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Photo: Rosie Cohe

Sweet, Like Durand Jones and The Indications in Springtime

When the weather finally picks up in DC, so does H Street. Up and down the block, people are out enjoying the air and nightlife, and on April 16, Rock & Roll Hotel was packed with people there to watch Durand Jones and the Indications. The night was just short of warm and there couldn’t have been a sweeter way to celebrate it than the Indications’ 70s soul-inspired music.

The Indications are touring their sophomore record American Love Call, a best R&B record nominee for the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) Libera Awards, alongside artists like Blood Orange and Charles Bradley.

The Indications have so many things going for them. They have the instrumentation and arrangement style of their inspirations down pat. Think Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” or Brenton Wood’s “I Think You Got Your Fools Mixed Up.”

They can also play funk, like they showed Tuesday on their song “Groovy Babe.” More than that, Durand Jones strikes a great balance as a frontman. He’s a happy medium between performers like Meg Remy of U.S. Girls and BadBadNotGood.

In the two times I’ve seen US Girls the only thing Meg Remy said was that there would be no encore because “there are no encores in life,” and if I ever see BBNG again it’ll be too soon, because their frontman almost never shuts up.

But more than any of that, it’s the voices of the Indications that make it for me, particularly that of frontman Durand Jones and drummer Aaron Frazer. Jones may not have Frazer range (not that he’s that far off), but he emotes like an Otis Redding or James Brown, and Frazer’s falsetto could put him into The Delfonics or The Emulations.

The best songs of the night were the ones that had these two playing off each other, like “Don’t You Know” or “Circles,” both off American Love Call, though Frazer’s solo ballad “Is It Any Wonder” might still be my favorite of theirs. They played it as an encore, and it’s quite the song to have in your backpocket.

It was also the first Indications song I heard. I didn’t really like it at first because it sounded so much like music was made 50 years ago, but a lot changes in a month. I spent the weeks following in Colombia hearing almost only cumbia and to come home and hear American music, and American music like Durand Jones and the Indications was the sweetest thing.

Sorry for being a prude about it at first, guys, you’re beautiful, can’t wait to see in DC next time.

For more information of Durand Jones and the Indications, follow them on Twitter.

Illustration: Nick Caracciolo

Devoured Offers Sustainable Alternative For DC Waste

Americans excel at wasting food. According to an article on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website, the country disposed of 37.6 million tons of food waste – with nearly 94 percent of it going to landfills or combustion facilities – in 2015. Essentially, it was rendered uneaten and utterly useless.

The simplest way to reduce these numbers is to cut back, but for most, reducing waste is not that simple. Another alternative is being realized in the District by local company Devoured, which strives to help businesses in the city be more responsible by turning what could be trash into compost.

Founder Walker Lunn set out to help the World Bank Group cut down on their waste in 2006. As a student studying hospitality management, he began piecing together a program that would help redirect food products thrown away to compost facilities rather than landfills or incineration facilities.

Lunn says, “Once we started working with [the World Bank], it became a question of, ‘How do we stop this problem?’” When food waste goes to a landfill, it ends up rotting in an anaerobic environment and produces methane. It causes global warming and takes what could be a valuable resource and loses it forever. What we do is take it to a compost facility where the waste is mixed with sticks, leaves and grass, and it’s decomposed.”

According to the EPA, compost is organic material that helps plants grow. Made up largely of food scraps and yard waste, at least 30 percent of what we throw into a trashcan could instead be used as compost. The soil supplement is sold at retail locations such as Home Depot and other gardening outlets.

“Everyone we spoke with – restaurants and hotels – were like, ‘This is cool [and] we want to do it, but we’re concerned about cost,’” Lunn says. “Cost, space, odor and training were really the things that came up at first.”

Lunn and his team began working on a model that would enable Devoured to pick up the heaviest, wettest, most challenging parts of waste to transport to compost facilities, which are generally farther than landfills or transfer stations. In order to reduce odors, the company makes frequent pickups for their client base, which is largely made up of office buildings and hotels throughout the week.

“When we started, we couldn’t get another company to haul it,” Lunn says, laughing. “I wanted to hire a contractor, but I couldn’t get anyone to do it. The only compost company was in Cambridge, Maryland, so it was really tough. So much has changed.”

One of these changes is the frequent use of biodegradable, compostable products such as cups, plates and bowls.

“It’s transformed what we transport because it used to be mostly food,” he says. “Now a huge part of what we collect is packaging. I don’t think there’s any point of buying a compostable product unless you send it to a compost facility. Like any business, we have a sales process, and our business is mission-driven.”

With the increase of waste and global warming awareness, there’s no question the business has grown. And while some companies reach out to Devoured specifically because of their own green initiatives, there are others who are still looking to minimize their hefty trash bills.

“It’s case by case,” Lunn says. “[For] some of our clients, it’s part of their mission. For professionally managed business, the interest and willingness to do it comes from the benefits it provides, but the justification is typically driven by savings – or at the very least, breaking even.”

Another change in the past decade has been the competition. With a heightened awareness of food waste and the damages it can cause to the environment, Lunn is no longer the only game in town. Despite this, he maintains that his clients are ones that other businesses envy; looking ahead, he’s largely hopeful for what’s in store for Devour.

“Scaling up is part of [growth].”

To learn more about Devoured, visit www.devoured.co. Contact Lunn and his team at [email protected] or 202-810-9751.

Illustration: Nick Caracciolo

The Cannabis Conversation

Cannabis legalization has been a hot topic for decades, but as federal legalization of the plant and its byproducts inches closer, policymakers, advocates and enthusiasts are in the weeds with conflicting state and federal laws. For the District, cannabis legality is particularly convoluted – especially when taking the different strains and uses of cannabis products into account.

