We're running late to the petting zoo, and we haven't even picked up the balloons yet, but we're stopping for pizza. "I need to put a slice on top of this," Bobbi Rich announces, referring to herself, abruptly pulling over at Hot Mama's on Pine. Rich is a local DJ, entertainer, producer, and creator of the wildly excellent musical variety show Hangin Tuff. This is just a pit stop on our way to Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah for a photo shoot. I wait in her giant red truck and watch the building next to Linda's get torn down. Wendell Austin's "LSD (Made a Wreck of Me)" plays on a country and western mix made special for this excursion.
The destination was her idea—I had asked Rich if she had any thoughts on where our photographer Kelly O could snap her portrait for this piece. Someone's house or a neighborhood is a typical response. But Rich excitedly e-mailed us back with some options ("The Tea Room, Hula Hula, XXX Root Beer Drive-In... Urban Light Studios has a western log cabin room? Or maybe a loaded knickknack-filled antique mall?") before deciding to book us some time at the first place she could find with "a mini horse and some fuzzies to pet." Rich is really good at crazy ideas, and of course we're absolutely game. When she pulled up at The Stranger dressed in head-to-toe desert cowgirl—fringed white boots, turquoise and silver on her fingers, a white hat—I didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, but I do know that I really like a girl with a can of orange Silly String rolling around the floor of her pickup.
It was on New Year's Day a year ago that Rich and some pals rented out a hot-tub boat for the first time—and Rich was smitten. "We were in the hot-tub boat, and I was like, 'Yeah, we have to do a show on this boat. We have to have an interview show on this boat!'" she remembers. "And then I just went after it. I hounded those guys [the hot-tub-boat company] for months. Finally, they said, 'Okay, this sounds cool, we're in.'" And with that, Hangin Tuff, Seattle's best and probably only nautically themed musical variety show, was born.
So what's a typical episode like? In the animated intro, Rich and her friends pop up against inflatable palm trees, pineapples, and pineapple rings on a mint-green background; pink plastic flamingos and beach balls dance and rotate; a sequined mermaid lounges in a half-shell on a pearl pile and makes a call on a telephone made of shells (shell phone!); a tugboat splashes by filled with stylin' party people; a butt in tight red-and-white-striped swim bottoms shakes back and forth to the catchy beat (keen ears will recognize the music of djblesOne of Mash Hall/Don't Talk to the Cops!). And, again, that's just the intro.
Each episode stars a different local musician or band—the first season's impressive lineup features Fly Moon Royalty, Don't Talk to the Cops!, Half-Breed, La Luz, and Jarv Dee. Hot-tub interviews are conducted by Rich, but these are very far away from "So when's your next album coming out" questions. In Fly Moon Royalty's sunny hot-tub ride, taped last summer, messages in bottles float up, and Rich reads them aloud.
Bobbi Rich: Whose was the first butt you ever touched?
Adra Boo (singer): My mom's.
Rich: Your mom's butt.
Boo: She got a lot of butt.
Rich: [Uncorking another question] Fly Moon, your fans would like you to tell them a secret.
Boo: Um, I don't like mayonnaise.
Action Jackson (producer/keys): [Disapprovingly] You think you know somebody.
How do the musicians feel about the experience? I asked Adra Boo later how the filming of their episode went, and she said, "Are you kidding?! Hot-tub boats are for real, and leave it to Bobbi Rich to have us chillin' in one on a really sweet day! Of course we were down, and when we got there, it was hella homies, hella pizza, and kickin' it! The girl has big dreams, so many ideas, and when she's set to do it, it's going down!" Roger that.
In the episode of Hangin Tuff with Half-Breed, after the band plays a set in the middle of Lake Union ("We're used to playing house shows, not moving boats," says Ashley Nieves, the duo's guitarist/singer and also Hangin Tuff's animator), Rich takes them on a stroll along the pier.
Bobbi Rich: You guys are playing everywhere. So many shows, all the time, I'm so excited. What has been your favorite show so far?
Ashley Nieves: The time we played in an old porn shop. That was still rockin' DVDs. And they put up a Styrofoam wall so it could be all ages. But then they were doing karaoke on the other side, in the actual porn shop, so after the show, everybody just karaoke'd and danced.
Rich: Were there fluffers?
Micaila Hopkins (drums): No, I wish. I could have used a fluffer that night.
Nieves: I think we had to bring our own.
