DC Music Review Sits Down with Organizers of Staycation’s June 2 Radiohead Tribute + Planned Parenthood Benefit at Black Cat

With Staycation’s Radiohead tribute + Planned Parenthood benefit just around the corner, DC Music Review talked to organizers Stephanie Sasarak and Nikhel Sus (guitarist/vocalist of Staycation) about their plans for the concert.  The event is shaping up to be a very exciting one, with dozens of local musicians slated to perform, including a lineup of all-female lead singers. Steph and Nik, husband and wife, told us about the great story behind the show, some tie-ins with the history of Radiohead and the Black Cat, and more.

Stephanie Sasarak & Nikhel Sus

DC Music Review (DCMR): Let's start at the beginning: what inspired you to put together this tribute show to benefit Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington?

Stephanie Sasarak (SS): Both Nik and I have been longtime supporters of Planned Parenthood, and have done work for them in the past.  Back in 2004 when we were both undergrads at the College of Charleston, I was President and co-founder of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood.  And actually, I threw a benefit show back then that ties into how Nik and I met...

Nik Sus (NS): ...Yeah, I’ll never live this down....

SS: VOX was organizing a concert called Rock for Roe to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and we got Nik’s college band to play it. I booked it months in advance through the band’s bass player. Then, the day before the show, he suddenly cancelled on me!  When I asked why, he told me -- and I now know that this was completely made up -- that their guitarist, Nik, wasn’t comfortable playing it for moral reasons.

NS: Yeah, just to be clear, I NEVER SAID THAT.  Weirdest lie ever.

SS: Fortunately I was able to find another band to fill in.  But I was still pretty mad at Nik. Fast forward a couple months, I see him at a bar.  We kind of knew each other at that point, but only in passing. So I make a beeline towards him to confront him about him cancelling on us, which he was completely baffled by.  He told me he had no idea what I was talking about and that he just had another show going on that night. I was still suspicious...

NS:  Yep.  And then yada, yada, yada, we got married.

SS: 10 years this August!  So putting on this show now feels like us really coming full circle.  Nik’s finally making good on his commitment.

For this event, we thought it was important to donate specifically to Planned Parenthood Metro Washington, because they’re the organization providing crucial healthcare to folks in our community.

DCMR: How about the musical components of this? Why Radiohead and how'd you come up with with the idea of an all female lineup of lead singers?

NS: Steph and I were at breakfast one day, mulling over ideas for a one-off tribute show that Staycation might do.  We were trying to think of bands we both love that we’ve never seen tribute shows for. Radiohead immediately came to mind.  Then Steph chimed in with the idea of making it a Planned Parenthood benefit. Ok, done. And an all-female roster of lead singers just made sense, both because of the cause, and, from a musical standpoint, female singers can pull off Thom Yorke’s vocal range better than most men.

SS: Also, in this era, we think it’s more important than ever to highlight women’s voices, both symbolically and literally.

DCMR: And why did you all decide to do the show at Black Cat?

NS: We talked to a number of DC venues who were all very helpful and enthusiastic about hosting us.  Ultimately Black Cat was the right choice, as its capacity of ~800 is perfect for this show. They’ve also got a history of hosting events for Planned Parenthood, which was important to us.

SS: Also fun fact: our show is on June 2, which is 23 years to the day after Radiohead themselves played the Black Cat on their 1995 tour for “The Bends.”  Seriously, look it up! Crazy coincidence.

DCMR: You've got dozens of musicians involved in this benefit concert. How did you go about putting together this roster of local musicians?

Tula Pisano

NS: The first thing was figuring out how the show would work.  We really wanted to put together a seamless concert, with no downtime between songs.  So we decided that instead of getting like 30 full bands, we would have “Staycation and Friends” be the core group, with guest singers and players sitting in throughout the night.  The core group is Dave Ray (drums), Neel Singh (bass), Tula Pisano (vocals), Stephanie Kaiser (vocals/keys), Garrett Gleason (guitar), Zack Be (keys), and myself.

After forming the core group, I reached out to many of the outstanding female singers in the DC music community who I knew (and some who I didn’t know, but who I was a fan of).  The other core members did as well. The response was overwhelming -- all the musicians were super pumped about the concept and cause. Everything fell into place after that.

I’m really happy with our final roster.  It represents an incredibly diverse cross-section of DC’s vibrant music scene.  We’ve got artists from all walks of life and genres involved too -- be it post-rock, jam, soul, indie, punk, electronic, R&B, jazz, reggae, funk, classical, you name it.  And they’re all insanely talented.

I love getting folks from different scenes/backgrounds together. Often musicians tend to run with their own crowd, so mixing it up is a nice change of pace.

DCMR: That's a ton of people to have playing together over the course of just a few hours. What's your plan for giving each artist the opportunity to shine on stage at the Black Cat on June 2nd?

NS: Each guest singer will have at least one song, with some handling multiple songs, so everyone’s gonna have a chance to shine.  We’ll also have some special collaborations where folks who don’t normally get to play together will share the stage.

DCMR: Tell me what the rehearsal process has been like to get everyone ready for this.

NS: We’ve got a pretty intense schedule: we’re practicing twice a week for the five weeks leading up to the show. Just two or three of the guest singers will join us at each rehearsal, which is nice because we get a fair amount of time getting comfortable with each singer and the songs. Radiohead’s catalog is anything but easy to pull off.  But we’re all perfectionists, as well as Radiohead nerds. So it’s important to all of us that we put in enough time to ensure we can do the songs justice.

SS: I can speak from experience in saying that Nik is very type-A, so I knew he’d be able to organize a large group like this.  Also Radiohead is my favorite band, so if he botches this I’ll never let him forget it!

NS: That’s fair.  I signed up for this!

DCMR: What are you most excited about as you're getting ready for June 2nd? What's been the biggest or most unexpected challenge in pulling an event like this together?

SS: We’re most excited about raising as much money as possible for Planned Parenthood Metro Washington!  Ensuring women have access to quality healthcare makes our entire community healthier.

As far as challenges go, we’ve had some folks that have been trying to hurt the event by targeting and ripping down our posters around town.  I’d love to clap back with a sold out show!

NS: Logistically this show is certainly a challenge -- coordinating dozens of musicians, learning tons of complex songs, handling promo, and planning rehearsals around everyone’s busy schedules.  But luckily we’ve got a great team working on this. Everyone’s pitching in. And I can tell you that based on what I’ve seen at rehearsals, it’s going to be a very special night.

DCMR: How can DC area fans help this cause even if they can't attend the show on the 2nd?

SS: Donate to Planned Parenthood Metro Washington, D.C.!  You can donate on their website here.

As a final word, I just wanted to thank all of the artists who are selflessly contributing their valuable time and talents to this event.  As a non-musician outsider looking in, I’m in awe of their abilities and eternally grateful. Can’t wait to see everyone on June 2!

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About the author
Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth caught the bug of live music after seeing Elton John play the MCI Center at the age of 10 and has been frequenting DC"s concert venues since moving to our nation's capital in 2006. A dedicated fan of the jam band scene, Seth has logged countless miles attending upwards of 70 Phish shows, dozens of Umphrey's McGee shows, and trips to LOCKN' and Peach festivals. Also an activist, you're likely to spot Seth registering voters with Headcount at DC's local music venues.