Industrial hemp, for example, lacks the chemical compound of THC, which is responsible for producing the high that consumers get after ingesting the leaves of a regular marijuana plant. Industrial hemp has been descheduled as a schedule one controlled substance under federal law, but regular marijuana has not.

Then there’s byproducts of industrial hemp to consider like cannabidiol (CBD oil), which has surged in popularity because of its health benefits studied and tested by scientists internationally. It’s so trendy, in fact, CVS announced on March 21 it will begin selling CBD products in 800 stores across eight states.

While people who consume marijuana and its byproducts for medicinal purposes have more protection from the law in DC than those who consume it recreationally, the state of the plant’s legality is confusing, to say the least.

The Law

The distinction between DC and federal law is murky, especially because the District’s budget is controlled by Congress. But by looking at the timeline of legislation, one can start to parse out what is allowed – and what isn’t – in DC regarding marijuana and hemp consumption, possession and sales.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on February 7 that year. While the bill reauthorized and established various federal agricultural programs, the most important aspect of the bill for cannabis advocates was the allowance of institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. Regular cannabis, however, remained a schedule one controlled substance alongside heroin and cocaine under federal law – where it still remains today.

Four years later, the Agricultural Act of 2018 passed, opening up the industrial hemp market by allowing states to regulate their own hemp production and research. But just because states are allowed to grow hemp doesn’t mean its byproducts are legal. Martin Lee, director of Project CBD, a nonprofit dedicated to CBD oil advocacy, takes issue with this aspect of the law.

“One of biggest problems – now according to the Farm Bill – is it’s legal to grow hemp and contents within hemp plant,” says Lee, who authored Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana. “But once it’s extracted out of the plant, it’s not clear what the legality is. [This bill] is like a patch for bad software, [and] it’s impossible to patch up the bad software of the Controlled Substances Act.”

The Controlled Substances Act is the federal law under which cannabis is classified as a schedule one substance. This makes recreational possession, consumption and the selling of cannabis illegal at the federal level, but DC’s robust medicinal program is licensed and protected to prevent the Department of Justice from targeting medical cannabis providers who are in compliance with state law.

In the District, Initiative 71, a voter-approved ballot initiative that went into effect in February 2015, legalizes recreational consumption and possession of less than two ounces of marijuana – as long as the adult is at least 21 years of age. Growing up to six plants and consuming marijuana is also legal in the privacy of one’s own home, but public consumption is still illegal.

Gifting marijuana under Initiative 71 is allowed as long as the amount is one ounce or less and there’s no goods, services or money exchanged for the product. This makes the commercial sale of marijuana products illegal but medicinal sales are still allowed, which explains the small number of medical dispensaries in DC.

Although Initiative 71 basically legalizes public possession of marijuana, albeit a few caveats, a federal officer still has the right to arrest anyone holding any amount of marijuana in the District under federal law. So, to answer the question: Is weed legal in DC? Sort of, but advocates remain optimistic for the not-so-far-off future of marijuana descheduling and legalization.

Advocacy

Groups all over the country are pushing for a change in legislation at the federal level, but the one place to celebrate cannabis nationally is right here in DC at the National Cannabis Festival.

Festival founder and executive producer Caroline Phillips says she and a group of cannabis advocates started the festival in 2016 for two reasons: to give supporters of legalized cannabis a place to congregate and confer with one another while celebrating the cause, and as a fresh way to have the conversation by creating an all-inclusive event no matter a person’s identity.

“We wanted to create an event that’s accessible and approachable for a broad range of people from all backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities,” Phillips says. “You’ll see people from 21 to 80 years old from all backgrounds [and] speaking different languages, but all coming together over the shared love of a plant.”

The 2019 National Cannabis Festival will take place on April 20 at the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds. Phillips says in its first year, the festival saw about 5,000 attendees; this year, she’s expecting around 20,000.

“The response has been incredible,” she says. “We’re very lucky to have been so warmly received by our [community] of enthusiasts, patients, business owners and advocates. It’s exciting to see the way activists are taking the lead and working with for-profit organizations to make sure the cannabis industry is always connected to its grassroots – pun intended.”

While live music, an epic food court and a large selection of vendors will be the focal points of the event, the festival is also hosting a policy summit the day before on April 19. The policy summit aims to bring together “a diverse group of activists and leaders from government, business, healthcare, veterans groups, and civil rights organizations to discuss today’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities,” according to the festival’s website.

The summit is free to the public and will be the landing point for a multitude of important discussions on cannabis policy, including the media’s coverage of cannabis, the path to federal legalization, and the need for FDA regulations on hemp and marijuana consumable products.

Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, says the importance of FDA regulations is an especially big issue when looking at the medicinal side of the cannabis industry because patients deserve to know what exactly is in their medication.

“All cannabis advocates right now are looking forward to the day when they can work hand in hand with regulations like the FDA to ensure the medications that we put into hands of patients are safe,” he says. “Just in the same way you want to know what’s in the food you’re eating, it’s critical for people to know what’s in the plant.”

FDA regulations on cannabis will not only protect consumers but also allow for wider research and testing to be performed on the plant, which could lead to new and exciting discoveries about its medicinal properties, according to Phillips.

“Regulations would allow for us to develop and allow standards to be set by doctors and scientists, creating an environment for a product that is already in the hands of adults and going to continue being used on a broader scale not only in the U.S. but also around the world,” she says. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to support regulation and legalization in a burgeoning cannabis industry.”

Erica Stark, executive director at the National Hemp Association, confers with Phillips but includes the benefit of the doubt for marijuana, hemp and CBD oil producers that are doing the best they can to provide quality products to their customers.

“[The lack of regulations] is a very large problem in that consumers don’t know how to tell if they’re buying a quality product or not,” she says. “There’s plenty of good quality companies out there that are doing things the right way – the problem is bad actors out there.”

