Photo: Joshua Goodrich

The Mayor’s Arts Awards Honors Local Talent

The Mayor’s Arts Awards is a ceremony to celebrate the art community in Washington, DC. It aims to honor how art makes DC come to life. This was the 34th annual award ceremony, and many passionate members of the DC art community attended.

At Dock5, staff served drinks and hors d’oeuvres while people mingled among each other. A trio played their string instruments, and when they took a pause, nearby speakers played popular songs. The clock struck seven, the doors closed, people took their seats, and the ceremony officially began.

This event is similar to the People’s Choice Awards in that residents had a chance to vote for the winner. Those impacted by the art community have the opportunity to recognize artists for their contributions to DC. People had until November 1st to register an account, start an entry and cast a vote. Categories included visual arts, performance arts, creative industries, arts education, humanities and the Larry Neal Writers’ Award (Youth and Adult).  

Multiple local stars hosted and performed during the event. Some notable local figures include Allison Seymour, Marc Clarke, Paul Wharton, Jason Cerda, Be’la Dona, and Riley Knoxx performing as Beyoncé.

Mayor Bowser stood on the stage, poised and ready to announce the winner of the Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor. She reflected on the Mayor’s Arts Awards themselves.

“Tonight, we celebrate the District’s arts and creative communities and their tremendous impact on our city. And we are very happy tonight to be celebrating arts and creatives right here in our Ward 5… Tonight we celebrate artists and makers who dedicate themselves to developing their talents and sharing their gifts with our community. Whether it is sports or the arts, we are indeed the district of champions,” Bowser said. 

The award for Distinguished Honor ultimately went to Andy Shallal, who found and owns Busboys and Poets, a self-described space to inspire social change and transform the community. Another notable winner included Xemiyulu Tapepchul. Tapepchul is a transgender woman from El Salvador and a Nawat language student. As a member of the art community, people acknowledge her as an accomplished actor, playwright, author, model, and educator. Tapepchul won the Larry Neal Writer’s Award. This award honors an individual whose work has beneficially contributed to DC.

“I want to say thank you to the art community. I want to say thank you to the trans community. I want to say thank you to all the people here tonight,” Tapechul said, and quickly added, “Language justice is important!”

The audience was also full of members of the art community. Dionne Eleby, of Step Afrika!, a professional step troop, had a few thoughts when the Kennedy Center won the award for visionary leadership.

“Everyone knows the Kennedy Center. The winner should be an arts organization that serves the community, including theater and dance. Help them get their feet off the ground,” Eleby commented. 

While the event managed to bring people together members of the art community, many expressed wishes for more advertisement around the awards, especially with regard to how an event of this nature could give the art community more exposure. However, many attendees claimed that they enjoyed their time and would return for the next year’s award show.

Congratulations to the winners. If you want to learn about all the winners, click the following links: Andy Shallal, Vernard Gray, DC Scores, The Content Farm, Models Inc. Performing Organization, Katie Burk, Ian Callender, Herta Feely, Marc Barnes, The Kennedy Center, Marco Kay Photography, and Xemiyulu Tapepechul. For More on the 34th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards, visit and follow Mayor Bowser on social media.

Dock5: 1309 5th St. NE; 301-347-3998;



Photo: courtesy of The Arctic Refuge Experience

A Story of Beauty and Hope: The Arctic Refuge Experience Comes to DC

Adventurers, explorers and friends of the outdoors, pull out your maps and point to where the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is. If you are not sure where to find it, your GPS should steer you toward Northeastern Alaska.

However, hold off from strapping your hiking boots, because for a limited time you won’t have to leave DC for a chance to experience the refuge. From November 8-11, The Arctic Refuge Experience. Step in. Step Up. is taking over the AutoShop near Union Market to provide a 4-D sensory art installation, with a look and feel that mirrors a walk through the Alaskan wildlife safe-haven. The exhibit is presented by The Wilderness Society and the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in conjunction with the Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition. 

This opportunity is something you do not want to miss out on because the ANWR, naturally, is difficult to visit. Every year only 5,000 people manage to make the trek, making this exhibit a can’t miss opportunity for both art lovers, people invested in environmental issues and even people who work on projects directly related to the refuge. 

“It is incredibly difficult to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” says Edit Ruano, the director of regional communications strategy for The Wilderness Society. “So difficult that I, who, have worked on protecting the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, actually have never been.”

Upon entry, explorers will reach a threshold where the ground beneath you will suddenly change from the DC streets to the arctic tundra. Thanks to dozens of filmmakers and visitor testimony, you will see the region teeming with life through video and artistic recreations. Ruano and other team members wanted make the experience feel authentic, including the Gwich’in community.