The interview continues on a carousel, with Rich holding a hot dog in one hand and cotton candy in the other ("What was your first crush? Did you ever have a crush on a mythological creature or a fictional character?"). Later in the hot-tub boat, a woman wearing a bindi and a beaded swimsuit reads Half-Breed's tarot (on a waterproof tray with a candle and crystals, of course) to offer some insight into their possible future endeavors. Though the hot tub and Lake Union are central to the show, each episode is differently tailored to the band and the circumstances. "In La Luz's episode, the hot-tub boat was actually broken, so we could still fill the hot tub, but we didn't take it out and just had a green screen behind us—at one point, the boat blasts off and takes us to Halloweentown, it's a Halloween episode, a very Willy Wonka scene."
Besides interviews and performances on water and docks, each 10ish-minute episode is sprinkled with campy skits, vignettes (a boating safety video instructs viewers to, step one, "Learn to swim"), and visits from characters ranging from an inebriated mermaid to a know-it-all kraken. (The kraken wears a "WHAT'S KRAKEN?" T-shirt and, in the first episode, floats up on a pink inflatable doughnut to let us know that tigers not only have striped fur, but their skin is striped as well.)
"My friend Meredith [Cooper] and I wanted to do more stuff with film," Rich says, when asked to expand on the show's beginnings. We're maneuvering down the highway, and half of the balloons we picked up at the party store just flew out of the truck bed. "And we're funny together. We really wanted to do more things that displayed females being funny." Rich was also inspired by the hyperactive music-television fusion of the 1980s and '90s. "I just miss people being silly with music interviews," Rich says. "Getting to see a band's personality, instead of just [sleepy voice] 'Uh, yeah, we have a new album coming out next week.' You don't really get to see a band be fun or relatable."
Rich continues, "Like Alice Cooper—I thought of him being such a badass demonic rocker dude, and then he's on The Muppets. I like seeing bands not be so serious—seeing them do something quirky or campy, that makes me get so much more into those artists. Like when Kurt Cobain showed up on Headbangers Ball in that banana dress. I want to bring that back—the variety aspect and the comedy and the personality."
You might already know Rich from her insanely fun, thematic DJ gigs—the '90s night Word Is Bond (every Tuesday at Havana) is a current favorite—but that's just the beginning when it comes to the Day-Glo waterfall of ideas that pours out of her brain. Some have already come to fruition: "My favorite was this party we threw called Mousercise—we wore Minnie Mouse ears and leotards and had all this blood all over our faces. There was all kinds of crazy, psychedelic shit on the screens, exercise videos all sped up. We had dance routines, and the stage was covered in workout equipment. We had pizza ordered, dumping Skittles in our mouths on the Gazelle..." And some are still developing: "I made a mini-trailer for this show called Garage Band Garage Sale. We had all these local bands play in my garage, with Etsy sellers selling things like jewelry and records—this whole DIY market." But my personal favorite example of Rich's naming brilliance is a collective she started called the Easy Bake Coven, a pack of talented female art-makers that aims to have a web-based broadcast where each Coven member hosts her own channel. Plus tipsy cooking demonstrations and skits, of course.
Somewhere in between Rich regaling us with her colorful background (in seventh grade, in Laconia, New Hampshire, "our place was right next to this tattoo parlor, and all the biker festivals would come through, and those were my first DJing days—I'd play music for the bikers waiting in the huge line that went around the corner, waiting to get tattoos") and posing with a pack of tiny goats and pigs on the farm, I realize what it is I like so much about Rich: She goes ahead and makes it happen. Sometimes folks, including me, wait until everything is perfectly perfect before timidly beginning a new business or art project or song or whatever, but not Rich; she'll dream as big as possible and see what happens right then and there. "At one point, I owned this crepe caboose in Steamboat, Colorado," she casually mentions, as if that's not enough to be someone's only claim to fame. If you or someone you know is an eccentric millionaire looking for street cred, might I suggest Bobbi Rich?
Now that the first season of Hangin Tuff is in the bag (the whole season premieres at Central Cinema on Thursday, February 6, and if you miss that, you can find it online at easybakecoven.com), what's next? "We'll start filming the second season this summer," Rich says. "I'm excited to really get our act together, have a budget, and have people on point for tasks so I'm not, like, ripping out cords, doing the sound, being the producer, and then worrying about being on camera like, 'Oh yeah, I gotta say something.'"
And the bigger ideas? You knew they were coming: "I want to do a big concert on the lake this summer. But we can put the show anywhere. We need to raise money and get our own boat so we can bring the boat everywhere and interview people, like against a green screen at Block Party, down in the Gorge at Sasquatch!, the water feature of the Bellagio..." It sounds crazy. But with Rich, it might be just crazy enough to work.
The whole Hangin Tuff first season premieres Thursday, February 6, at Central Cinema, with performances by Don't Talk to the Cops! and Half-Breed, 8 pm, $7 adv/$9 DOS, all ages. Or you can just watch it at easybakecoven.com. For more Hangin Tuff info, and to donate, visit the Indiegogo page.