This month, the FDA plans to begin public hearings on allowing companies to produce CBD-infused food products, as commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the House Appropriations Committee in late February.

But before the FDA can begin setting regulations for the cannabis industry writ large, Phillips says the first step is descheduling the plant from the federal controlled substances list and then legalization, although she would like to see both happen simultaneously.

“Activists on the federal level are trying to push the government to full legalization and would like to see the government immediately deschedule cannabis so we can have broader testing,” she says. “A lot of folks are looking at the next presidential campaign cycle with candidates in support of legalization.”

The Future

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the future of cannabis looks like in the District and the country at large, one thing all the experts sourced here agree on is growth. On the CBD oil side of things, Lee of Project CBD says he believes the trend of hemp-based oils will continue and expand exponentially once regulations are in place.

“CBD has disordered the cosmos of the federal government,” he says. “It’s the hottest thing going these days. What we need are policies that facilitate wide access to CBD products but also regulate them on the basis of public health concerns.”

Stark at the National Hemp Association thinks the CBD oil market in particular will depend on the FDA and how they choose to regulate it.

“Assuming the FDA goes down a reasonable path [with regulations], the CBD industry will expand exponentially,” she says. “It’s already quite large and will only get larger as demand increases.”

Meanwhile, Fox from the National Cannabis Industry Association says he thinks the cannabis industry will likely follow the model of the beer industry, with big producers handling the average consumer market and smaller, localized producers serving the organics and artisan market.

“I really think consumer demand is going to shape the industry as opposed to corporate interest,” he says. “Because of the time at which this industry is evolving, I think corporate responsibility and ethics in sourcing is going to be more important [with cannabis] than most consumer products because of the culture of the consumers’ concerns.”

Phillips of the National Cannabis Festival thinks the industry will follow along a line similar to what Fox proposes; but she’s focused on the District specifically and reiterates her point on the importance of regulation.

“Because you’re allowed to do home growing in DC, it allows a lot of cannabis connoisseurs – not unlike craft brewers – to experiment with different strains at home and see what they can grow,” she says. “The danger of the unregulated market that we have in many states is patients can’t always be certain how a plant has been grown.”

Tap these educational resources to learn more about cannabis legalization.

National Cannabis Industry Association:
www.thecannabisindustry.org
National Hemp Association: www.nationalhempassociation.org
Project CBD: www.projectcbd.org

To learn more about cannabis in a festival setting, check out the National Cannabis Festival on Saturday, April 20. Doors open at 12 p.m. Tickets are $45.

RFK Stadium Festival Grounds: 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.nationalcannabisfestival.com


CBD in the District

District Hemp Botanicals
Established in May 2017, District Hemp Botanicals was the first hemp-based CBD store to open its doors in the DMV. The shop boasts a wide selection of CBD and hemp products, from CBD salves and massage oils to bath bombs and gummy edibles. 9023 Church St. Manassas, VA and 19 Wirt St. SW, Leesburg, VA; www.districthempstore.com

National Holistic Healing Center
This medical dispensary located in Dupont Circle now serves all registered DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients as well as registered patients from select states. Led by CEO Dr. Chanda Macias, who has dedicated more than 15 years to understanding how medical marijuana can impact patients, the center has 98 percent patient retention and adds more than 100 new patients per month. To purchase marijuana products from the center, one must be a registered medical marijuana patient. 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.nationalholistic.com

Relâche Spa at Gaylord National Resort
Starting this month, Relâche is featuring 50-minute CBD oil massages for a limited time. Spa director Debra Myers says if customers respond well to the specialty massage, she will consider adding the offer permanently to Relâche’s menu. “CBD is touted to decrease anxiety, lower inflammation, reduce pain and help improve sleep, which can all be achieved topically through the CBD hemp oil used during the massage service,” she says. Each massage costs $185 and the CBD oil used is Mary’s Nutritionals hemp oil and muscle relief compound. 201 Waterfront St. National Harbor, MD; www.nationalharbor.com/gaylord-national

Vim & Victor at The St. James
There’s a little something for everybody at Vim & Victor. Chef Spike Mendelsohn created the menu with health and wellness enthusiasts in mind, as well as everyday community members. Pro tip: try Mendelsohn’s own line of CBD-infused PLNT waters. 6805 Industrial Rd. Springfield, VA; www.vimandvictor.com

Chaia taco lineup // Photo: Maya Oren

Power Plants: The Rise of Vegetables as a Main Source of Energy, Not Alternative Fuel

It’s no secret there’s been a recent uptick in healthy dining options in the nation’s capital. Plant-based and vegetable-forward restaurants have taken root in the District, and they’re championing the idea that healthy food can also be tasty food. From local expansions to international brands, DC is adding more and more vegetable-friendly options to an already growing list of new restaurants. Just don’t call it a trend.

Homegrown taqueria Chaia recently opened its second location in Chinatown this January. From slinging tacos at farmers markets to their first location in Georgetown to the newest spot downtown, owners Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon have always remained committed to utilizing seasonal ingredients.

“Our business really wants to get people to eat more vegetables more than anything,” Stern says. “Support your local farmer and eat foods in season. What grows together goes together.”

In addition to serving up seasonally inspired tacos, Chaia’s newest location offers a lineup of local brews, ciders and draft cocktails. The ambiance and new offerings are key to the restaurant’s goal of making vegetables more fun.

“[Ten] years ago, being vegetarian or vegan or going into a restaurant that focused on that had the perception [that] there was no joy; you were just stripping your life of all the good things,” Simon says. “But that’s all changing with places like Chaia. We’re trying to make vegetables fun.”

