By Todd B. Gruel
Rise Up is a tribute band with a purpose. The Seattle-based ensemble performs music from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed Hamilton, a Broadway musical which has scored 11 Tony’s, a Grammy and even a Pulitzer. Not bad for hip-hop theater performance about one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton.
But forget about the custom changes. And never mind theater etiquette. This isn’t Grandma’s Sunday school musical—Rise Up’s adaptions of Broadway hits encourage audience participation. Mixing rapping with soulful singing, the feel-good music is driven by jazz-rock grooves, a fitting expression of its socially conscious messages.
Jim Horne, the band’s pianist, explains their appeal, saying, “Theater geeks love it, and so do people who wouldn’t normally be caught dead watching a musical. Our audience members span the gamut from enthusiastic grandparents to young kids who know all the lyrics, including the inappropriate ones.”
Horne appreciates how the rise of hip-hopreflects the pressing issues of our time. “Lin-Manuel Miranda had the insight that is now obvious to everyone. This is exactly the style to illuminate this history today. By coincidence, it also fits this particular political time, offering a view of a way to govern and make decisions that combine the passion that we have no shortage of today with deep philosophical and intellectual rigor that—uh, no comment.”
Fellowship is key to Rise Up’s mission. Bassist Jeff Brumley, who was recruited into the band after the presidential elections in December 2016, states, “The phrase ‘rise up’ became a call to action. It made me want to get up off the couch and do something.”
Hamilton abounds with moving calls to action; the lyrics promote agency, full of phrases like “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.”
Of course, history is a messy sandbox, as keyboardist Sam McKelvie understands. “I think the idea that history is created by flawed characters with human strengths and weaknesses is important and inspires people to participate. [Alexander Hamilton] is the original ‘policy wonk.’”
For drummer Jeremy Stone, America’s mixed ancestry is worth celebrating. He says, “We’re delighted to be playing music with a message rooted in diversity that reminds us we are a nation of immigrants.”
Sharing more than a historical narrative, Rise Up has collaborated with queer-straight alliance youth choirs, as Stone explains, “We’ve had queer, trans, nonbinary and straight kids join us on stage to perform and bring their true selves, to standing ovations.” Breaking down gender stereotypes further, the band members also share roles among themselves, each getting the opportunity to sing as Hamilton.
“Lin’s music has brought so many people together,” Brumley says, “and has given people an opportunity to sing in community.” Audiences eager to sing in community can do so on April 27, where Rise Up will be performing at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
Brumley urges everyone to join the movement: “Our show is perfect for everybody who sings along with the soundtrack in their car but had to hold it all in at the theatre (if they even got there). Come hang with us and let it all out!”
Rise Up: The Hamilton Tribute Band
6 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
$25 general admission