“The Gwich’in are an indigenous community who rely on the Arctic Refuge for their way of life,” she says. “We had the head of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Bernadette Demientieff, in New York, [where] we got to share the video of the experience with her and the council members, and they told us that it felt like being home. We teleported them home [from] New York. For us, that was the biggest compliment we could have received.” 

This 4D experience allows you to feel the arctic wind brush against you and even provides smells of the land. One of Ruano’s favorite experiences was when the wildlife surrounded her. Its artistic qualities not withstanding, the Arctic Refuge Experience also has a deeper purpose as this exhibit demonstrates how this beautiful land is in danger because of oil and gas drilling. 

While the Arctic Refuge Experience is designed to warn and inspire everyone, Ruano and her team spent a year designing it because of the urgency regarding the situation.

“Oil and gas companies and the administration have been trying to fast-track, and expedite sales of the Arctic Refuge ever since the 2017 Tax Act, which included a hidden provision opening up the refuge to oil and gas drilling,” she says. “Since then, they have been expediting the scientific review process, and not doing the due diligence and listening to the voices of people who know about the refuge.”

The experience is a story that shows the beautiful land, the villains, but also the heroes working to save it. This is a tale full of hope and serves as evidence of people working collectively to take action. By attending, you can help take action too, as there are physical phones on location that will empower you to call key individuals and leave voicemails wherein you can express your opinions. During the exhibit’s stop in New York, they managed to get 1100 voicemails declaring that the ANWR is too precious to drill.

Visitors will also become “shareholders” in the No Waaay Corp., the first-ever collective action corporation created with the intention of stopping “ big oil” from harming public lands.

Hopefully, The Arctic Refuge Experience will bring out your inner activist. With climate change constantly in the news, this exhibit hopes to truly connect and engage. This immersive experience is on the first leg of its tour, and Ruano wants to expand and reach other areas so the young people can make their voices heard. “We’re hoping that this that activism happens across the US: In red, blue and purple states alike.”

Though you do not need to be politically active to enjoy this one of a kind experience, the exhibit serves as an opportunity to see the beauty of a difficult place to physically explore, with grander designs to inspire you to protect it. All net proceeds will go to the Gwich’in Steering Committee and Gwich’in Youth Council. 

For more information about the exhibit, visit here.

AutoShop: 416 Morse St. NE, DC;

Drew Valins on the right // Photo: Michael Yeshion Photography

Iconic Character Vaněk Unleashed In The Havel Project

When I think of underground theatre, I think of gritty, non-glamorous shows waiting to be found. However, Alliance for New Music-Theatre is set to take ‘underground’ to the next level with their upcoming performances of Václav Havel’s Protest and Susan Galbraith’s Vaněk Unleashed. Their venue of choice – Dupont Underground, an abandoned streetcar station beneath Dupont Circle.

The first play of this double bill criticizes the communist regime that blanketed Czechoslovakia in 1948. Vaněk Unleashed then further develops Vaněk, a character from Protest, by giving him a voice in this spin-off, “absurdist musical fantasy.”
Drew Valins will portray Vaněk, as he transforms from a silent presence in Protest to a fully formed being in Vaněk Unleashed.

“[He] barely speaks. He’s very shy, so he doesn’t really step on toes,” Valins says. “[Galbraith] created a way to unleash Vaněk.”

Both plays concern themselves with communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, but Valins believes these shows are relevant to American audiences.

“When we started back in 2013, we felt like we kind of had to stretch to understand what it might be like to live in a totalitarian regime because that’s what these plays deal with,” he says. Over time, though, Valins realized that Havel’s plays continue to relate to America’s political climate.

Valins thinks of America as a country of division.

“People are suspicious of one another,” he continues. “No one really knows where to go for answers and that’s exactly the kind of world that Havel was writing about.”

From talking to Valins, I imagine the DC audience might see glimpses of themselves in these performances that will resonate in unexpected ways.

These performances will stand side by side, but their cultural influences seem entirely different. Valins describes Vaněk Unleashed as an “American response” to Czech theatre. For instance, in Protest Vaněk is a more emotionally reserved character, but in the spin-off it mirrors American theatre’s ability to dig underneath the silent character’s reserved exterior.

Havel’s plays were originally performed as “apartment performances” to deflect attention from his communist-ruled country, and the Alliance for New Music-Theater will attempt to mimic those hideaway performances in the Dupont Underground.

“We love the fact that its underground because Havel’s plays had to go underground or under the radar,” Valins says.

By meshing two cultures and honoring the original stagings, the Alliance for New Music-Theater has committed to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and politically significant artists like Havel. Audiences will also witness a plethora of emotions onstage, in addition to various cultural influences, which is Valins’ favorite aspect of the production.