Another component of their business model? Sustainability. Leftover tortillas are repurposed as the base for their spin on Oaxacan street food tlayuda. Cilantro stems are given new life as a sauce ingredient and discarded items are composted when possible. Hummus purveyor Little Sesame also looks to high-quality ingredients and seasonality for menu inspiration.

“The region that inspires our food is so built on fresh vegetables and big spices, and lots of ferments and pickles,” co-owner Nick Wiseman explains. “How we feel and shape the menus at Little Sesame is all around this idea of, at the end of the day, does it make you feel good?”

The hummus shop added its second location in Chinatown this March (the flagship spot is in Golden Triangle), where guests can order vegan options including their popular hummus bowls, pita sandwiches and dairy-free soft serve. More than just providing an exceptional in-restaurant experience, Wiseman and co-owner Ronen Tenne hope to build a community that transcends the walls of the physical space.

The owners even have an offshoot project, Wild Sesame, as “a way for us to strengthen the community we’re starting to build around these ideals of travel, outdoor cooking and storytelling.” It’s equal parts weekend getaway and outdoor adventure – an exploration of food and community.

“Food is the center, the focus of travel and this sense of adventure around food,” he continues. “We’re trying to really bring that spirit to Little Sesame and certainly what inspires us.”

H Street fast-casual concept Pow Pow made the switch to a completely plant-based menu last spring after two years in operation, and co-owner Shaun Sharkey believes DC is ready for more.

“I think DC has always been known as a city full of intelligent, forward-thinkers,” Sharkey says. “Plant-based food just makes sense in every aspect, whether you’re cutting back on a regular meat-based diet a day or two a week, interested in its benefits for the environment, or just interested in new flavors. Some chefs are really pushing the boundaries with plant-based food.”

Sharkey has a meat allergy and Chef Margaux Riccio has a dairy allergy; Pow Pow’s menu is a reflection of the foods they missed eating.

“Most of the menu items are developed that way,” he says. “This is more about fun food than anything else.”

The popular trolley fries are now topped with cashew cheddar and plant-based protein, the disco stick egg roll now features plant-based chicken, and their bowls have all switched over to plant-based chicken and seitan as protein options.

“We create all of the proteins and cheese in-house from scratch. Our focus is making good, plant-based food.”

Shouk founder Ran Nussbacher wants to remind the world that vegetables have been a mainstay of our diet for centuries, and it’s time to make a reconnection with the freshest produce possible.

“Eating a plant-based [diet] is a very positive experience, and it’s tasty and not lacking in any regard,” Nussbacher says. “I wanted to demonstrate that by bringing a compelling, appealing product that people would get hooked on, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with Shouk.”

The Israeli street food-inspired menu at Shouk’s Mount Vernon Triangle and NoMa locations features an oyster mushroom shawarma, fresh salads, pita and the famous Shouk burger. One of the healthier items on the menu, Nussbacher notes that despite chowing down on a burger, “You’re not eating health food; you’re eating delicious, decadent food that’s healthy.” And the recent addition of falafel to the menu has already proven to be a popular move.

“There used to be this perceived compromise that you could either get food that was really tasty or food that was really healthy, but you couldn’t get both,” the founder continues. “And what we do at Shouk – as well as others in the industry today – is eliminate that compromise and offer food that is exciting, tasty and healthy at the same time.”

Glenn Edwards, U.S. managing director of international fast-food chain LEON, shares a similar sentiment.

“I want to eat food I enjoy,” he says. “I don’t want to feel compromised in eating food that’s better for me. I want to eat food that’s delicious and oh, by the way, it’s better for me. Food should taste good and do you good.”

LEON opened its first North American outpost last summer on L Street and is hoping to change the way people view fast food. Fries are baked and the recently added, vegan-friendly LOVe Burger is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Edwards says, “When we launch dishes, [we ask ourselves], ‘Does it taste really delicious? Would your best friend ask you for a recipe? Is it better for you?’”

It seems DC denizens agree that fast food can be good food; a second LEON restaurant is coming this summer. But you won’t find any marketing or advertising efforts to promote these restaurants as vegan joints. Instead, the focus is on preparing first-rate food offerings.

Chaia’s Stern notes, “You have to have a delicious product, and that’s why people are going to come.”

Regardless of protein preferences, get people in the door. And if they like what they eat, they’ll come back.

Chaia: 615 Eye St. NW, DC (Chinatown) // 3207 Grace St. NW, DC (Georgetown); www.chaiatacos.com
LEON: 1724 L St. NW, DC; www.leon.co
Little Sesame: 1828 L St. NW, DC (Golden Triangle) // 736 6th St. NW, DC (Chinatown); www.eatlittlesesame.com
Pow Pow: 1253 H St. NE, DC; www.eatpowpow.com
Shouk: 655 K St. NW, DC (Mount Vernon Triangle) // 395 Morse St. NE, DC (NoMa); www.shouk.com


Plant-Forward picks

Fare Well
Doron Petersan’s vegetable-centric bakery, diner and bar on H Street offers plant-based comfort dishes like Southern fried wings, pierogies and a steak platter made with Southern fried chickpea seitan. And don’t walk out the door without dessert: indulge in a brownie sundae and a daily rotating lineup of cakes from Petersan (of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats fame). 406 H St. NE, DC; www.eatfarewell.com

Flower Child
Championing feel-good food, the national chain landed in Foggy Bottom at the start of the new year. The fast-casual joint features bowls, salads and wraps that come as vegan and vegetarian-friendly in a hip, colorful atmosphere. 2112 Pennsylvania Ave. Suite 101, NW, DC; www.iamaflowerchild.com/locations/washington-dc

HipCityVeg
The Philadelphia import arrived in the District in 2016 and serves up a 100 percent plant-based menu including burgers, salads, milkshakes and sandwiches. There’s even a Philly steak, an homage to the brand’s hometown. 712 7th St. NW, DC; www.hipcityveg.com

Photo: www.studiotheatre.org

Queen of Basel’s Playwright Discusses Adaptation and Influences

Any time a contemporary artist decides to tackle and untangle a literary classic, the task is often monumental. However, when said artist then decides to mix and mold the already established characters into representations of the modern world, an adaptation is in the midst.

