After the debt crisis, when some congressional offices were downsized, the former congressional staffer by day and Brooklyn-based musician by night Danny Ross had a chance to change his life. No longer beholden to his nine-to-five grind, the 26-year-old singer packed up and began an #Occupy tour at CMJ in New York that will take him all the way to Virginia. On Sunday evening, he played his #OccupyBoston show at T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge.
The political philosophy behind this tour centers on two principles: that inequality has created a world in which finance is the only safe profession and that everyone should become an artist and stay an idealist. Ross’s call to artistry stemmed from his grueling work in the Congressional office of Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.
“Then, I was up until 2 a.m. writing and practicing music. And I did this every day for 5 years,” Ross said.
Two years ago, Ross self-released an album, “One Way,” and has obtained a record deal with indie label Ammo Records. Ross believes that inequality is not only a problem for traditional careers, but also for musicians in that the industry no longer aids up-and-coming artists.
“There used to be a system and infrastructure in the music industry that would take care of you. If you practiced and played good music, you would be all right,” Ross explained. “Now, you have to be your own publicist, frontman, music director—and on top of that, you need money.”
Ross’ former occupation in the Congressional office prepared him for the managerial aspects of making it as an independent musician. However, now that he has left, he has abandoned bureaucracy in favor of an ideal.
“Art is not a small business,” Ross said. “It has cultural significance, and more importantly, good art doesn’t have a bottom line.”
On Sunday night, Ross performed with a nine-man brass band, his set alternating between original Springsteen-inspired rock anthems, swaggering country beats, and covers of classic R&B and folk songs. Many of these songs were staples of protest music. Ross’s cover of “The Banks are Made of Marble” —a song famously performed by Pete Seeger—was the most poignant, with its message of dissolving economic barriers, and featured sadly timeless lyrics—“Then we’d own those banks of marble / With a guard at every door / And we’d share those vaults of silver / That we have sweated for.”
Another standout was his cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me,” which showcased the technical prowess of the brass section and added variety to the rock sound of the show. Surprisingly, all of the numbers featured an insatiable shuffle beat that added a “working-man” country vibe to the show. Sadly, due to the somewhat constricted space, many of the lyrics were lost in his group’s big sound, but Ross reconciled this difficulty through charmingly predictable stage banter.
However, the spirit of protest music and art in politics seemed a little lost at the end of the night, whether by fault of the venue or the audience. While Ross maintains he’s not a protest musician in the oft-emulated style of Bob Dylan strumming his guitar at an outdoor protest, it felt strange that Ross was not playing at something closer to the site of Occupy Boston itself. While Ross had the skill and vocal prowess to impress a crowd, a small music club in Cambridge was closer to the 26-year-old Cornell University grad’s own demographic of well-educated young people apprehensive about the future than it was to the Springsteenian blue-collar, working-class man Ross seems so eager to reach.
—Staff writer Christine A. Hurd can be reached at email@example.com.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction.
CORRECTION: NOV. 1, 2011
The Nov. 1 article "Danny Ross Occupies T. T. The Bear’s" misquoted musician Danny Ross in his comments about working at Congressman Jerrold Nadler's office.
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