This one’s different.

Tomorrow we’re hosting our 11th (!) While Rome Burns benefit. But this time is different.

It’s not that we don’t have an amazing beneficiary. Living Cully is an innovative organization doing real work, good work. I’m so impressed by their approach, weaving together several major players in the area to address issues of poverty, environment, and housing: Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro EastHacienda Community Development CorporationNative American Youth and Family Center, and Verde. I hope you’ll get to talk with Living Cully’s folks at the benefit tomorrow.

No, this time it’s kinda personal.

I’ve known Jaime Leopold for a long, long time. After his stint with Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks, Jaime returned to Portland, and neither of us can remember where or how we met. But we became friends, we played on and off in a variety of bands together, we did lot’s of stuff we would later come to regret, (the parts of it we can remember), we grew up and did grown-up stuff. More or less.

Jaime started a business, he started a family. I started, well – lots of stuff. Jaime’s business became a great success, and he now has a beautiful family, including some number of grandchildren. For me, well – I started lots of stuff.

Jaime and I lost touch for a couple of decades or so, but a few years back we reconnected. I don’t recall how that happened, either. Memory is an asshole.

But we started playing again, first in a singularly unknown outfit called Padam Padam, and eventually, as Jaime’s songwriting book started getting fat with his very unique brand of “American Quirk,” in his own band.

That band, Jaime Leopold & The Short Stories, has played in venues medium and small alike, all the way from our hometown of Portland to the distant shores of Astoria. It’s been a few pretty good years, and we’ve had some pretty good shows: opening for Dan Hicks once or twice, playing the world-renowned Laurelthirst Pub. We’ve even put out a CD or two – both of which are in heavy rotation on my wife’s iPod (I know – my wife still has an iPod).  Oh yeah – it’s been a hoot.

But sadly, our time’s about up.

Jaime has been dealing with a pretty big challenge for a while now. Liver cancer. The treatment he’s been undergoing has been tough, but has provided us a window into hope. Enough so that I talked him into doing one more show – tomorrow at Mississippi Pizza.

I was so looking forward for you, my friends, to have this opportunity to hear Jaime’s truly one-of-a-kind songs, and get to know the man a little. When it became apparent in the last couple of weeks that Jaime wasn’t likely to be up to performing, I was heartbroken. I started scrambling to find a replacement.

But then I thought about it. I called Jennifer Smieja, Jaime’s long-time singing partner, and broached the idea of doing a kind of Jaime Leopold tribute band. Jennifer agreed without giving it a second thought.

So with Jaime’s blessing, we picked the songs and got the band (we’re calling it The Shorter Stories) together, sans Jaime. We rehearsed the tunes until we felt we could pull them off on our own. We’ve had to adjust a bit here and there – we’ve got one less singer and one less guitar player in the band – but I’m very pleased with the way Jaime’s music sounds. And I think it’s a testament to Jaime’s writing that the songs seem to have taken on a life of their own, in a way. Though Jaime’s not playing them, they’re still powerful, emotional, funny, but most of all, sweet.

I’m hoping Jaime will be well enough to attend our little show tomorrow. I want him to see how well his songs stand on their own, to see them go on in the world – kind of like children. And I hope that you – friends, relatives, beautiful people – have the chance to see it too.

I love you, Jaime.

Sunday January 28,  5 – 7 PM
Mississippi Pizza Pub & Atlantis Lounge
3552 N. Mississippi Ave
Portland, Oregon 97227 (map)
$10 (100% goes to Living Cully)

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