Critically acclaimed Hilary Bettis not only took hold of the characters and story from August Strindberg’s 1889 novel Miss Julie, but completely flipped it on itself. In an effort to provoke thoughts from diverse audiences, Bettis adapted the story from the troublesome Strindberg into the play Queen of Basel.

The play charges head first, focusing on societal aspects of power, race and class. Performances of the play are now in their last week at Studio Theatre, and before the Queen’s run ends, we spoke with the passionate Bettis about adapting the story, her process and the influences she draws from.

On Tap: How did you select Miami as the backdrop for this modern take on a classic play?
Hilary Bettis: Queen of Basel was originally commissioned by Michel Hausmann at Miami New Drama, with the goal of taking a familiar classic text and reimagining it specifically for a diverse Miami audience. So the backdrop was part of the assignment. Most of America likes to brush poverty under the rug – we don’t like to look at it. We live in gated communities or “gentrifying” neighborhoods, trying to separate ourselves as much as possible, but in Miami it’s so in your face. You literally have homeless encampments across the street from million-dollar condos. After spending time in the city, Miami felt like the perfect setting to explore a modern-day take on a play about wealth, class and power in 2019 America.

OT: What was most difficult when creating Queen of Basel?
HB: [August] Strindberg. Full stop. Aside from the original Miss Julie written as a total fever dream with messy internal logic and structure, which made trying to build a plot complicated, I fundamentally disagree with Strindberg’s view of humanity. He viewed women through the Madonna-whore lens. He believed “white” male sexuality is the epitome of strength. In his author’s preface Strindberg says, “Miss Julie is a modern character. Not that the man-hating half-woman has not existed in all ages but because now that she has been discovered, she has come out in the open to make herself heard.” And, “Jean is superior to Miss Julie because he is a man. Sexually, he is an aristocrat because of his masculine strength.” And, in his reference to Kristine (who he calls the “female slave”), “if my minor characters seem abstract, it is because ordinary people are abstract in their occupations.”

I believe ordinary people are unique, complicated and deserving of dignity. I believe sexuality female or male – doesn’t define the character or value of a human being. I believe men are capable of vulnerability and gentleness. I believe women are capable of strength and intellectual ideas. I believe people are equal in their flaws, their need for intimacy and love, their desire to be seen and valued. I believe choice comes out of circumstances. If we can understand the reality of a person’s life, we can find empathy – especially in the darkness.

OT: What will audiences discover or re-contemplate about race and power through Queen of Basel?
HB: The responses to the play have been utterly fascinating. People either love it or don’t know how to process it. The play really digs into the fluidity and messiness and ambiguity of privilege. All of these characters have power in some ways and are oppressed in other ways. They’re all victims and perpetrators. The play is designed to make an audience uncomfortable. My hope is that discomfort sparks conversation.

OT: Why the Latinx influence?
HB: I’m Latinx – my mother is Chicana – so everything I write tends to be through that lens. I was commissioned to write a bilingual adaptation for a Miami audience – so embracing Cuban, Venezuelan, Haitian [and] Colombian communities felt necessary. I also think America tends to think of Latinx as a monolithic culture; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Imperialism, slavery, Jewish people fleeing Hitler, genocide against natives, dictators, death squads funded by the U.S. and the empires built on that heritage – also plagues much of Latin America. I wanted an audience to see the nuance and diversity of communities within Latinidad.

OT: How did you and José Zayas get connected and how has it been working with him on this project?
HB: José is my theater soulmate. We’ve know of each other for a few years now, always wanting to work together, but the timing was never right. We finally got to work together at the Alley Theatre’s All New Festival last January on this play. We connected and got each other right away. He understands my voice and what I’m really after in my work and he challenges me to dig deeper, he never lets me settle. He’s really an actor’s director who knows how to make everyone feel empowered.

OT: What did you learn or discover during your creative process?
HB: So, so, so much, I was literally rewriting up until opening. This play is an actor’s play – three people in a room for 75 minutes bearing their souls and flaws and vulnerabilities – I really wanted the cast to have a point of view and a voice in our entire process. We had a lot of conversations about power, gender, race [and] how we navigate that onstage. How we portray these people with empathy, while remaining honest about their flaws.

But what’s fascinating is how Julie’s wealth sort of erases everything else about her. Audience’s are much more likely to forgive John and Christine than Julie, even though Julie is in just as much pain and turmoil.

OT: How has the current immigration conflict impacted your storytelling in Queen of Basel?HB: Immigration is something I write about in almost all of my work. The history of America is the history of immigration, and each generation has its immigrant story. Because I set out to write for a Miami audience, understanding the conflict in Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba and Baby Doc’s Haiti were vital to understanding the very fabric of Miami. Michel Hausmann, who commissioned this, is a Venezuelan ex-pat who fled the country after his theater was tear-gassed by [Hugo] Chavez. His family were Jewish refugees fleeing their homeland. The cycles of oppression, how we wield it in small and large ways, is the spine of this play.

OT: Aside from Strindberg, where else did you draw inspiration for this story?
HB: Certainly my own life. I’m mixed, white and Mexican, so I often struggle with where I fit in the world. All three characters are juggling multiple identities, so that part is very visceral and personal. And I’m a woman, so misogyny is personal. All of my collaborators have inspired me.

