All seems normal – there’s a good buzz, some interesting martinis and palm-sized sweets in every kind of shape and colour. A band is playing in the corner, but no one is taking much notice.
By 11pm you’re pretty much ready to leave. But then another band starts up, and the crowds of chatting IP attorneys suddenly stop swapping small talk and business cards. Some head towards the source of the music. A few even begin to dance.
For this five-piece is no ordinary covers band. This is a group of IP lawyers, and the lead singer is Randall Ray Rader.
Yes, that’s Chief Judge Rader to you. The man who heads the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; the judge who ultimately wields the axe over every patent granted in the US; the professor who claims to have taught more IP students than anyone else; the VIP who was only hours earlier sitting on stage in the Marriott Ballroom.
He starts the performance on the last night of the AIPLA annual meeting with ‘Twist and Shout’, the exuberance of both voice and hips giving a hint of what is to come in more than an hour of rock’n’roll hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Fuelled by nothing stronger than Diet Coke and wearing black shirt and trousers with bright red braces, Rader hardly pauses for breath in a dizzying performance characterised by startling key changes, vocal improvisation and plenty of hip twisting. If occasionally the music and lyrics don’t seem to be in sync, you suspect it’s simply because the other band members can’t quite keep up with the supercharged Rader and his ever-present tambourine.
Oh yes, the tambourine. It’s played with great passion and is rarely rested as Rader bangs it again and again on his right thigh. How many pairs of trousers have fallen victim to that instrument? If he were allowed to wield it in court, surely no litigator would be brave enough to defy him; no other judge dare to write a dissent.
It’s impossible to sum up this performance but if you had to go for one word you’d probably say: Jagger. Rader (aged 62) has the same jerky energy and it’s no surprise that the most memorable numbers are Rolling Stones tracks: ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ will probably stay with this reviewer forever.
When the lyrics occasionally go astray, the rest of the band help out. Matt Bryan of WIPO is on bass, for example. (If you know the names of the other members, click on Comment above so we can give them credit.) The drums are artful, the keyboard playing discreet and the saxophone and harmonica inspired.
As if things are not weird enough, up pops Mark Rivera (a professional who plays with Billy Joel and has already performed tonight at the Dinner) to jam with the IP guys. Apparently without the benefit of a rehearsal, he joins a saxophone duet in ‘Hotel California’ that seems to test the stamina of both players, before it finally disappears down a musical cul-de-sac.
Then there’s some blues, and some ballads. Dozens of IP attorneys are now dancing and writhing on the conference room floor; some people look like they’re making requests to the judge. Midnight approaches and the band plays ‘Wonderful Tonight’, a great number with which to end.
But this is not the end. As the desserts are cleared away, and hotel staff stand, arms crossed, on the sidelines waiting to clear up, they play on. Another rock classic, and then another, and then ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles.
"They have to finish with Hey Jude," says one exhausted attendee. "Even McCartney finishes with Hey Jude."
But Rader, apparently oblivious to the clock, seems like he is just getting warmed up. The crowd are in his hands now, and he urges them on with wild gestures, arms spinning like a windmill in a force 10 gale.
"Judy Judy Judy," scream the band together, before taking a bow and resting their instruments. For the first time, we are introduced to all the members and the spotlights go down.
And then they come back up, as the players return to the stage for another heart-thumping track. At nearly 12.30, half an hour after scheduled, it’s finally over and AIPLA attendees disperse to different corners of the Marriott Wardman Park, many of them still not quite sure of what they have witnessed.
Quite a few, though, have photo and video evidence that will confirm tomorrow morning that they haven’t just had an anxiety dream in which one of the sharpest minds in the IP world shed his judicial robes; was transformed into a crazed rock star; and brought the house down at the 2011 AIPLA Dessert Reception (sponsored by Finnegan). It really did happen.
On Monday morning, Chief Judge Rader will be appearing at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Managing IP rating: 5 stars
For more reports from the AIPLA annual meeting, see the dedicated topic page or read the AIPLA Daily Report (PDF reader required)