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DFest Headliners: Ra Ra Riot and Citizen Cope

Oklahoman Modified: July 22, 2009 at 11:03 am •  Published: July 22, 2009

Ra Ra Riot

In 2006, at Syracuse University, Milo Bonacci (guitar/architecture) had an itch to start a new band, something different from the bands he'd played in most of his life. Bonacci met Rebecca Zeller (violin/music business) in an electronic music class, and invited her to join his new project.

Zeller recommended Alexandra Lawn (cello/music business) who she knew from various classical ensembles. Mathieu Santos (bass/painting) played in one of Bonacci's earlier bands, so he was a natural choice; John Pike was a well-known drummer on campus, and through mutual friends found himself, along with his good friend Wesley Miles (keyboard, vocals/physics), at Ra Ra Riot's first practice.

What quickly developed in that winter of 2006 was a healthy dose of dance-party-inspiring rock 'n' roll with more dramatic and unexpected elements that grew from Zeller and Lawn's dueling strings and the remarkable, Morrissey-meets- Tom Verlaine voice of Miles.

From January-May 2006 Ra Ra Riot played every attic, basement, party, and venue in Syracuse. Upon graduation that May (well, most of them graduated), they hopped in a van for what appeared to be an endless tour, playing any and every show they could, both headlining and playing with Tokyo Police Club and The Editors.

This rapidly building momentum ground to a sudden and tragic halt when drummer John Pike died unexpectedly in June 2007. After that incredibly difficult summer of mourning and coping with the loss of a dear friend, the remaining members of Ra Ra Riot pulled themselves back together and spent late 2007 in the studio with producer Ryan Hadlock (Gossip, Blonde Redhead, Islands) recording their first full-length album, a process that was simultaneously a memorial to Pike, a grieving process, and a reaffirmation of the joy of making music together.

Early 2008 found the band continuing to re-engage, continually focusing and again taking to the road, opening for The Cribs and on a headlining tour of the U.S.

As anyone who caught one of these many shows quickly learned, to observe Ra Ra Riot on stage is to observe a joyful experience in progress, somehow both intensely fun and just plain intense; it's a joy that's always aware that darkness and despair may be just around the corner, that life is both beautiful and terrible, and it’s a joy that is in fact amplified by this awareness.

Ra Ra Riot plays Saturday night at 7 on the Triton Stage.

Citizen Cope

“When I was a kid, I was a listener,” says Clarence Greenwood, a.k.a. Citizen Cope. “Music was something coming out of a radio or off a record, something that made me feel these things I couldn’t explain. It was magical to me, and I thought it was something you had to be ordained with.”

What’s clear when you listen to Cope’s own music now, years after he sat transfixed in front of his stereo speakers, is that he is ordained. Or touched. Or blessed. Or however you want to say it: The man has the gift. It’s never been more evident as on “Every Waking Moment,” his third album.

By far his most personal recording, “Every Waking Moment” shows Cope continuing his deep exploration of the world that confronts all of us every day. How do we love those we care about? How do we change a world that throws daily horrors in our faces? How do we live with ourselves day after day? How do we capture joy?

If you’ve heard any of the work that Cope has created over the past few years, you already know how quickly he can paint a masterpiece with the lightest of brushstrokes.

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