oiled machine.

And then that night, “What If Everyone In Rochester Wrote the Same Song?” Nineteen different versions of the same song title, “How Did We Get Here?” It wasn’t sold out, but Hochstein Performance Hall looked pretty good with about 300 people on hand. Especially for the closing number: Storms had about 200 plastic maracas that were passed around as we danced through the aisles, then stormed the stage. So we were pretty adrenalized when we headed over to Tapas 177 for the post-show party. And again, the people: The bar was shoulder-to-shoulder, grooving to the booming salsa music.

By then the big-box annoyance, the curmudgeon dust, had long cleared from my head. The music did it. And the excellent people, all working to make something really cool happen.

In fact, I was so at ease that I easily dealt with a near catastrophe in the midst of my version of “How Did We Get Here?” I’d cleverly drafted the best singer in Rochester, Connie Deming, to make a surprise cameo. And when Steve Piper actually broke his electric guitar in the middle of the song, he shifted so smoothly to a back-up he’d brought along that neither my duet partner Martha O’Connor or I noticed what was happening.

After the show, a woman asked me if my version of the song was a true story. Did I once fall in love with a woman working at a record store who turned out to be gay?

No, never happened. Not a true story. I’m a writer, don’t believe everything I write. Except: Don’t shop the big boxes.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site for an email alert. You can contact me at

%d bloggers like this: