How I Became A Magnetic Zero

Intern Alex Spoto Jams

Intern Alex Spoto jams with Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros before the 9:30 Club performance. Lindsay Sanchez hide caption

itoggle caption Lindsay Sanchez

Recently, my fellow NPR Music intern, Lindsay Sanchez of All Songs Considered, was kind enough to bring me along to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the 9:30 Club as her guest. Lindsay interviewed the lead singers, and I came along as her “photographer,” but by the end of the night I somehow found myself onstage with the band, playing fiddle.

It all started after the interview, when I sheepishly confessed that I had hardly ever handled a camera.  The band was amused since I'd obviously taken the role of photographer just to get to meet them.  At some point during the pre-show chit-chat, singer Jade Castrinos asked me if I play music. I said that I actually play the violin (many, many years of lessons — thanks, Mom). Well Jade jumped up, hurried off to the bus, and returned moments later, thrusting her newly purchased violin into my hands. We ended in the alley between the band's tour bus and the 9:30 Club, working out a few tunes together with their guitarist Christian Letts. Below is a first stab at Jade's tune, "Fire Water."

Despite my fumbling in that video, nearby bandmembers perked up at the sound of a fiddle, and they asked me to join them onstage for a few songs in that night's set. At first I was surprised that a band would trust a stranger to contribute to their recognizable sound, especially during a sold-out tour. At that point, the reality set in that I was performing songs I barely knew how to play in front of thousands of people. But before taking the stage, we had five solid minutes of chanting "om" in a circle with the band, and this seemed to help me relax. The experience turned out to be utterly surreal.

I've heard the term "togetherness" endlessly bandied about to describe the band's larger-than-life mystique, but nothing could confirm the group's communal aesthetic so wholeheartedly as joining them in music-making. In performances, Alex (a.k.a. Edward Sharpe) Ebert frequently forays into the audience, graciously sharing the music with fans and transforming each Magenetic Zeros concert into a throng.  The focus is always on a collective whole.

Sharpe and crew are striking personalities, but they’re not overbearing performers.  As such, The Zeros’ overflowing musical spectacle achieves the near impossible: packaging an unabashedly hippie jam into perfectly executed pop-songs.

I ended up performing again with the band during this past weekend's Newport Folk Festival.  You can hear the whole show in the NPR Music archives.

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