Dana Gooley, special to wtop.com
WASHINGTON – It’s late Thursday night in Chevy Chase, D.C. Families are quietly going about their business, putting their kids to sleep and getting ready for the next day.
But in a garage on the eastern side of the neighborhood, four men are very seriously studying the chord progression of a Top 40 pop hit. They pick up their instruments and start playing Icona Pop’s summer anthem, “I Love It.”
Music blares from the room and the Farrah Fawcett poster nearly comes off the wall as Peter, Louis, Vinny and Hunter tear into the song. Tangled wires and carpet squares are trampled underfoot and beer bottles vibrate on top of the amplifiers.
This is PRINCESS, your average amateur rock band. Except, of course, the band members are middle-aged dads — and high-powered Washington lawyers.
The PRINCESS story is long and mildly complicated. Peter Willsey met Louis Smith at a birthday party for one of Peter’s kids. The two picked up Hunter Bennett at an elementary school picnic. Vinny Badolato came into the picture when the trio realized its current drummer wasn’t cutting it. Thus, PRINCESS was born.
And the name? That came from a little pink princess rug that belonged to one of Peter’s daughters. One day Peter and Louis walked across the rug and thought it would be a great name for a band — especially one that plays angry music.
“I thought it was the worst name I’d ever heard, so when they asked me to play with them I kept saying ‘Yeah, yeah, maybe we should call ourselves this,’ but they were adamant that we be PRINCESS,” Hunter says.
The guys, who have been playing together for four years, have an excellent sense of humor about everything, including themselves.
“The thing to remember is that we really like our audience to laugh with us,” Hunter says. “But if they’re unwilling to do so, and just want to laugh at us, we’re perfectly OK with that.”
Too many people grow up and leave their dreams behind. These four guys did the opposite. They listened to their parents, went to law school, got jobs and yet, they still don’t play by the rules. Despite being successful lawyers — and teachers — they still find time to do what they love: play punk rock covers of pop songs in Peter’s garage.
“We’d get together at like, one or two in the morning after work, drink beers, play music really loud, scream,” Louis says.
While the group mostly plays covers, they have also dabbled in writing their own material, producing songs like “Chevy Chase Blues” and “Chevy Chase Cougars.”
“I feel like the songs we select are ones that have sort of an implicit humor in them… And usually we just massacre them, or sometimes we make them better,” Hunter says.
PRINCESS has played more than 50 shows at local bars, company functions, block parties and school events. But one event the band’s returning to this year is Banding Together, a battle of the bands fundraiser to benefit Gifts For The Homeless (GFTH).
GFTH, a charity organization that serves the D.C. homeless population, organizes volunteers from area law firms to collect donations of used clothes — like sweatshirts, coats, hats and gloves — and distribute them to over 70 homeless shelters in the greater D.C. area.
Similar to the volunteers who help run GFTH, the competing musicians in this battle are all lawyers and legal personnel.
PRINCESS, with members representing Cooley, LLP, Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, and the Department of Justice, performed last year and were shocked they were invited to return.
“I have to admit, when we played last year, I definitely thought they would never have us back again because I thought we were going to horrify the audience with what we did… But they were tolerant. They were into it,” Peter says.
Members of the audience have to be more than tolerant of the musicians. They also have to vote. The band that receives the highest quantity of votes — determined by dollars donated — wins.
According to Banding Together’s band coordinator Dan Buchner, last year’s event raised almost $270,000.
Some bands, like Sutherland Comfort, representing Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan, LLP, get creative with their fundraising.
Buchner, who’s a member of Sutherland Comfort, says his band has pit partners against each other in the past to foster a sense of competition among them and to raise as much money for the organization as possible.
The fundraising efforts of Banding Together, and the expanding network of volunteers, allows GFTH to purchase necessities like underwear, socks and other clothing items that are tough to donate.
“I hope that we draw an even bigger crowd this year,” Buchner says. “I think that the need has never been greater than it is right now — the need that Gifts For The Homeless aims to fulfill — and making sure that we have a good turnout, raise a lot of money and have a good time doing it, is really important.”
Since the event began, it’s grown in size and the amount raised.
“I proposed that we launch (Banding Together) and that was 10 years ago and almost a million dollars later. And it just sort of grew from there,” says Walter Lohmann, a GFTH board member who created Banding Together.
When it comes to competing, PRINCESS has an unofficial motto: “Sometimes it’s not about the music.”
This applies to a lot of the band’s experiences, including Banding Together. The event isn’t about musical talent or winning a prize. It’s about bringing people together to have fun for a good cause.
Banding Together takes place Thursday, June 20 at the Black Cat. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $10.
For those attending the event, PRINCESS hopes you’ll stick it out to the end.
“You gotta’ make it to the end, because we’re playing second to last,” Vinny says.
“Second to last again?” Louis asks.
Hunter doesn’t see a problem with this.
“That way the fans are like a captive audience,” he says.
That’s PRINCESS. Captive or captivated, they’ll play for you, either way.
You can vote for PRINCESS here.
PRINCESS practices its rendition of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”