Tuesday, 27 November 2018 13:08

Well-Mannered Frivolity: Talking with the Yule Ball’s headliners, Harry and the Potters

Written by  Eric Mitts
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The second annual Yule Ball is here to bring together all area Potterheads for a triumphant holiday celebration of the wonders of the wizarding world. 

Inspired by a scene from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Yule Ball features a themed dinner for VIP guests alongside trivia from Quizzo Detroit, world champion magician Rick Merrill, dance lessons from the Grand Rapids Swing Society, and more. Specialty themed cocktails and mocktails are served, including copious amounts of Butterbeer. Live owls from the Blanchard Nature Center will be on hand, alongside Vault of Midnight selling Harry Potter merchandise.

Organized by Sue Barsoum and Amber Stokosa for 20 Monroe Live — two huge Potter fans themselves — the event proves the lasting power of the Harry Potter fan base, even now, more than a decade after the series’ seventh and final book.

“It’s clearly a universal story that resonates with the young and old,” Barsoum said of Potterdom’s lasting appeal. “It blends magic and myth into a world that audiences relate to. Literature and entertainment like this provide an escape and an opportunity for people to enjoy themselves.”

As per tradition, dress robes are encouraged, while Barsoum added that new attendees need only bring an open mind and imagination, and be ready to make lots of new, like-minded friends. 

Of course, the night also will include live music, starting off with local jam band Desmond Jones, then featuring the “quintessential wizard rock” band Harry and the Potters.

A Boston-based band of brothers, Paul and Joe DeGeorge coined the term “wizard rock” when they started Harry and the Potters back in 2002. Both perform as Harry Potter, with Paul portraying him onstage as Year Seven and Joe as Year Four. Together, they harness the power of rock ‘n’ roll as the ultimate weapon against evil.

“We started the band kind of on a lark, thinking, ‘Maybe it would be fun to play at kids’ birthday parties or something,’ not realizing there was potentially a very active and vibrant Harry Potter fandom out there that would become our most active supporters,” Paul DeGeorge said. “We knew it was a phenomenon, but we didn’t have a perception of how dedicated fans were to it. In hindsight, it’s truly ignorant that I wouldn’t have realized that. 

“I was so dedicated to all the bands I loved when I was in high school. Those bands were so important to me. So it makes a lot of sense that people reading Harry Potter — that was their Nirvana.”

The band’s success quickly snowballed from playing all-ages events at libraries and bookstores to touring all over the country, including a memorably sweaty, early show at Grand Rapids’ legendary venue The DAAC. Indie tastemakers Pitchfork even went so far as to call the band’s 2005 summer tour the greatest rock tour of year.

Inspired by punk rock’s DIY subculture, the band has crafted three albums from the Potter books, while helping inspire a slew of other independent artists working within the expansive Harry Potter fan community. 

“I might be a little biased, but I’d probably say that Harry Potter fandom has had the most impact on contemporary fandom as a whole,” Paul DeGeorge said. “Harry Potter was sort of the first modern fandom. Because it grew up online and didn’t have a pre-online life, it was really great at harnessing all those tools and finding new ways to connect online. And so carving out those pathways for fans and fanworks really flourished because of the time in which the Harry Potter fandom was taking shape.”

With the support of the Potter fan base and the legal blessing of Rowling herself, the band has continued to perform its wizard rock for more than a decade, hosting their own annual Yule Ball events in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. 

The band also founded The Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit organization looking to expand some of the moral lessons from the books into the real world with campaigns focusing on literacy, immigration reform, gay rights, economic justice and more.

“Part of the point of Harry Potter is that he’s a teenager, but he’s out there fighting the fight,” Paul DeGeorge said. “And the Alliance was about making a productive outlet for that desire to change the world for the better.”

In the current political climate, DeGeorge said he’s had fans going back and pulling out certain songs with heavier political overtones and telling him about how that has given them hope. That reaction inspired the band to write and record its first new record in 12 years. 

“We’ve never written an album about the last book,” he said. “So early next year, we’ll be putting out a new record. It’s very political and I would say there’s a lot of parallels because in the seventh Harry Potter book, you have a fascist government takeover doing ethnic purges. It’s a way for parents and kids to talk about wizard supremacy, pureblood supremacy and how there might be correlations in our current culture.”


Yule Ball 2018
Feat. Harry and the Potters
wsg. desmond jones
20 Monroe Live
11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Dec. 8, 8:30 p.m., $25+
(844) 678-548

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