Queen of Basel is showing at the Studio Theatre through April 7.  Tickets are $20-$97, and available here.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Photo: Ryan Scherb

Amanda Gookin Discusses Forward Music Project

Classical music is not generally associated with political activism, but that’s what Amanda Gookin hopes to change with her Forward Music Project at the Dupont Underground. The project presented by National Sawdust Projects is a part of Kennedy Center’s ongoing DIRECT CURRENT programming celebrating contemporary music. Removing the stuffy connotations of classical music, Forward Music Project seeks to make the genre more accessible and use it as a force for good. Commissioning works from all-female composers, Gookin incorporates music, storytelling, chanting, staging effects and projection art to create a stimulating and immersive experience.

On Tap: Can you tell me about the Forward Music Project and how it came to be?
Amanda Gookin: At the end 2015, I started to incubate the idea of commissioning work by women for solo cello. Women are very sorely underrepresented in classical and contemporary programs, and I just wanted to do my part in helping to contribute [a] new repertoire that could get out there and be performed more often. I also started to ask myself the question of involving identity politics in music and why we don’t use classical music as a platform more often to speak out about human issues, social justice and political issues. I always felt that in music programing, we were conservative and not really taking those kinds of risks. So, as somebody who is very dedicated to social justice and women’s issues and gender issues, and those who might not fall into the binary, I wanted to give a platform for women to not only write music, but also to use it as an opportunity to share their personal story or to highlight an issue they thought was important to them.

OT: What can people expect to see at your performance at the Dupont Underground?
AG: At the Dupont Underground, I will be performing the first iteration of Forward Music Project. It’s a commission project that is ongoing. In the first year, I commissioned seven works and along with that is projection art created by Katy Tucker, who is my collaborator. I will be performing those seven pieces that were in the original show that premiered at National Sawdust in March 2017.

OT: Forward Music Project aims to use classical music as a means of political activism. What kinds of issues do you focus on on?
AG: I think the project is really centered around issues of women and girls, although it is expanding to those who engage with femininity. I would say the pieces, in one form or another, tackle issues of women or girls. Some of the women wrote stories that are very personal to them about their family heritage or being assaulted. Others shared stories that they did not relate to directly, but felt were very important to bring to the table such as sex trafficking and child marriage.

OT: In your TEDx Talk, you mentioned a lack of diversity and a sense of elitism that is present in classical music. Do you think that is changing?
AG: It’s slowly changing. I think the rate at which things are charging is very slow for where we would want to be at this point. A very low percentage of American orchestras are comprised of black and latino musicians. If we consider conductors, an even smaller percentage are people of color or women. So, it is still true that there is a very low representation of diversity in our orchestras. In my TEDx Talk, I was referring to your typical classical music audience. When you conjure an image like that, to me, I conjure an image that is primarily white and privileged. If you go to a great hall, the tickets in the front row are extremely expensive, and just by shear cost, it already signifies that only a certain type of person can sit in these rows.

OT: Your style is far from traditional. You chant, play cello, and incorporate digital elements into your performance. How did discover your unique approach?
AG: I think that was an organic process. I’d always been interested in the avante garde, and I’d always been interested in pushing boundaries. I grew up in a pretty conservative environment, and I was always considered the subversive one, even though I was wearing pearls, khaki and such. There was something edgy that needed to come out. As I started my professional career, I was lost in terms of what I wanted to do. I got into the Mannes School of Music, which is a really great conservatory in New York City. When you graduate from a conservatory, you feel like you have three tracks: you can be an orchestral musician, a teacher or a soloist. I felt like I was destined to do something really different and so I started to experiment a little bit. I saw an ad that was looking for a female violinist or a string player to compose and perform music for an all-female Romeo and Juliet production. So I responded to the ad and met with the director and they hired me. I had to figure out how to write music and how to improvise. That led to writing music for even more plays, and I just kept going. I had to create modern sounds and I was getting experimental with objects to create sounds and other percussion instruments so it wasn’t just me with the cello. I had a tambourine at my foot, a symbol next to me, I had bells, I had bottles that I would scrape.

OT: Have you ever received backlash from classical music purists about your style?
AG: Oh yeah, for sure. I really haven’t received any backlash about my style per se because there’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of contemporary music. I’ve seen some performances that are even way beyond what I’m doing. I think from a musical standpoint I haven’t received much backlash. I have mostly received backlash about content. Some people have pushed back against classical music or any sort of performance music art classical instrument being political – that we should just perform music for music’s sake, which I think is beautiful too. I don’t always perform music that is heavy handed in social justice, but when I’m very outspoken about it, that’s when some people start to get uncomfortable.

OT: What do you want your audience to take away from this project?
AG: Well, everyone is different and I feel like this conjures a wide range of emotional responses. It depends on how the person is entering into the performance. If it’s somebody who identifies with some of the content of the pieces, I hope that it’s a hand that reaches out and says, “I hear you and I’m here for you. You’re heard and understood. This is a safe space.” If it’s somebody who is super into feminist ideology, I hope they would feel even more empowered to go forward and do more good work. For somebody who may be skeptical, I would hope that they would at least have an open mind and hear the music and maybe begin to think about things they hadn’t considered before. I feel a lot of my project is about planting seeds. While I do receive a lot of great feedback in the moment, I do hope that it has a longer-lasting effect on the listeners.

Check out Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project at Dupont Underground on March 29 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available here. Learn more about Forward Music Project here.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir NW, DC; 202-846-1474; www.dupontunderground.org

Photo: Michael Coleman

DC Locals Gather at WeDC House in Austin

On the opening weekend of Austin, Texas’ international musical extravaganza known as SXSW, DC was definitely in the house – the WeDC House.

Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.

The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.

Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.

“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”

While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”

After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.

“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”

While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.

“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”

Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin

Photo: Silvia Grav

Review: Cass McCombs Channels Laurel Canyon and New Wave at Union Stage

To be honest, Cass McCombs’ voice struck as somewhat rough when he began to sing on March 4 at Union Stage. Despite the start, he proceeded to sing for two hours and everyone loved it.

