Editor’s note: Rise Up, the Hamilton Tribute Band! will perform the music of the blockbuster musical Hamilton in two upcoming concerts at Vashon Center for the Arts. The following article by Blake Peterson about the band and the show appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Beachcomber’s sister paper, Kirkland Reporter, and has been updated here to reflect the upcoming performance on Vashon. — Elizabeth Shepherd, Arts Editor
By Blake Peterson
Islanders who attend two upcoming concerts by Rise Up, The Hamilton Tribute Band, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Vashon Center for the Arts, will see a show that has had inspiration spanning more than a decade.
It all started in 2008, when theatrical maven Lin-Manuel Miranda read “Alexander Hamilton,” a 2004 biography by Ron Chernow of America’s founding father and first secretary of treasury, while vacationing in Mexico.
What if Miranda hadn’t casually picked it up the book? Time off is typically supposed to be relaxing, but for Miranda — then taking a break from his mid-aughts musical venture “In the Heights” — beach-reading turned into something much more all-consuming. For the next few years, Miranda’s music and performances were directly inflected by the founding father, if on a small scale.
Then, beginning in 2015, Miranda made epic his obsession, with Broadway’s “Hamilton,” a genre-hopping musical that revised and musicalized Hamilton’s story and subversively populated it with people of color and celebrations of immigrants. It became a fully-fledged cultural phenom nationwide — so much so that in June 2016, Miranda, dressed in blowsy 18th-century wear, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, as if he were Broadway’s less tortured answer to Jim Morrison.
“Hamilton,” the musical, also led Kirkland native and self-described “intermittent semi-professional musician” Jeremy Stone to an epiphany, too. When he was first introduced to “Hamilton” a few years ago, the play’s music and equal parts inclusive and emboldened messages lit up something within him.
“For me, it was something I turned to when I needed help making sense of the world,” Stone said. “It’s music that celebrates immigration at a time when maybe immigrants are not celebrated by all people. It’s music with a message that’s rooted in diversity and love.”
As Stone fell hard for “Hamilton,” he also thought about how many people might not be able to directly see the show live. If you didn’t live in or close to New York City or didn’t have the means to attend a show, how would you be able to fully enjoy it? The outcome for many such “Hamilton” fans, Stone felt, would be to listen to the show’s soundtrack while always keeping a faint disappointment of actually never having it in the back of their minds.
So Stone took his fandom a step further. Some inquiries and cold calls around the Seattle area later (“Essentially, I found people on the Internet,” Stone said) and he’d formed what, in the spring of 2017, was for all intents and purposes a “Hamilton” cover band. It called itself Rise Up. It was made up of about 10 people who seemed to have the musical chops necessary to pull the project off. Stone was assiduous as he contacted people: it was also important to keep intact the spirit of diversity and inclusion of “Hamilton.”
Jim Horne, Rise Up’s musical director and a longtime colleague of Stone’s, described him as having both strong musical instinct and notable business acumen. At their initial breakfast meeting, during which Stone expanded on his recent idea, Horne voiced his concerns about getting the rights to the music — and Stone was already a step ahead of him.
“It’s tough for any band, no matter how good you are, to get noticed,” Horne said. “You have to keep chipping away… Jeremy has been absolutely ruthless in pursuing the success of the group.”
The pursuit appears to have paid off. Rise Up has been consistently touring since its formation, predominantly stopping by venues in the Pacific Northwest.
A typical Rise Up show lasts for about two hours. It focuses on just the music; the group does not indulge in the musical’s narrative. But that isn’t to say that performances are exclusively “Hamilton”-oriented.
In addition to featuring in the set list the majority of the play’s songs, the act incorporates tracks either adjacent or even unrelated to the musical. The group has recently added numbers from the stage musicals “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Waitress” and “Rent” to its repertoire. “You’re Welcome,” from Miranda’s “Moana” soundtrack, has also been included. Original music has become part of the shows, too.
Rise Up hasn’t yet been noticed by anyone involved with the original incarnations of the play. But public reaction has been positive, and often physically evident during concerts. Last year, the act got runner up for Seattle Weekly’s Best Musical Act. Last October, Rise Up received the 2019 Performance of the Year Award from the Kirkland Performance Center.
Enthusiastic audience engagement has also long been a fixture at the group’s shows. Singing and dancing along has come to be expected, particularly from youngsters (5 to 85, according to Stone, is his show’s main demographic). This happened at the group’s first show — at Luther’s Table in Renton — after Rise Up invited kids in the audience to come on the grandstand with them.
“Pretty soon, they all came up to the stage,” Horne remembers. “The stage was absolutely packed… I had no idea what kind of impact this music had on young people.”
Contributing to the success of Rise Up is the camaraderie of the cast. According to singer Po Leapi, who also performs solo under the stage name P.O. BOXX, the ensemble has had “an effortless chemistry” since day one.
“There isn’t pride or egos floating around, like some other bands I’ve been with in the past,” Leapi said. “Everyone is on the same wavelength.”
Visit vashoncenterforthearts.org for more information and tickets ($24 to $50) to see Rise Up, the Hamilton Tribute Band.
Rise Up’s performance on Vashon will include a special appearance by the Vashon Island School District Choir, which will back the band on a selection of songs.
The choir is an afterschool club that meets once a week. It includes approximately 50 students from third grade to 12th grade in two different choirs. The choir is supported by the Vashon Choral Boosters — the group’s goal is to build a program large enough to have it be included in the school’s regular class offerings.