“I’m really excited about that fact that I get to sing. This character, Vaněk— the last thing you would expect him to do is sing. In Vaněk Unleashed, I get to go through every single human emotion. I get to go through joy, fear, anger. I break out in song. I dance. So it’s just a lot of joy. Ironically, that all happens while I’m in prison,” Valins says.

These performances deal with heavy issues, but as pieces of absurdist theatre, audience members are sure to be stunned by unexpected nuances.

If Valins could speak with Havel, he has a few things he would mention to the playwright. His message is poetic, meaningful, and quite fun, which I imagine is a precursor to his performance as Vaněk.

“Mr. Havel, you’re a terrible dancer, but thank you so much for your spirit. You’re a real inspiration in the way you hold yourself and enjoy life under pressure. And you’re just a cool person that I wish I could’ve known and rolled a cigarette with and had a smoke with. I wish you could see our stuff, and I think you would dig it.”

Valins’ passion for the upcoming performances makes me want to dive into the world of Havel that these actors will prepare for their audience – regardless of the playwright’s inability to dance.

“Havel wasn’t as concerned with artificial professionalism. He was concerned with enjoying the work, so [the cast and crew] puts in that spirit.”

New Music Theater will host performances of Protest and Vaněk Unleashed through November 17. All shows are presented by Alliance for New Music-Theatre in partnership with the Embassy of the Czech Republic. For more information on showtimes or ticket prices, visit here.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir. NW, DC;

Ladygod's Skye Handler // Photo - courtesy of Ladygod

Ladygod Reclaims Loserdom and Forges Own Path Through Rock ‘n’ Roll

In the hour-and-a half I sit with local rock ‘n’ rollers Ladygod at Union Market, we cover a plethora of topics over iced coffee and waffle fries – most of which I did not expect to delve into, but am fascinated to hear their take on nonetheless. Such topics broached include a shared dislike of the Star Wars franchise and The Big Bang Theory (sorry, respective nerds), sexuality as a vehicle to sell records, and why they aren’t the biggest band in the world.

The latter might sound like a self-important question for an artist to ask, but when guitarist and vocalist Skye Handler poses it towards the tail end of our conversation, I realize he has a point. Few bands are as connected or honest in their lifetime as these four are in the evening I spend with them.

Handler, along with bassist Kate Rears Burgman, guitarist Kelly Queener and drummer Seth Petersen – whose collective roots span DC, Maryland and Richmond – make music heavily inspired by the early, free-form days of rock ‘n’ roll. When discussing influences, Richmond-based indie rockers Sparklehorse and pretty much anything rock pioneer and icon Lou Reed had a hand in come up – not just in sound, but in attitude.

Though all from different backgrounds – and as I noticed during our chat, very different personalities – they are connected in their self-proclaimed “loserdom” and more importantly, a reclamation of that label through music.

“You’d sit there and get beat up and tortured in f–king high school, and you’d go home and put those records on,” Handler says of their shared influences. “And you were like, ‘Alright, yeah, I’m a f–king loser right now. I get that. But one day, I’m going to keep doing the same thing and I’m going to figure out how to own being a loser.’ And that’s what I would hear in these records. There is always a way out from whatever the bro culture is at the time, which is usually dumb.”

Bergman and Queener echo this sentiment through their own perspectives. Petersen nods from his seat at the table.

“It’s the shared experience of being a f–king loser and listening to music and writing music as an escape from feeling like a f–king loser,” Bergman says.

Queener adds: “Or an outsider, or however you want to put it. Rock ‘n’ roll gives you permission to just be who you are and not worry about anyone else. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is actually fun.’ It’s freedom.”

Handler jumps back in, noting instances when he has challenged peers about who they are creating art for: “A loser or the people that were being f—king jerks to you?”

“That’s probably what your expectation is, and you need to get rid of that,” Handler continues. “If you make music like that, you’ll never be making music to your fullest potential, you know? And you just don’t know how good you can be [until] you give yourself a chance.”

Petersen circles them back to their influences, adding, “There’s so much you can do with little, and I think that’s what Lou Reed did. That definitely bleeds through Ladygod’s shit, too. I definitely remember picking up The Velvet Underground & Nico [album] and being like, ‘This is so strange and f–king beautiful.’ I mean, I definitely rejected it at first. I was like, ‘The f–k is this?’ But those things grow on you.”

Their collective candor and willingness to forge their own path does harken back to Handler’s question of why they aren’t the next big thing. It’s a hypothetical at best, but Ladygod seems to be at a similar intersection to Reed and The Velvet Unerground: toeing the line of grandiose popularity while not fully selling out, and connecting with audiences who see themselves in Ladygod while also reaching broader audiences who may not feel how they feel.

