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Bowled Over 

Plus, for the love of Benji

Local songwriter Benji Hughes has been a constant on the local music scene for a number of years. Generally considered something of a "musician's musician" - or songwriter, at the very least - Hughes has done time in a number of great local bands: Muscadine, who were once signed to Sire Records, the McClintock G's, a sort of party rap band, and The Goldenrods, a band with a penchant for playing the prettiest barroom ballads you'd ever hope to hear.

Hughes has been spending lots of time over the last few years in Los Angeles, where he's said to have a songwriting deal of some sort (various accounts have had him collaborating with folks as wide-ranging as Burt Bacharach and Alice Cooper).

Hughes has finally decided to make the fulltime move to California, so a few dozen of his closest friends decided to throw him a last-second going-out-of-town bash at the Steeple early last week. Local musician friends conspired to trade off covers of Hughes' rich catalog of songs, most of which they were forced to learn on very short notice.

It's a tribute to Hughes' talent that there was nothing even approximating a stinker in the 20-some songs played. Jay Garrigan and his band Poprocket blasted through a set of Muscadine covers, which had the older heads in the crowd going wild. Ben Best and Joey Stephens of Pyramid took a softer approach. Cockpit did a rousing rendition of the McClintock theme, "That's What You Think!" and Darrin Grey of the Scrubbies spat out a caustic, dead-on version of the Hughes "legalization" anthem "Don't Outlaw Plants."

As the evening drew to a close, another local songwriter, Hughes' longtime friend and sometime-collaborator Todd Busch — who may be the only local songwriter currently writing at Hughes' level — took to the stage. Performing a jaw-dropping version of "Jubilee," it was a fitting handoff from one homegrown great to another. Yes, we're losing one of our best, if perhaps only for a while. But let's not forget the great musicians we still have, either.

I'll go ahead and admit it up front: I had only minimal interest in the Super Bowl this year. Thanks to the ridiculous two-week delay between the conference championships and last Sunday's game, I completely lost the football momentum I had built up through a steady diet of football Sundays. Momentum is what it's all about with TV: look at soap operas. Look at the saturation marketing of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and American Idol. Hell, I was frankly more interested in whether Seth and Summer were getting back together on The O.C. than if Terrell "Willis Reed" Owens was going to play for the Philadelphia Eagles against the Patriots.Come Sunday, however, you don't have much choice. Fox started their pre-game programming at noon. Most every other station — QVC, The Food Channel — had something Super Bowl-related on, even if it was "12 Heart-Healthy Tailgate Tips for the Big Game." Finally, I relented to the red, white and blue assault and headed over to the Evening Muse, where owner Joe Kuhlmann priced his oat sodas to sell and set up the projector TV. After the pre-game Salute To Militarism was finally over, the game actually began. Surprisingly, fan support was pretty much down the middle, which led to a nice Crossfire sort of vibe: "Nice Defense!" "Nice defense? He interfered, you fuckin' idiot!"

Kuhlmann used to hold regular Panthers bashes last season, when our beloved Cats were playing in the Biggest of All Sports-Related Spectacles (if it now seems like years ago to you too, you're not alone).

After the Eagles pissed away the clock in the last minute or so of the game, most folks lined up for one more drink, either to celebrate or drown their sorrows, depending. Kuhlmann found one way to bring everyone together, however: "How about let's everyone give a Paul McCartney!"

The man was onto something: that football stadium — indeed, probably the entire televised audience — was pretty much split down the middle as far as rooting interests go. But when Sir Paul stepped away from his piano to exhort the masses to sing "Hey Jude," every last one of us knew the words.

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