McCombs is touring the February 8 release of his latest and ninth record Tip of the Sphere, a nonsense pun on “tip of the spear,” (because, as you know, spheres are rounded on all sides.)

The music is just as opaque as the title. Like Jonathan Wilson’s sound, the record channels a Laurel Canyon-psych quality, only McCombs’ take is even spacier. It’s music that gives you space to imagine.

For instance, “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is an Americana song that stomps and cuts right through the space of the others on the record, like “Estrella.” And he wasted no time, playing “Pixley” second in the set.

Another similarity to Jonathan Wilson, McCombs was playing with the same bass player I saw touring with Wilson this time last year, Dan Horne. Horne looks like a guy displaced from the 70s: shoulder length a hair, stache, oversized retro frames. He’s someone you couldn’t imagine anywhere but onstage.

Because McCombs has been making music for years, after a few songs off of Tip of the Sphere he moved into tracks off of earlier records like Mangy Love (2016) and Big Wheel and Others (2013). Here, a New Wave/Talking Heads influence came through. McCombs’ David Byrne style haircut didn’t hurt that read either. Frank LoCrasto, McCombs’ keyboard player, especially shined on this portion of the show.

At first I took LoCrasto with his red shirt and brown felt hat for a Mountie. But once he got to playing, I found myself craning my neck looking for Greg Phillinganes.

Sam Evian, a Brooklyn-based artist and producer, (who actually engineered Tip of the Sphere), opened for McCombs. His song “Need You,” a song that shines like the sun on 35mm film, may have been my favorite from the night, but some of his best moments came when he was playing alongside McCombs.

Evian took up a saxophone and soloed on McCombs’ track “The Burning of the Temple, 2012.” A descending bass line on the turnaround provides a spooky quality that fit Evian’s Jack Skeleton t-shirt.

As McCombs watched Evian squeal and bop, you got the sense of a blessing being conferred or a torch being passed on. I’m excited to see what Evian produces in the years to come.

Listen to both McCombs and Evian on Spotify or wherever you get your music.  For more information about the two artists, follow them on Instagram @cassmccombs and @sam.evian.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: Gian Di Stefano

Kristin Chenoweth Brings Wicked Fun to Strathmore

They say good things come in small packages, and 4-foot-11 dynamo Kristin Chenoweth is a living example that the phrase applies to performers as well. Known for her incredible singing on Broadway, her quirky character roles in movies and on TV, and her oodles of charm in just about every performance she’s ever done, Chenoweth is beloved by people of all ages.

She won a Tony for her performance as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999, though she’s best-known for her renowned run as Glinda in the Broadway smash Wicked. Other memorable runs on the Great White Way include roles in The Apple Tree, On the Twentieth Century and Promises, Promises. And there’s no role she hasn’t made a lasting impression with on-screen, from West Wing to Trial & Error to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done and have been blessed with some amazing roles,” Chenoweth says. “The critics have always enjoyed these choices and that makes me understand I am on the same planet as everyone else. I know what I think is tasteful and funny and good, and that always seems to line up with them and that makes me happy.”

A veteran of the concert stage, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actress will perform at Strathmore on April 8 with a show any Broadway fan is sure to love.

“This concert is timed really well because my new album will be coming out around Mother’s Day, and I would like to start bringing some songs from that to my shows,” she says. “I don’t have a title yet, but I keep calling it For the Girls. It’s my way of giving myself permission to sing other women artists whose work has inspired me and changed my life musically.”

That means songs from performers like Dinah Washington, Judy Garland, Dolly Parton and Eva Cassidy.

“It’s really going to be a celebration of women. It’s important for me to recognize singer-songwriters like Chely Wright – who is a giant in the country music industry – and there’s an original song I wrote with her that I am excited to play for people.”

There’s a big part of Chenoweth, she says, that wants to be a mentor to younger audiences and teach them about some of these songs and singers who they may not be familiar with. It’s something she realized while doing an episode of Glee.

“Ryan Murphy had me sing ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret, and I just assumed everyone knew that song. But so many people reached out to me on social media asking where the song came from. I just died because these kids don’t know. I want to let them know who came before me and even some who may be younger than I. Just because you like one certain type of music doesn’t mean you can’t research and learn to appreciate others.”

Her concert will also include plenty of Broadway tunes, jazz standards, gospel songs and even opera, plus tunes from her previous release of American Songbook classics The Art of Elegance.

“Of course I’m going to sing ‘Popular’ and some songs that I will never not sing because it’s part of my DNA, but I want to make it a new show every time,” she says.

Another song that’s sure to be on the set list is “Taylor, the Latte Boy” written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, which tells the humorous tale of a woman who falls for her barista at Starbucks.

“I was a young Kristin Chenoweth doing Steel Pier at the time [in 1997] and there was a performance honoring Kander and Ebb [a famous songwriting team], and someone handed me this music. Marcy and Zina told me they had been writing the song with me in mind. I was so nervous because the show was the next day and it’s not a short song. I spent the rest of the night learning it, and as I did, I realized this is totally me. I sang it that night and wow, did it go over.”

Soon after, she sang the song on The Rosie O’Donnell Show and it’s been a staple of her performances ever since.

“As artists, we have to recognize and understand that when we don’t sing songs like this, it’s a let down to the audience. I know that because I once saw Barbra Streisand live and she didn’t sing ‘People.’ I learned a lot there.”

The singer is very familiar with Strathmore, having starred in the Music Center’s groundbreaking I am Anne Hutchinson/I am Harvey Milk production in 2016. Currently, she doesn’t have any concrete plans to go back on Broadway. But last October, Chenoweth and her original Wicked costar Idina Menzel reunited for the NBC special A Very Wicked Halloween, and the duo’s magic was reignited on an astounding version of the show’s “For Good.” She has a few things in the fire for 2019 and is looking forward to touring at concert venues around the country when not filming any TV projects.