The world could use more of that honesty, and the losers of the world could use more connectivity. The group keeps a similarly honest ethos when discussing their live performances, but also notes how a Ladygod show and a Ladygod album are two entirely separate experiences.

“They’re two different things with the same core,” Handler explains. “It’s really just like anything else. Everything you do in your bedroom, you go outside and it’s different.
“Well, maybe for you,” Bergman adds with a laugh.

“I look at it like this,” Handler continues. “As long as everybody’s feeling good, we’re going to gracefully fall down this mountain together. Am I going to get to the bottom? I don’t know. But we know what the chords are. We know what it’s supposed to sound like. I’m sure there’ll be a left turn or a tree down that we’re not expecting, and we’ll just hop over it.”

If you’re interested in gracefully falling down a mountain with them or communing with a group of losers turning to music and each other, you can catch them at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan on December 15 with Skyline Hotel and Maddie Mae. Listen to their latest album, Trash Medium, here:

Songbyrd Record Café and Music House: 2475-2477 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917;

Christine Lilyea, Alyssa Bell and Jack Inslee // Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.

Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.

The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.


On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.

OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?

Jack: Oh!
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.


Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
[All laugh]
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.


OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
[All laugh]
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.

OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.


OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.

OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.

Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC

Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC;

Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC;

Rick Irby // Photo: Rob Stokes

Behind the Scenes with Local Industry Insiders

It takes tons of people to galvanize and make music happen, both on the stage and in the background, and we let some of these local music industry professionals tell us all about their roles and responsibilities when set time rolls around.

Angelie Benn, Founder of Capitol Sound DC

Angelie Benn // Photo:

For a high school audiophile, it’s hard to rack up the cash needed for your concertgoing desires, but Angelie Benn found a loophole. To supplement her need for live music, Benn started local music blog Capitol Sound DC, a digital haven for interviews, reviews and photography. Since its inception in 2014, Benn has evolved the site and for our Local Music Issue, we spoke to Benn about blog, her role in the scene and how it’s changed.

On Tap: How embedded were you in the DC music scene pre-blog?
Angelie Benn: I basically started this blog in high school in 2014 because I wanted to go to concerts. I had no idea what I was doing, but eventually I ended up going to a lot of local shows. I met a lot of people who were making music too – collectives and bands. I started going to the local DIY shows and stuff. Then I got involved with the community from there.

OT: What kinds of things did you learn through the blog?
AB: When I started throwing shows for the blog, I was very inspired by Chicago’s garage rock DIY scene but found that DC’s [was] more experimental. DIY in DC is mostly black experimental artists ranging from jazz [and] hip-hop to electronic.

OT: What did you think it would cover, and how did that change?
AB: Well, at first with the writing, it was my scope. I did it because I couldn’t afford to go to concerts, so I was writing whatever I wanted to write about. It was hella fan girl stuff. When I started to grow, I realized I had a community I was committed to, so it has changed.

OT: What about your own promoted shows? What kinds of things do you think about as a curator?
AB: I try to include queer people and LBGTQ people. It’s important to make that statement. Shout-out to Songbyrd because they’re very inclusive. A lot of other venues are bland, so my intention is to shed a light on people who are underrepresented.

OT: How important do you think blogs like this are for the DC music community?
AB: I feel like people really look forward to the things we do. We try to cover underrepresented groups of people, so they have that outlet and a place to build community. I think that’s what we hear a lot: that we cultivate a place to come and have their voices heard.

OT: As a person who has a wide view of the local music scene, what do you think the state of it is?
AB: Over the last two or three years booking shows, we’ve cultivated that community. To me, the DC music scene looks so much different than what it was five years ago. I don’t feel like it’s peaking, but it’s getting close.

Check out Capitol Sound DC at

Antonio Hernandez, Documentarian and DJ

Antonio Hernandez // Photo courtesy of Antonio Hernandez

You don’t necessarily need to be a musician to be an integral part of the music scene. For Antonio Hernandez, also known as Electric Llama, his main tool is his camera. From short web videos to full-blown documentaries, Hernandez uses visual storytelling to capture the essence of some of DC and Baltimore’s brightest stars. We spoke with Hernandez about his series and process.

On Tap: What does your current work in the DC music scene encompass?
Antonio Hernandez: The main thing is Indelible, a documentary project. It encompasses web shorts of artists [and] curators. Every time I show the film, I recut it because I’m continuously working it out. I’ve been filming a lot.

