Yale University

Class News

Jon McBride's son Webster on the road, and how

If it's Tuesday, this must be Topeka

Yale Alumni Magazine
September/October 2005

This summer, singer-songwriter Webster McBride '99 [son of Jon McBride '64] set out to visit all 50 American state capitals and Washington, D.C., to perform on the steps of each capitol building [such as the Nebraska State Capitol pictured at right]. His plan was to stay in each state for one night and finish the trip in exactly 51 days. Except for flights to Honolulu and Juneau, McBride drove the entire journey in his green 1994 Dodge Caravan ― with no air conditioning. When he is not working as an information technology consultant in Berkeley, California, McBride dedicates his time to his experimental pop band, Golden Birds, whose new album is appropriately titled Transamerica. This interview was conducted in the middle of his summer odyssey.

Y: You're in Springfield, Illinois, tonight playing your 27th show. It's been 26 days. Are you exhausted?

M: Physically, the trip has not been bad at all. It's certainly much less taxing than going to work every day. Psychologically, it's been more interesting ― I have to reacclimatize every night. I'm always a guest, both in people's homes and in these capital cities. It's very strange to do that every single day.

Y: How do people hear about your trip and your shows?

M: I'm just warning you that we might lose phone service here ― I'm in the middle of a lot of cornfields right now. People hear about the shows almost exclusively through word of mouth. The trip has been most exciting when it's brought me in contact with strangers. A woman in Hawaii heard about the trip and volunteered to pick me up at the airport ― we hung out for the whole day. And last night in Madison a guy who had heard about the trip rehearsed with me and played stand-up bass at the show.

Y: What have the audiences been like?

M: They've varied. About one fourth of the shows, nobody comes. About one fourth of the shows, I get "large crowds" of 10 to 20 people, and about half the time we get 1 to 10 people, an average crowd. People like to request songs. In Denver, I performed, or butchered, an impromptu "Dancing in the Dark" for a total stranger.

Y: Are those numbers disappointing to you?

M: Oh, not at all. The first time that there was nobody there ― in Arizona ― it was really powerful. Since the election, there's such a sense of detachment from American seats of power. It felt appropriate to be singing just to the building.

Y: So what is your motivation for this tour?

M: The overarching theme is of direct engagement, direct communication. Touring with bands in the past, it was weird spending six hours every night in a club or an art space behind closed doors, not really exposed to where I was. In a sense I could have been anywhere. So this is a tour that works against a general sense of detachment.

Y: Do you know what you'll do with this experience when the trip is over? Will you write about it?

M: For some of the trip I'm traveling with a documentary filmmaker friend ― who also accompanies me on glockenspiel at some of the shows ― so there may be a film. But I want to finish the trip and then think about what to do with it. I'm not coming at this as a writer or a critic but instead as somebody who loves what this country could be.