Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music takes over the Merriam Theater from noon to midnight Saturday as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
And that’s just part 1 of the 24-hour epic, which dedicates one hour to each decade between 1776 and today. The second part of 24 Decades takes place from noon to midnight June 9.
The show has got a pretty good 246-song set list, a lot of costumes (23 changes in all), dancing, audience participation, and local acts, including Dito van Reigersberg (aka Martha Graham Cracker).
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music has been performed several times in its entirety and more often in abridged forms. In an interview this spring, the emcee told the Inquirer and Daily News that the Philly show is “most probably the last time” for the 24-hour production. No two shows are exactly alike, but here’s an idea of what might happen.
1776-1786: The American Revolution. Taylor Mac often enters singing “Amazing Grace.” This hour considers our indigenous peoples and their treatment. Other songs may include “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “The Congress,” a political ditty from 1776. People are invited to be “Dandy Minions,” assistants throughout the show.
1786-1796: Recovery from revolution. The spotlight falls on the women’s-rights movement of this era. Pamphlets may be handed out. Possible songs: “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?” and “Rights of Women.”
1796-1806: Drinking songs! The temperance movement. Possible songs: “Auld Lang Syne” and “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.”
1806-1816: Colonization. Part I unfolds of a three-hour “jukebox musical” on the topic. Songs may include “The Buffalo.”
1816-1826: Braille is invented. The audience puts on masks. There’s blind man’s bluff and the feeding to each other of grapes or tangerine slices. Songs may include “Cherry Ripe” or “Meet Me By Moonlight.”
1826-1836: The Trail of Tears … and children’s songs. Songs may include “Turkey in the Straw” and “Goosey Goosey Gander.”
1836-1846: Rising against slavery. This hour touches on the Underground Railroad, and dreams. Songs may include “Wade in the Water” and “No More Auction Block for Me.”
1846-1856: Civil War looms. We get a throwdown between transcendentalist poet Walt Whitman and songsmith Stephen Foster – and you vote for the winner! Songs may include “Camptown Races” and “Hard Times.”
1856-1866: Civil War. Songs may include “Two Soldiers” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
1866-1876: Reconstruction. Also, family dinner. And acrobatic dance. Songs may include “Unreconstructed Rebel” and “Home on the Range,” done as cool jazz.
1876-1886: Mikado. An electronic, condensed version of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic – set, of course, on Mars. Audience members help. Songs may include “Tit-Willow” and “Three Little Maids from School Are We.”
1886-1896: The Oklahoma Land Rush. The audience grabs balloons and tries to “stake claims” for territory. Songs may include “After the Ball” and “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” disco-style.
1896-1906: Immigration. America through the eyes of new arrivals. Creative uses of mattresses. Songs may include “All Alone” and “For Three Years Now.”
1906-1916: The Great War. Songs may include “I Didn’t Raise my Boy to be a Soldier” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
1916-1926: Prohibition and the Jazz Age. Framed in the context of postwar trauma. With conga lines. Songs may include “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
1926-1936: The Great Depression. Singing to keep from crying, including the Harlem Renaissance. Songs may include “Minnie the Moocher,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” and “All of Me.”
1936-1946: Hollywood, prison, fascism. Songs may include “Soliloquy,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Napoleon’s a Pastry.”
1946-1956: The suburbs! The audience may simulate white flight. Songs may include “Pachuco Boogie,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Pretty Woman,” and “Only You.”
1956-1966: Getting on the bus to the march on Washington. Songs may include “I Put a Spell on You,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” or Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.”
1966-1976: The disco era and the rise of gay activism. With marching bands and a funeral procession. Songs may include “Snakeskin Cowboys,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Move On Up.”
1976-1986: Party time! Including a backroom sex party and other tales. Songs may include “Gloria,” “Heroes,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
1986-1996: The AIDS crisis. Tributes to those who died. Songs may include “Precious Things,” “Addicted to Love,” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
1996-2006: Radical lesbian tailgate party! Lesbian musicians storm the stage. More balloons. Songs may include “Miss Chatelaine” or “Doll Parts.”
2006-2016: All the 24 musicians in the onstage band have left (one by one, decade by decade). Taylor Mac, possibly somewhat fatigued, does the last hour solo, with original tunes such as “Epilogue for a Masked Ball” and “When All the Artists Leave or Die,” performed on ukulele.
Taylor Mac: A 24-Hour History of Popular Music
- Noon to midnight, June 2 and 9, Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street. Tickets: $45-$300 per day; discounts available. Information: 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.