OT: You also blog with interviews and reviews, right?
AH: I basically started in blogging in my off time. [This] started about five or six years ago. I also had a short web series called Garnish where I interviewed artists and other performers as well.

OT: Why do you think it’s such an interesting subject to emphasize in your projects?
AH: I think because it’s so diverse. There are so many artists who are taking their artistry into their own hands. Before, there weren’t the tools like social media, Spotify [and] Bandcamp. Those weren’t prevalent 10 years ago. Now people are making music and connecting with people. Whether it be established venues like Songbyrd and 9:30 Club or house and pop-up shows at places like Dwell.

OT: What’s the decision process for who your films follow?
AH: A lot of [them] are artists that I know or find through lineups. If there’s an artist I know on a show, they’ll introduce me to three or four other artists. I do everything for it. I do scheduling [and] videotaping. I try to get footage of anything the artist is comfortable with and what they want me to be present for.

OT: How did you get into documentaries? What’s your origin story?
AH: It was mostly DIY. I started with photography when I was studying abroad. Before that, I hated taking pictures. It really opened my eyes. I got to see the shapes in nature and basic composition. From there, I did short video projects at Towson University. My last year there, I took a visual anthropology class and that introduced me to documenting things.

OT: You’ve received a lot of press for Indelible. What’s the next step for you creatively?
AH: With Indelible, I’d like to screen it in other countries and cities. I’d like to do videos like that in other countries as well. For instance, my family is from Peru, and I’d love to do something like this there.

For more information about Antonio Hernandez and Indelible, visit

Rick Irby, Production Manager + Head of Sound at Pie Shop

Rick Irby // Photo by Rob Stokes

For over 10 years, Rick Irby has been performing and making records with DC bands. Throughout this time, he says his respect for those behind the scenes “making it all happen – from the sound engineers to the venue and the bar staff” grew even deeper than before. Irby talked to On Tap about how he got his start as a sound engineer, how being a musician himself helps inform his day-to-day, and what Pie Shop brings to the DC live music circuit.

On Tap: What is your background and how did it lead you to your current role as production manager and lead sound engineer at Pie Shop?
Rick Irby: After 10+ years of performing and making records with DC bands, I found myself having a deeper respect for the people behind the scenes making it all happen. From the sound engineers to the venue and bar staff, I realized that all of these people are contributing so much to us musicians doing our thing. Before a show I randomly opened up to Sean Gotkin, Sound Department Manager at Black Cat, about how much I appreciate his role at black cat and the DC music community.

I eventually asked him if he was willing to teach me how to transition from studio work to live sound engineering. After a month or so of training, I was extremely humbled and honored to work the Black Cat Backstage in its final 6 months. By the end of the season I started to work more shows at DC9 and a new venue on H Street, Pie Shop. I couldn’t help but love the small venue vibe at Pie Shop and signed on as Production Manager and Head of Sound in February. I’m very fortunate to be working with so many great artists and it’s a true pleasure to provide bands with a great environment and sound quality that respects their years of dedication to making music and making audiences happy.

OT: Describe a typical day in the life of your role at Pie Shop.
RI: At 5 p.m. the bands show up to load and soundcheck. We take as much time as necessary to make sure every instrument is dialed in for each band and offer up some free pies before doors. Showtime is usually at 8 p.m., and it’s my job to keep all performers and equipment in mind so we can have a smooth show. Working with new artists every night will remind you that every concert is different and deserves as much respect and attention to detail as possible.

OT: I know you play in other local bands and projects. Can you tell me more about that aspect of your life and your current projects?
RI: For the last five years or so I’ve been drumming with Den-Mate and Wanted Man. Den-Mate is a dark-wave band led by Jules Hale and Wanted Man is straight up rock ‘n’ roll featuring Kenny Pirog, Anthony Pirog and Scoops (who also bartends at Pie Shop). I recently joined Rob Stokes and Sir E.U’s project, October ’71, on bass and assist in producing records with them. I also have a soon- to-be-released record, “Post-Sadboi Funk” under my producer moniker, Jau Ocean. The record has been evolving for almost 3 years and features a handful of DC artists lending their talents. Lastly, a huge shout out to Paperhaus, which was a life-changing band for many people and gave me a homebase to learn how to throw DIY shows and meet so many of the people that I work with today.

OT: How do your experiences in those projects inform or influence your job at Pie Shop?
RI: I try to give the Pie Shop artists what I would appreciate myself as a performer. I know how difficult it is to be on the road and/or fighting DC traffic to get to the gig. It is a tremendous boost when you feel like a venue or sound tech cares about you and your art. I try to hold myself to that standard as much as possible knowing that many other venues and engineers have done the same for me and my friends.

