A Novel, a Band and a Pizza

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate & Sonder Editor

A few moments before we opened the doors to Town Hall on November 9th, a small swarm of SAL staff hurried through the lobby, in search of a company credit card. Normally, the quiet calm of an empty venue and a row of tidy check-in stations descends during this gap in time that arrives (however fleetingly) after everything is ready but before the venue’s doors are unlocked. But, on this particular evening, things were already different. The muffled echoes of a saxophone and a drum and a bass hummed from behind the auditorium’s closed doors. We were hosting not just a literary figure but a literary band—James McBride and The Good Lord Bird Band—and the band was in desperate need of pizza.

Much to everyone’s relief, the credit card in question was procured and pizza was convenient, thanks to the proximity of Primo Pizza Parlor, who spin their pies on the ground floor of an apartment building across the street. This band clearly knew the best sustenance for their success. As a city known for its citizens’ unwillingness to animate their bodies beyond a head nod and a foot tap during concerts, it was hard to imagine that any room in Seattle was moving more than the upstairs of Town Hall that night, after the pizza was consumed and the group of five men took the stage.

A band inspired by a novel is an unusual combination, so perhaps the element of surprise also played in The Good Lord Bird Band’s favor. Acclaimed novelist James McBride began by standing alone on stage, in the black, brimmed hat he always seems to wear, among empty instruments posed like statues, reading excerpts from The Good Lord Bird.

He slid in and out of the words as he eased behind the piano bench, then the saxophone, and suddenly, The Good Lord Bird Band was there, too, as if they had been making music behind him all along. One, two, ten, one hundred, and then all of us were clapping, standing, and snapping as though we had been taken somewhere else. Everything–the words, the music, the surprise, and, yes, the pizza–all fused into a moment that lasted for an hour but moved us for days, even if we just found ourselves nodding our heads more boldly or emitting a longer, louder clap the next time we had the chance.

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