WASHINGTON - If - God forbid - the New Christy Minstrel Singers, the chirpiest of all '60s folk acts, ever decide to go on tour again, imagine the size of the crowds that would clamor to stay away.
Yet their doubles, the New Main Street Singers, luminous in their signature yellow and blue outfits, were greeted the other night at Washington's sold-out 9:30 Club with squeals of delight and affection reserved only for the most beloved musical reunions.
This was a reunion. Not only were the New Main Street Singers back together but so too were the ever earnest Folksmen and those folkie sweethearts, Mitch and Mickey, who once again smooched before an adoring crowd at the conclusion of "A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow," their paean to their own legendary romance.
It could have been Greenwich Village back in the early '60s.
No, it couldn't.
This was a reunion concert but not of fabled folk performers. You want real-life folk fables, you've got to track down Simon and Garfunkel tickets. This concert, a live performance of A Mighty Wind, was for lovers not so much of Tom Paxton and Joan Baez but for aficionados of parody at its slyest. Its featured players were not real folkies but the loopy, self-deluded characters from Christopher Guest's uproarious movie send-up of '60s folk musicians.
Washington was the last concert stop for the Mighty Wind players, who had already played in Philadelphia and New York (where they appeared in Town Hall, scene of the reunion in the film). Their only scheduled appearance in Washington sold out so quickly that two others were added. Now, a western tour is planned for later in the fall.
A traveling road show was a natural for A Mighty Wind, given that its subject matter was music. There was precedent, too. Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer - The Folksmen in A Mighty Wind --- have played live concerts in their guise of Spinal Tap, the heavy metal rock band in the film spoof they co-wrote with Rob Reiner. In fact, some years ago, an early version of the Folksmen actually opened for Spinal Tap, which must be the only time in history that folkies warmed up an audience for a metal band. A San Francisco audience booed them before catching on.
The Washington crowd waiting to see the late concert Sunday was not going to be similarly duped. They weren't there as devotees of folk music, but as partisans of the movies of Guest & Co., each of which lovingly skewers a selected subculture. Largely the same troupe that appears in A Mighty Wind satirized small-town community theater in Waiting for Guffman and dog-breeding competitions in Best in Show. Familiarity with the targets of the movies isn't a prerequisite for getting the joke.
Probably few of the crowd attending the Mighty Wind concert had ever heard of Richard and Mimi Farina, but they could quote Nigel Tufnel and Corky St. Clair at length. "We found folk music drippy," said Jo Lee Link, a management consultant from Reston attending with her husband John. "But this is irresistible."
With the lamentable exception of Fred Willard and Ed Begley Jr., all the notables from the movie reassembled for the concerts and all were in character with perhaps a hint more self-awareness. Among them were a hyper-perky, pig-tailed Parker Posey with a grin so wide you feared her face would shatter, Eugene Levy (Guest's co-writer), addled and with an unplaceable accent and Catherine O'Hara as his wary former love.
Acting as host was the deeply subdued Bob Balaban who in the movie organizes a reunion of musicians in tribute to his late father, a folk impresario. Balaban retained his movie character's obsessive-compulsiveness, fretting over and over again about all the electric wires on the stage.
At several points, he was joined on stage by Jennifer Coolidge, who played the dim-witted, Swedish-born public relations woman in the movie. She described herself as no fan of folk music, but told the concert audience that she'd heard it had started with the Indians who "were singing when the cowboys were killing them."
A Mighty Wind stands in a long proud line of musical satire from The Rutles, the Eric Idle-led Beatles parody, to PDQ Bach to the spectacular This is Spinal Tap. Like all parody, the Mighty Wind concert could be enjoyed on several levels at once, even, in some cases, musically. The joy of A Mighty Wind - even more true of the concert as the movie - is participating in a great joke. The crowd swelled in appreciation in recognition of the dopey songs from the movie, as if they were old classics, which they were supposed to be, but they weren't, but they might be yet.
The audience laughed at the corny lyrics, drawing self-satisfied smiles from the performers as though they were truly clever, which, of course, they truly were but on a different level, and everyone knew it.