FOR PAULA LALISH, the moment of inspiration came at a harp music festival in Monterey, Calif., in 2000.
Taking the stage was a succession of young women, garbed in flowing gowns, who sang medieval songs featuring the ubiquitous unicorn.
“I wanted to puke,” she said. “I thought it was time for the unicorn to have his say.”
That’s why Lalish wrote “The Maiden and the Unicorn,” a satire that she will perform Sunday at a concert at the Upstage Restaurant.
Organized by Otto Smith, the concert, called “Seriously Funny Songs,” features five singers-songwriters who, like Lalish, use their instruments to skewer conventional genres.
“I like doing things with the harp that people don’t expect,” Lalish said.
Lalish said she was inspired to play the harp after seeing her first Marx Brothers movie, “A Night at the Opera,” when she was 10 years old.
In the movie, which premiered in 1935, Harpo Marx sheds his comic persona when he sits down at the harp.
“He could be funny and still entrance everyone,” Lalish said.
On stage at Upstage
For Ken Maaske, who lives in Sequim, it was the more recent transformation of Forks into a tourist mecca for Twilight fans that inspired him to compose “Vampire Blues.”
The song, which he will perform at Sunday’s concert, is written from the perspective of a teenage musician in Forks who bats for vampire Edward’s side.
Maaske, who plays the guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and harmonica, also will perform “London Bridge,” which he wrote about the landmark being moved to the Mojave Desert to promote tourism.
“I think America is a wild and wacky place to live,” Maaske said. “Americans continue to create a Disneyland environment in which to live. It’s fun and it’s funny.”
Also appearing will be Michael Murray, a country/folk singer who lives in Port Townsend, and Flip Breskin and Zeke Hoskin of Bellingham, who defy classification.
All five performers have written original songs with a humorous twist and are acquaintances of Smith, who came up with the idea for the concert.
Otto plays the concertina with partner Kristin Smith, a violinist, although they will only be on stage as backup for Lalish and to play their novelty piece, an instrumental duet on turkey basters.
The concert will start with each musician performing a song, Otto said, then returning for a longer set.
There’s no cover, although in the spirit of the event, the suggested donation at the door is a million dollars.
Other suggested donations: chickens, broccoli, old musical instruments, warm socks and chocolate.
“Anything useful,” Smith said.
For Murray, who plays guitar and banjo, “useful” means hearing a phrase or reading about something that strikes him as ironic.
Murray, who is from eastern Montana by way of Seattle, won the Tumbleweed Song Writing Contest two years ago for “Grandpa Held a Snake.”
Writing humorous songs is easier than regular ones, he said, because you’re not constrained by reality.
“You start rolling off into fantasy,” he said. “It can be any oddball thing.”
Murray wrote the song “Sniffin’ Gasoline” with Kevin Cavanaugh and Peggy Sullivan, with whom he used to play in a Tacoma band called The Smelter Rats because it met at the Antique Sandwich shop in Ruston near the site of the old smelter.
Other compositions: “Road Rage,” “The Night Hermann Goering Met J. Edgar Hoover” and “Little Bitty Men.”
The last refers to chess pieces SEmD Murray, a retired software developer, is a chess player of note on the Peninsula.
“I’m a better musician than chess player,” he said.
Classics across border
Hoskin is known for writing such Canadian classics as “Hunting the Duck” and “The Lizard That Ate Vancouver.”
A finger-style guitarist, he also plays ragtime mandolin, Celtic harp and alto clarinet.
According to his partner, Breskin, Hoskin’s compositions range from children’s songs to songs with adult themes.
Some of his titles: “Grandma’s a Pirate,” “I’m Not in Denial,” and “Me and Your Hot Flash.”
Hoskin sees the absurd side of everything, Breskin said, and puts it all into witty songs that have been recorded by bands across Canada.
The sister of Joe Breskin of Port Townsend, Flip plays the guitar and is one of the founders of the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.
The duo’s signature numbers are “Slack Key,” in which she uses Hawaiian licks to frustrate Hoskin’s attempts to sing too fast, and “I Love Chocolate,” in which Hoskins improvises verses on the spot based on suggestions from the audience.
Won’t tell ending
Humor often relies on an element of surprise, Maaske said, so he won’t give away the end of his Irish drinking song, about the morning after of a tourist who spent the night in the pub, nor the subject of a song whose title consists of numbers.
Maaske, who plays with The Sound Dogs at Smuggler’s Landing in Port Angeles on Monday nights, said his music incorporates American and world music, including Caribbean blues, country-western and Celtic styles.
Lalish, who lives on Marrowstone Island and has a CD out called “Island Time,” plans to play “Geezer Love Song,” which she wrote for her husband, Greg.
She also will do a lullaby titled “A Monster in the Closet.”
Lalish said she remembers watching Harpo Marx on an episode of “I Love Lucy,” circa 1955, in which he plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” picking out the familiar melody against a surfeit of swirling glissandos.
“I seem to be in the minority of people who want to exploit the comedic qualities of the harp,” Lalish said.
“Seriously Funny Songs” is at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Upstage Restaurant, 923 Washington St., Port Townsend.
No cover. Donations, including chickens, will be accepted.
For more information, e-mail Otto Smith at email@example.com.
________Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.