DJ Libby is by far the liveliest person at the laid-back Starland Cafe on a recent Saturday evening, peppering the crowd with Will Ferrell trivia and otherwise trying to drum up interest in the actor’s upcoming film, Anchorman. It’s “’70s Anchorman Open Mic Night,” but the contest honors one song in particular.
“They don’t have to do ‘Afternoon Delight’!” scoffs Starland Cafe co-owner Bill Danoff, sotto voce. Informed that only renditions of “Delight” are eligible for the grand prize—a box of Anchorman swag—he’s slightly agitated: “Oh, God, I don’t want to hear a billion versions of that!”
Few people have heard “Delight” as often as Danoff—he’s its composer. Danoff penned the cheeky soft-rock song nearly 30 years ago, inspired by a menu item at Clyde’s of Georgetown. Released on the debut album of the Starland Vocal Band—a D.C.-based foursome also featuring Jon Carroll, Margot Chapman, and Danoff’s then-wife, Taffy Danoff—“Delight” was an instant hit, and only hit, for the band, which also won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1976. Danoff also wrote John Denver’s hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and has remained in the music business as well as helming the popular Palisades restaurant with his current wife, Joan Danoff.
Danoff opens the performances with the newest possible sort of retro song, singing“I’m Gonna Miss the Cicadas” with daughter Lucy Danoff on backing vocals. And he gets his wish: Only one group of contestants sings “Afternoon Delight.” Side by Side, with Sean McGhee and Doris Justis, wins the prize package by default with a faithful, guitar-accompanied version of the song. The duo also offers a cover of John Denver’s “Fly Away,” a syrupy elixir that makes “Delight” seem like straight scotch by comparison.
Other performers return to the Dacron Decade with songs by Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens. A musician who calls himself “T.M.” pairs the melody of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with the lyrics to “Pinball Wizard,” accompanying his best Man in Black growl with the sound of a brand-new mandola. “I usually do it on the mandolin with a wah-wah pedal,” he says later. Finally, Danoff brings a dozen folks onstage—including ex-wife, daughter, and surprise guest Jon Carroll—for a gang rendition of “Delight.”
When the promotional tchotchkes have been put away and the PR folks are gone, Carroll, who, like three of the four Starlanders, still lives in the Washington area (Chapman is in New Mexico), hangs around at the bar, quaffing a nonalcoholic St. Pauli Girl and musing on his life. His career has been about a lot more than skyrockets in flight and rubbing sticks and stones together; he’s currently on a break from touring as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s keyboardist, and he’s active in music and theater both locally and nationally.
But the Starland fame still flickers. “It’s the ironic reality distilled from Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame,” he says. “It’s more like eight-and-a-half. And you’re splitting it with Jefferson Starship.” —Pamela Murray Winters