TAMPA -- You’ll likely never notice G.E. Smith and the rest of the house band if you watch television coverage of the Republican National Convention. But Sunday he was rocking out on the floor of the cavernous and largely deserted Tampa Bay Times Convention Center, crushing Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” with his bandmates.
Truer sentiments, at a political convention, were never sung.
Smith, who led the “Saturday Night Live” band for 10 years and was at one time lead guitarist for Hall and Oates, is well known to those brought up to believe that live comedy at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday was as crucial a tradition as turkey on Thanksgiving: in other words, my generation.
Smith’s band is stationed directly to the right of the podium. Its music will usher speakers on and off the stage and kick into riffs that add pizzazz to the gathering, but the band will get little or no time on TV.
That’s in a way an illustration of so much that’s going on in Tampa. On television, you see the podium, the delegations (when the time is right for cheering, stomping, or booing) and members of the media commentariat in booths at the edge of the inside of the arena.
As many as 50,000 people are here, and they have to be fed, watered, liquored, entertained, bedded down and secured. And the infrastructure necessary to provide the media with working accommodations is extraordinary. Thousands of journalists from around the world are taking up work spaces and sucking up electricity and Internet service to get the news and opinion out to endlessly hungry consumers.
At least we hope their hunger is endless. Stay hungry, news consumers!
Thursday night, when nominee Mitt Romney is done speaking, Smith and the band will kick into celebratory song and thousands of balloons will be released from netting in the rafters. The balloons are already up there, out of view of normal camera angles.
“Can you imagine having to knot every one of those balloons?” a member of the Wisconsin delegation asked me Tuesday afternoon, after we had pledged allegiance and the proceedings were proceeding.
And I can’t imagine that, or planning and implementing all the thousands of other things that make this event happen. But from Smith and his bandmates to the thousands of electrical cords snaking around work spaces, to the hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and bottles of water that will be dispensed, it is a lot more impressive and intricate than it looks on TV.
Pictured above: American guitarist George Edward "G. E." Smith, center, smiles during rehearsals with the Republican National Convention House Band at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. (Aug. 26, 2012)