FOIA Love blends public records and bluegrass for a unique comedy experience 

Offbeat and on the Record

click to enlarge Have some fun with the Freedom of Information Act at the Charleston Museum next Tuesday

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Have some fun with the Freedom of Information Act at the Charleston Museum next Tuesday

Have you always been curious about public records-based comedy but were turned off by the lack of quality bluegrass music? Well, your prayers have been answered.

Making its Charleston debut March 17 at the Charleston Museum, FOIA Love utilizes the Freedom of Information Act for what is arguably its finest unintentional purpose. Creator Curtis Raye sifts through everything from school board minutes, FBI profiles, and FCC complaints against CBS' The Big Bang Theory to share the profound absurdity of some of America's most vocal inhabitants. Because who isn't curious as to how Sheldon, Leonard, and the Big Bang gang have trespassed beyond the bounds of common decency.

And just in case you've never attended a local municipal meeting, please be aware that they occasionally involve residents unironically singing Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and complaining that Charleston has become a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah due to the widespread sale of devil's food cake.

This is, of course, the story nationwide. Meaning that there is a lot of paperwork to sort through, a lot of committee meetings to watch, and a lot of nonsense to suss out. That's where patience and an open mind prove rewarding for Raye. And thankfully, he's willing to share that experience with an audience.

"I love that moment of discovery when after six hours something leaps out at you, but everyone has a different outlet. If you're a journalist, you can write about it in your publication. If you're a college professor, you can talk about it in class," says Raye. "I'm a comedian, so when I find that thing that leaps off the page, to me it makes the most sense to get up on stage and find a way to share it with everybody through jokes and songs and sketches."

Raye's love of comedy that "celebrates American sincerity and American insanity" became apparent when a week after graduating college in 2007, he moved to rural Iowa and worked in the caucuses for nine months. Fresh off the most recent caucuses, Raye can offer a bit of a palate cleanser for those who feel overwhelmed or disheartened by the current, neverending election cycle.

"That experience introduced me to so many sincere and insane people," Raye recalls. "People would invite me into their homes for muffins even though I was knocking on their door as a political campaigner, which to me is both sincere and insane. It made me respect them and question whether they were all there. They were just so nice."

Gaining an even closer appreciation of America's political process, Raye lived in Washington, D.C. for eight years. For those unfamiliar with our nation's capital, D.C. holds its own special brand of absurdity. It is a town where the bars open early for live screenings of impeachment hearings, accompanied by specially themed cocktails. This is likely what the Founding Fathers intended.

Having covered the public records portion of the show, now is a good time to explain the bluegrass component. For those curious as to how the sound of Appalachia corresponds to public records requests, don't ask so many questions. Honestly, most performances can be improved with the simple addition of bluegrass.

With Raye on banjo, FOIA Love's touring band also includes Bennett Sullivan of the Tony-nominated Steve Martin musical Bright Star and International Bluegrass Music Association Award winners Maddie Witler and Annie Staninec. Traveling by rented motorhome, Raye still needs to figure out if a stand-up bass requires its own seatbelt.

You may be thinking that it seems inadvisable to mix live comedy with a genre of music mostly focused on steam-engine collisions and death. That's a reasonable reaction. But in this case, trade commision records crossed with mountain music is an appealing mix that you're not likely to find anywhere else.

"If I had to name my two favorite things, it's comedy and bluegrass. Beekeeping is also a hobby of mine. However, they don't let me release live bees inside of a theater, so I had to go with my other two hobbies," says Raye. "As much as I love public records, I also know nobody should have to sit through a 90-minute talk about them, so why not insert some music in there to make it more interesting."

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