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Light-hearted humor for heavy political times

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SNOQUALMIE - About a year ago, Joe Weisnewski couldn't take it any more.

So he started singing.

The Bellevue-based musical composer gathered up some friends and formed a music group that parodies popular songs with lyrics about the current war in Iraq, corporate misdeeds in America and other political hot potatoes.

That group, Patriot Act, will be performing in Snoqualmie on April 23.

"It's a way to find out that I'm not the only person who feels this way," Weisnewski said.

Weisnewski said he was at his wits' end when he formed Patriot Act last spring. With the war in Iraq looming and the overall state of political affairs generally draining him of hope, Weisnewski turned to music.

"I got sick of yelling at the [news] radio," he said.

Weisnewski started to incorporate his political views into familiar songs and found that he could make a pretty good spoof of the classics. He enlisted the help of other musician friends who had similar political feelings and they started to create songs. The group's core members, which include Weisnewski, Paul Prappas and Scott Dow, are occasionally accompanied by other friends who lend vocals or various musical talents when they can.

"We are really grassroots," said Prappas, who plays guitar.

The band performs "Help" set to the music of the Beatles' song, but with lyrics sung by an exasperated President Bush unable to find weapons of mass destruction. Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee" has been renamed "Protectors of the Free World" and describes America's shunning of France due to the French's lack of support for the war in Iraq.

Patriot Act looks for familiar songs to parody so their audience can listen to the lyrical content as opposed to focusing on new music. The group has written some of its own songs and even sings a couple of political staples like Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and Bob Dylan's "Times They Are A-Changin'," but the true power of the show is the parodies. The members of Patriot Act appreciate the earnestness of serious political songs, but have found that comedy is an even richer way of sending a message, even if it is black humor.

"We sing about things like 'shock and awe,' so it can be pretty dark humor," Prappas said. "Trying to get a message out is the first thing we are trying to do."

While Patriot Act admits they pull no punches during shows, the band has been surprised with responses to their performances. When the group performed last year at the Yakima Folk Festival, members were unsure of the type of response they would receive in the more conservative part of the state. A self-identified Republican approached the group after its performance and said that although the songs went against his own political views, he enjoyed the show.

"We are not only preaching to the choir," Weisnewski said. "Everyone [of all political leanings] has fun."

The group didn't think of recording until people started to ask where they could get a CD of Patriot Act songs. As more and more people inquired about getting an album, the group perceived that having a CD seemed to be a sign of legitimacy. Last year Patriot Act recorded and produced an album in Weisnewski's basement. A second one is in the works.

Recording and releasing albums, however, is not the reason Patriot Act keeps playing. Prappas said he would like to make a difference in an election year, but the real motivation to keep playing has been the feeling that comes from getting a personal belief out in the public square.

"Sometimes I think, 'Does this make any difference?'" Weisnewski said. "It's my own immediate therapy, whatever it produces."

* Patriot Act will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, at Isadora's, 8062 Railroad Ave., Snoqualmie. Admission is free. For more information on Patriot Act, visit www.patriotactband.com.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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