OT: What do you think makes Pie Shop unique?
RI: Personally I prefer going to small concerts and usually find myself supporting up-and-coming bands to groups that have already “made it.” Pie Shop gives these emerging artists an opportunity to get great sound and grow a fan base. I also love how Pie Shop does not stick to any particular genre. Every show is different, and there are always new people to meet and learn from.

OT: What’s an aspect of your job that someone may not realize falls under your role?
RI: As the production manager, I am in charge of emailing every band the venue specs and to help troubleshoot any requests or unique variables pertaining to the show. This can often mean weeks of preparation via email and/or last minute problem solving in front of sold out crowds. It can be stressful, but it is always worth it by the end of the night to see the culmination of everyone’s hard work and focus.

OT: What’s the most challenging part of your role, and how do you overcome it?
RI: I think the toughest part of the job is internal… knowing that I am in charge of the entire show and all the moving parts. It’s controlled chaos. Running a venue involves a Zen-like understanding that we are doing this right now, live. Good or bad, anything can happen at any moment. Which can be scary, but also a challenge that keeps you on your toes.

OT: Any advice for someone looking to get into sound engineering/similar roles?
RI: Go for it! If you like working with people and love music, look into local venues that may need assistants and start to research and learn. I would also recommend that musicians should think about becoming live sound engineers and/or working at venues. It is so enlightening to see professional and amateur musicians alike from the other side of the board. In my experiences, I have found a much greater sense of patience and understanding for all aspects of throwing concerts and I hope it has helped me mature as a person and performer.

OT: What’s your favorite part of the DC music scene?
RI: I love how there isn’t a “DC sound.” Every band has their own thing going on and I love being a part of such a supportive community with such strong bills.

OT: Anything else I didn’t ask about that you’d like to mention?
RI: I would like to thank the owners Sandra and Stevie for giving me this great opportunity at Pie Shop. I hope that all of our performers and audiences can feel the time and devotion that they have put into creating such an amazing restaurant, bar and venue. Thank you to Pie Shop Staff for being the coolest and Jon Weiss for booking such amazing acts. A huge thank you to my sound mentors Kenny Pirog, Mel at DC9, Sean and Elisa at Black Cat, Chris Moore and Dennis Manuel. And of course, all of the Pie Shop and DC music supporters and audience members – thank you! Looking forward to seeing you all at some shows.

Catch Pie Shop’s full lineup of upcoming shows at For more on Irby and his other projects, see below.

Jau Ocean:
Wanted Man:

Pie Shop: 1339 H St. NE, DC;


Photo: courtesy of James June Schneider

Deep Cuts: New Documentary Delves into DC’s Punk History

You always hear how difficult touring is for bands. I’m not talking about large-scale tour buses rivaling the comforts of first-class flights you read about in Rolling Stone profiles. I’m thinking of the little guy: the DIY band making their first sojourn through the Midwest or a five-piece indie outfit huddled together in a minivan with a shaky air conditioner on an adventure through the South.

Over the past two months, DC filmmaker James June Schneider experienced a similar cross-country trip while showcasing his documentary Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement.

Following the film’s world premiere at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center this summer, the documentarian packed up his car with film in tow and drove across the country, hitting spots along the East Coast before venturing through the Midwest to California.

He wrapped up his road tour last month, looping through the Southwest on his way back to the District. In a sense, he mimicked his very subjects by touring art on a shoestring budget. Though he’s not in a band or a traveling musician, his mission to showcase the spirit of DC’s punk scene has taken him on somewhat of a journey.

“A film about DC punk done the way we do it really celebrates an American subculture that is a great chapter in American history,” Schneider says. “One that is still being discovered – an active history. This is a chance to celebrate a thread of American history.”

The film is set to return to the AFI in Silver Spring, Maryland for a three-night screening from November 9-11, including Q&A’s with Schneider, his co-directors Paul Bishow and Sam Lavine, and special guests like the Slickee Boys, Boyd Farrell, Anne Bonafede and others.

“I do think that people will be moved, whether they’re new to DC or grew up here,” he says. “They’ll get where it came from and hopefully be inspired by what’s happened. The great thing about DC punk is when you learn the ideas behind the scenes and the approaches to creativity, it can be applied not only to DC musicians but musicians anywhere.”

The film focuses on the early days of the capital’s punk scene, specifically from 1976 to 1983, and took more than a decade to produce. In the early development stages, the trio archived countless hours of interviews and gathered materials ranging from memorabilia to videos to photos. Combined with Bishow’s already extensive collection, the materials were so plentiful in volume that the team decided to narrow its focus to DC punk’s humble beginnings.

