Lester Holt has reported from North Korea, waded through Texas flood waters to cover Hurricane Harvey and coaxed an eye opening comment about the firing of FBI director Jim Comey from President Donald Trump during an Oval Office interview.
Yet none of that flustered the NBC Nightly News anchor as much as having to decide on an outfit for his band’s first road gig Friday night.
Related video: Interview with Rolling Stones’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell
“My wife says I dress a little bit square for a band guy,” Holt said ruefully by phone on Tuesday, a couple of hours after he’d live-anchored the White House news conference featuring Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. “This morning I put on a navy blue suit and tie, no problem. But this I’ve been struggling with.”
“This” is the bass-playing anchorman’s appearance with “Lester Holt and The Rough Cuts” at the White House Correspondents’ Jam 2018 in Washington D.C. The fourth annual party thrown by Georgia’s own (and, oh yeah, keyboardist for the Rolling Stones) Chuck Leavell and his Mother Nature Network, has turned into one of the hottest tickets in town. That’s because of -- or maybe despite -- the event’s heavy focus on musical entertainment provided by members of the media.
Of course, it could also have something to do with the real headliners at what is simultaneously the most lively and laid back soiree leading up to Saturday night’s heavily hyped White House Correspondents Association Dinner (The annual dinner is often referred to as “Nerd Prom,” because it features press types in unfamilar formal clothing rubbing elbows with big name Hollywood and sports stars they’ve coaxed to attend as their guests. For the second consecutive year, President Trump won’t attend the dinner).
Besides Atlanta-based Mother Nature Network co-founder Leavell sitting in with some groups, this year’s “Jam” at DC club The Hamilton will feature Kevin Bacon and The Bacon Brothers Band. Kevin Bacon told Billboard their set will include some brand new material from a record the band completed just a few weeks ago (The Bacon Brothers Band will play City Winery at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market on June 23).
Still, the bulk of the night’s lineup is drawn from would-be rock stars from the Fourth Estate, starting with the emcee: John Roberts, chief White House correspondent for Fox News and a rock journalist in Canada earlier in his career. He’ll have his work cut out for him corralling bands led by and featuring folks from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNBC (somehow, “Shark Tank’s” Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary is part of the CNBC band, too).
“I’m very curious and delighted to be in the company of fellow journalists who have this passion,” said Holt, 59. “And it’s not just us. I am always blown away by how many middle-aged folks there are who played music in high school or college and then life got ahead of them. I’m blessed to have this opportunity to realize that fantasy.”
Formed about a year ago, The Rough Cuts includes six other members, all of them NBC News editors or producers.
“There was a conversation where drinking was involved in part,” Holt recalled about the group’s “Behind the Music”-ish origin story. “I said, ‘I play bass,’ others said ‘I play drums’ or ‘I sing,’ and we said, ‘We should get together.’ And one day, we did.”
In case you’re wondering, just because you’re the anchorman, you don’t automatically get to be Mick Jagger. The Rough Cuts’ vocalist is Irene Trullinger, who Holt says is a video editor for “Dateline NBC.”
The band’s sound?
“We’re still determining that,” chuckled Holt, who’s actually being a bit modest about his own abilities, considering he once sat in with “Tonight Show” house band The Roots. “We play Earth Wind and Fire (songs), Stevie Wonder, some Allman Brothers. We just basically have a Spotify playlist that we all add to with our own suggestions!”
At least he’s clear now on what he’ll be wearing. Several weekends back, Carol Hagen-Holt took her husband shopping and outfitted him to look more band, less square: Specifically, skinny black jeans, a T-shirt, black boots and “a hipster jacket,” said Holt, who always travels with a suit as well, in case news breaks out and he has to go on the air.
Mick Jagger has it easy by comparison.
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