“Currently, I’m in development season and there are three ideas I have that three different writers have put a treatment to. I’ve fallen in love with all of them, so I do believe I will be doing something new on television soon. I’d rather do something that is me and my taste. I’m always going to choose and do something a little offbeat. That’s who I am.”

A lesson she says she’s been learning over and over in the past year is not being so serious and just enjoying the moment. Last fall, she traveled to Italy and sang a duet with Andrea Bocelli to a pretty famous audience and screwed up a song. She stopped and started over and then just messed up again and decided to cut to the end.

“People were loving it. It reminds you that life isn’t always perfect and in some ways that was my favorite moment of the trip. I am a perfectionist and I can get myself wound up pretty high. I had to laugh, and I did. Sometimes that happens in concerts and I may forget a word and I’ll point it out. I like using those moments to show I am not a robot. I am not autotuned. I am an artist who is real and authentic.”

She promises that people who don’t know who she is when they come in the door at Strathmore will know who she is when they leave.

“I want people to come to this show and be in the moment and enjoy themselves. It’s a treat you give yourself when you do that. We think we’re doing the right thing when we’re worrying about something, but I want people to put all that aside and just go with me on this journey. It will be an extraordinary, fun night.”

Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Strathmore on Monday, April 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $78 and are available at www.strathmore.org.

Learn more about Chenoweth at www.officialkristinchenoweth.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kchenoweth.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org

Photo: Courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United Forges a Distinct Identity

“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” is an axiom my seventh grade science teacher once taught me. It was basically a grim way of saying, “Close don’t cut it,” and it’s a refrain that D.C. United may hear in 2019.

After a demoralizing loss in penalty kicks to Columbus Crew SC left D.C. United short of the MLS Cup semifinals in 2018, one has to consider whether or not to look at the season on the whole as a success.

“Our run ended a little bit short, but that’s playoffs,” midfielder Russell Canouse says. “You lose in penalty kicks – it’s frustrating. I felt, and I know everyone else felt, that we could’ve went to the MLS Cup last year. It just didn’t feel right when the season ended against Columbus that early. I don’t think anyone was thinking that was going to be our exit.”

Canouse’s faith in his team has plenty of merit. The club went undefeated in its final 10 games, lifting them to a winning regular season record and securing them a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Even in the playoff loss, the team seemed to pull yet another rabbit out of their hat when they tied the game at 2-2 in the 116th minute to force the fateful penalties.

Granted, a favorable string of home games at the end of the year – 16 of the final 21 games were played at Audi Field – likely provided an unusual advantage amid the stunning comeback. But one could argue that over the course of the season, D.C. United’s absurd, lopsided schedule represented a negative sum.

“Being able to open up at home with a similar core group that we had to finish last season is going to be great for us,” says center back Steve Birnbaum, highlighting a welcome return to normalcy in the team’s schedule. “We have that confidence or swagger leading into the season because we know we have the pieces to succeed.”

Canouse is an important one of those pieces, and his ability to stay on the pitch will be vital. In 2018, he only appeared in 20 games because of a knee injury. This followed an abbreviated 2017 season in which he only appeared in the second half as a late-season addition from Germany.

“2017 was obviously a little flawed,” Canouse says. “I came in in August. There were only 10 games left to play and I started all 10. The ideal situation would be to play all 34 games.”

His presence will be even more magnified after his experience with the U.S. National team during its training camp this winter. A full season from Canouse could pay dividends for D.C. United while boosting his chances of being considered for a spot on the 2022 U.S. Men’s World Cup team.

But to make a run at the MLS Cup, it will take a concerted team effort. Part of unifying a team and optimizing its skills is to administer a sound strategy; following a season that ended in heartbreak, changes to the club’s strategy were inevitable.

“We’re going to play a little bit more out of the back this year,” Birnbaum says. “I think we want to be a more possession-based team. We did that toward the tail end of the season last year. We’re building upon that, and kind of creating a new style of play.”

He adds that box defending, a strength of the team in 2018, will be crucial to repeat this season.

“I think that’s a major factor in creating shutouts and making us hard to score on,” Birnbaum continues. “That’s one of the things that I try and focus on a lot throughout the year. We have a motto: to be the first contact to the ball in the box. The most important thing for us is getting the ball out of the box and away from danger.”

Though Birnbaum’s comments suggest a more defensive approach, Canouse expects an aggressive identity to characterize the group’s play on the field.

“Play a little more aggressive out of the back,” he says. “But also manage it the same way.”

Birnbaum says the game management aspect of D.C. United’s strategy looks promising.

“The preseason has been encouraging so far,” Birnbaum says. “When we played against Cincinnati, we kind of dictated the game. We’re controlling the game with our possession, which is encouraging for us because it makes us not have to defend as much, and that makes my job easier.”

Although possession will be a heavy emphasis, the job could be made even easier by the attacking unit’s resurgence, which again features the legendary Wayne Rooney, who led the team with 12 goals last year despite only starting 18 games. D.C. United finished the season sixth in the league in goals scored with 60, and they were efficient with their attempts. The team attempted the fourth fewest shots of any team in MLS with 396. That’s the sort of quality that will attract fans to every game and fill Audi Field during its first full season.

“I think they can expect some exciting soccer from us,” Birnbaum says of the fans. “I think that we’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of creative stuff. Our front, attacking guys are really special.”

If the team as a whole can prove to be on target too, they might not have to settle for a game of horseshoes come late November.

D.C. United opens its 2019 season on Sunday, March 3 at 6 p.m. against Atlanta United FC. For ticket information, visit www.dcunited.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.audifielddc.com