“It’s definitely an origin story,” he says. “As we were making the film, we discovered that there was a real need to investigate the earlier time period. It hadn’t been discussed in any great degree, the pre-hardcore scene. The history means a lot to a lot of people – not just in DC, but to people around the world.”

For a local like Schneider, the subject matter of the genre’s historic rise in the late 70s and early 80s hits extremely close to home. Ever since purchasing a Minor Threat album at 12 years old, the music has served as a soundtrack to his life, helping him remember a community that has remained important to him through adulthood.

“This is the music I grew up with. I had been in a bunch of bands and started making films in the 90s. When I discovered my friend Paul had all this great [footage] from the late 70s, it became evident that we should team up and do a film about it.”

Because of the uncharted territory and mostly forgotten material, Schneider says 95 percent of the people they approached about the film were enthusiastic about participation. Most interviews proved long and fruitful, which made editing the film down to its 88-minute runtime a difficult task. Like any labor of love, the filmmakers logged long hours piecing the documentary together, and watched various cuts several times before finally deeming it ready for public consumption.

“All three of us watched the film every few weeks, usually with other people in Paul’s apartment,” Schneider says. “Those were amazing screenings with hours-long discussions afterwards about the film and the community.”

Whether in their living rooms, at small-scale showings or at the bigger tentpole events like the three coming up at AFI, the resounding impact on viewers has been palpable.

“It is a music scene, so we have to say first and foremost that the music for the size of the scene is amazing,” Schneider continues. “What’s given it more longevity is the ideas behind it. The lyrics are fairly timeless. People weren’t just singing about [President] Reagan and current events. They were singing about their own trials and tribulations.”

The sentiment behind punk music will forever remain relevant to DC’s larger culture, as much as go-go and any other musical genre thrown into the mix. With the federal government sitting on most corners of the city, there will always be a need to protest – and no music has a reputation for antagonizing Big Brother quite like DC punk.

“It’s definitely continuing to this day,” Schneider adds. “There are a lot of great bands that have carried on from back then, and even musicians from back then that are playing today. It’s continued, but it’s transformed. Other people are just continuing to make music great music like they’ve been doing for 40 years.”

Don’t miss screenings of Punk the Capital from November 9-11 at AFI Silver. Showtimes and tickets are available at Learn more about the documentary at

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; 301-495-6700;

Halloween Celebration brings HellBENT Parties Full Circle

BENT’s LGBTQ dance parties have been connecting people and creating community – and consistently selling out – since their first iteration last January and every quarterly occurrence since then. In celebration of Halloween, the team behind BENT is transforming the 9:30 Club into the dancehall of your dreams – or nightmares, if you will. 

DJ Steve Lemmerman (perhaps better known as Lemz) and team are bringing some scary and special things to this Saturday’s party at the Club, dubbed “hellBENT.” Though they’ve made an effort to keep each Bent party new and different, Lemmerman says to expect a spookier vibe than usual. Costumes are encouraged, he says, so patrons can “bring out their true selves and just have a good time,” in typical Halloween fashion. 

One special appearance includes a performance by DC-based movement company Haus of Bambi, who produce “genderless and gendermore fantasies” and were recently commissioned by The REACH to create an original piece, which Lemmerman actually scored himself. 

“This piece is called Electric Idols, and it’s based on if queer nightlife was a religious ritual, what would that look like? It’s a work all of us are super proud of. It’s really beautiful. It’s also my first full length record, as a solo producer. So there’s a lot of milestones in that piece as is,” he explains. “[Haus of Bambi] is tailoring the choreography to work in the room, not just copying the original piece. They’re fine-tuning it just for this.”

Lemmerman says that he’s especially excited to have Haus of Bambi at hellBENT, and hopes the event will spread their name and bring more awareness to the “beautiful, queer work” they produce in DC. 

In addition to Haus of Bambi, this special edition of BENT will see a host of other performers bringing their Halloween best to the stage. Ana Latour, who according to Lemmerman “pushes drag to a limit I don’t see too often around the city” is planning crazy outfits and performances to top 40 heroes Billie Eilish and Kim Petras for a “spooky little mix.”

Another DJ, Jacq Jill, will take over the main stage and has also curated the BackBar portion of hellBENT, and Lemmerman notes how she’s curated the lineup to create a special vibe at BackBar.

“It’s run by women, for women, and the DJs don’t have to follow the mold of any sort of music. They can just do whatever their art is. And she’s local, but she’s been getting a lot of national attention lately. I’m just so excited to also have her on that main stage,” he concludes.

HellBENT is sure to provide a fun, carefree and festive space for the queer community and beyond to celebrate Halloween. And as the parties come up on their one year anniversary, it’s also providing Lemmerman time to reflect on the year he’s had organizing and playing these parties. 

