The band that Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., plays in tries to get together and practice once a week, but lately, that has been difficult.
“Colin’s the chair of the (Agriculture) Committee, so he’s been tied up with the farm bill for the last few weeks,” Porter said Sunday night. “But he’s back now.”
That’s Colin Peterson, D-Minn., the lead singer of the Second Amendments. All five band members are members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and on Sunday, they played Las Vegas for the first time.
The band headlined a carnival-style event for military families at The Venetian, put on by the Armed Forces Foundation, a national private nonprofit.
The smell of popcorn was in the air; the upscale casino ballroom featured a buffet of corn dogs and burgers, inflatable slides and bounces, raffles and midway-style games.
Up on stage, Peterson introduced the band members, including “Las Vegas’ own Jon Porter, playing keyboards.”
Peterson added, “We’re going to feature Jon on this next song to show off his amazing talents.” Porter shook his head bashfully as the band launched into “Evil Ways,” his playing providing the spooky organ chords that give the song its darkly funky mood.
Like good political strategists, the band members like to set expectations low so they can meet them. They like to say, “We’re not good, but we’re not bad.”
Audience member Dave Paullin, a 51-year-old retired Green Beret who works with software at Nellis Air Force Base, agreed with that assessment. “A bunch of old guys reliving their youth,” he said. “It’s entertaining. If the band sounded too good, I would worry about whether they were getting anything done in the chambers of Congress.”
The Washington-based foundation’s president, Patricia Driscoll, took a break from painting faces to explain that usually, she deals with the depressing side of military life: deaths and hospitalizations.
“Something like this makes doing the rest of our jobs easier,” Driscoll said. “Our military families don’t get a lot to begin with. To get a day to come out and have fun with their families is big.”
The Second Amendments have played in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Washington, D.C. and Minnesota, but never in Porter’s backyard.
The band was formed two years ago. Peterson previously had been in a band of congressmen called the First Amendments, but it broke up for political reasons. Peterson didn’t get along with the bassist, then-Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., now a television host.
But Peterson still played sometimes with drummer Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., and when they heard about the keyboard-playing Nevada congressman, they thought they might have something. The band was filled out by Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., on lead guitar and Dave Weldon, R-Fla., on bass.
Porter’s musical background goes back to his youth in Humboldt, Iowa, where he and his friends stapled egg cartons to the walls of Porter’s father’s electrical warehouse to improve the acoustics. The band, Shadrach, “played just about every little town in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota for about four years — homecomings and proms,” Porter said.
The Second Amendments get their name from being the reincarnation of the First Amendments; it has nothing to do with the right to bear arms, though all five members are pro-gun.
Porter likes to hold up the band as an example of how members of both parties can get along and get past the “partisan bickering” that dominates debate in Washington. The band members do talk politics, and they respect each other’s point of view, Porter said.
But Hulshof added, “We also know which issues to stay away from. CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement) split us 3-2. And with Jon around, we know we can’t talk about Yucca Mountain.”
Weldon said he considers himself the most conservative band member, with McCotter, while Porter and Hulshof are more moderate and Peterson is a fairly conservative Democrat.
Patt Sprague, 62, was enjoying the festivities with a life-sized cardboard cutout of her husband, who is on his second tour in Iraq with his Nevada National Guard regiment. The “flat dad” accompanies her grandchildren to the playground, to the pool, to McDonald’s, so they can feel like their grandpa is with them.
“He just got IED’d last week,” she said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “He lost some hearing on one side from the blast, and he has a permanent neck injury.”
Sprague and her family are tired of the war, she said, and they appreciated the diversion Sunday’s event offered.
“Isn’t that funny?” she said of the Second Amendments. “People get to see another side of them than just old, stuffy politicians.”