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Juneau’s Empty Oil Barrel Band, created by Ed Schoenfeld in 1985, has been around for a little more than 30 years. It’s also seen about 30 different members participate over the years, Schoenfeld estimated.
Empty Oil Barrel Band to perform parodies, political satire at Folk Fest 040517 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Juneau’s Empty Oil Barrel Band, created by Ed Schoenfeld in 1985, has been around for a little more than 30 years. It’s also seen about 30 different members participate over the years, Schoenfeld estimated.

Michael Penn

Riley Woodford, left, Ed Schoenfeld, Jon Pollard and Terry Schwartz perform as the Empty Oil Barrel Band at the 41st Annual Alaska Folk Festival at Centennial Hall in 2015. Michael Penn | Capital City Weekly

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Story last updated at 4/3/2017 - 6:51 pm

Empty Oil Barrel Band to perform parodies, political satire at Folk Fest

Juneau’s Empty Oil Barrel Band, created by Ed Schoenfeld in 1985, has been around for a little more than 30 years. It’s also seen about 30 different members participate over the years, Schoenfeld estimated. The current group (Schoenfeld, Riley Woodford, Terry Schwarz, Jon Pollard, Maggie Schoenfeld; excluding group member James Sullivan who is in Perseverance’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”) will return for another performance at the Alaska Folk Festival with new songs poking fun at current events.

When Schoenfeld started the Empty Oil Barrel Band (then The Declining Oil Revenues Marching Band), he was no stranger to political satire. Also, he was used to being in touch with local politics and current events after working as a journalist for many years in town. It wasn’t much of a leap for him to start writing humorous songs focused on Alaska to perform as a band. The songs have ranged from politicians Sarah Palin to Tony Knowles, issues from the state budget to the legalization of marijuana.

“Essentially we make fun of whatever is going on, you know, not just Democrats or Republicans or people with a particular point of view,” Schoenfeld said. “You might hear a set and think ‘Oh, I know these people are coming from this perspective or that perspective,’ but the next year we might be making fun of you.’”

Empty Oil Barrel Band has produced roughly 100 songs, Schoenfeld said. They rarely recycle material, but some topics just keep naturally recycling, so sometimes the band brings songs back and update them. Schoenfeld has been the primary songwriter for the group, but when Woodford joined about five years ago, he also started penning songs. Woodford is known in the Juneau music scene for playing with Susu and the Prophets and Juneau Soul as well as releasing a solo album in 2003 “Applehood and Motherpie.” Schoenfeld said Woodford’s musical abilities and songwriting talent are a great addition to the group.

“We really want (the songs) to be funny,” Woodford said. “We’re not necessarily looking to do straight social commentary, although we do. But the idea is to do social commentary while also being funny, which I think people need; people want to laugh at things that are frustrating.”

The group writes original songs, Woodford said, but likes to create parodies by changing the lyrics of famous songs. One recent song written almost primarily by Woodford is a take off of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Instead of singing about leaving a lover, however, the band sings about getting jilted by Alaska’s oil industry, as can be seen from the first verse and chorus below:

“I was blown away when the prices dropped. I didn’t think the gravy train would ever stop. I know about recessions. I know it isn’t great, but last time, I wasn’t working for the state. Reducing my use of fossil fuels, I thought I’d save the planet but I was such a fool. I should have been consuming and driving up the price cause 50 dollar oil yeah you know it isn’t nice.

We will survive. We will diversify. Salmon and tourists will get us by. Things get really tough. We can always be on a show on reality TV.”

Woodford looks at writing a few different ways. First, he asks himself what popular song would make great parody. Then: what’s a good topic to go with it? When Woodford is writing, he likes to make his songs jokes that everybody is in on (at least in Alaska); outside of Alaska, many people would probably be scratching their heads at their references to things like the PFD and jökulhlaups.

Individual band members take turns singing lead and for large part of the songs the band sings harmony.

“Often times when we’re singing we just click into a harmony. We’re able to get some pretty good harmonies. Here we are making fun of politicians and social issues and it’s mostly about the lyrics and all of a sudden we’re singing real pretty. People get a laugh out of that too,” Schoenfeld said.

The group doesn’t take itself too seriously, Schoenfeld said. In the past they’ve recorded some of their performances to two different cassette albums (yep, they’ve been around a while), and most of their music found online is from recordings of live performances. To hear their work, it’s best to catch them at one of their two to four live performances a year (also, their material is rarely sung twice). They’ll open the Alaska Folk Festival’s Friday, April 7 lineup at 7 p.m. To listen to past performances, check out their Facebook page or their Sound Cloud account at soundcloud.com/oilbarrelband.

Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.