This year has been a roller coaster because it challenges me to keep my ear to the ground and really get super deep into the DC queer scene, to other spaces I had not been to before, and to scout talent all over the city,” he says. “I wanted [these parties] to be great. The response I’ve gotten has been like, ‘this is what the city needed. I’d never seen anything like this. I thank you so much for doing this.’ A lot of people say that they feel more theme at bent than they do in a lot of other spaces. A friend ran up to me crying, saying they’ve ever felt more valid in the space in their life.”

From the fun to the life affirming, BENT offers something to all who walk through the 9:30 Club’s doors for their parties. The proof is in the pudding: every BENT party this year has sold out, so secure tickets now. 

“I get a lot of texts of, ‘what can I do to get in’ during the party, and I am definitely not looking at my phone at that point,” Lemmerman says with a contented laugh.

Luckily, you can still get tickets (for now) on the 9:30 Club’s website for $20. Doors for hellBENT open at 10 p.m. The full lineup for hellBENT includes Lemz, Jacq Jill, Ed Bailey, DJ Damn Kham, Pussy Noir, visuals by Ben Carver, Ana Latour, Betty O’Hellno, Sasha Adams, haus of bambi.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0903;

Guests interact with the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival on Opening Night in Washington DC on October 18, 2019. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

29Rooms Opens Doors To New Experience in DC

“The sacrifices we make for art.” 

This is what I muttered to myself at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, October 21. I was slated to venture from my Alexandria duplex to DC’s Armory on a cultural adventure to Refinery29’s “29Rooms: Expand Your Reality” exhibit, currently enjoying its first national tour, concurrently making its DC debut. 

The women’s publication first unveiled the concept in 2015, giving attendees of New York Fashion Week an opportunity to walk through 29 distinct artistic experiences, ranging from vibrant and fuzzy to interactive and talkative. Fast forward four years, and the exhibition is on the road visiting cities like Atlanta, Dallas and DC, along with bigger U.S. cultural hubs like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. 

“When I heard we were coming to DC it was an exciting surprise,” says DC native Olivia Fagon, Refinery29’s creative director. “Most of our team is from New York, so there was a little bit of mystery as to what it would mean to bring it here. I think for me, I was super excited to tap local artists who are from DC.”

The DC Armory stop runs through October 27, giving residents of the nation’s capital a chance to walk into, and throughout, rooms created by artists such as Kali Uchis, Yvette Mayorga, Dan Lam and NNEKKAA, and others. As part of this year’s rendition, 29Rooms has added what they’re calling “The Art Park,” an initiative intended to highlight local artists from the cities on the tour, including a stairway toward your dreams created by local illustrator Trap Bob, aka Tenbeete Solomon

Artist Tenbeete Solomon poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

“I’ve always wanted to work with 29Rooms,” Solomon says. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for forever. My mind went to something expansive. I loved being able to explore with different mediums, because I don’t have the capacity to do these major rollouts, but it’s great to partner with people who have the same ideas and same values.” 

The team behind Refinery29 initially wanted a flat graphic, but she wanted something more engaging. When they suggested a staircase, Solomon approached the canvas thinking about its physicality from all sides, and though she wanted it to feel different than her illustrative works, it would still feel distinctly Trap Bob.

“It’s a weird thing to put a design on,” Solomon says. “I want to make sure each part is like its own piece, but still work together. I do hands a lot, it’s very relatable and something I love to do. They’re the perfect things. It’s my way to reach out to everybody and bringing that idea with the ‘follow your dreams’ theme, which is very, very close to me and my experience. It worked with the idea of climbing the stairs. Just the idea of elevating yourself and literally taking steps to get to where you want to get to. If I didn’t take those steps early in my career, there’s no way I’d be here talking about it.” 

For more local flair, Refinery29 tapped Howard University master of fine arts graduate Jamea Richmond-Edwards to construct a DC-centric full-scale billboard to welcome guests into the gallery. The murals are exclusive to the respective city’s art scene, to highlight the local community. 

Artist Jamea Richmond-Edwards poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

Upon walking past the “Traveling Billboard” and into the main area, you’ll notice the lighting in the Armory is dark, giving each room and piece a spotlight effect. This is apt, as all hold a unique point of view worthy of said spotlight. And no matter which you stumble into, they all are connected by the theme of a woman’s experience in several facets of society and empowerment, echoing that of the publication’s mission.

“It was amazing to bring this brand that is not only pro-female, but very intersectional,” Fagan says. “We’re looking at women from all kinds of points of view. There’s a lot of political undertones in the event as well and those aren’t necessarily supposed to resonate specifically to DC, but I think whatever city we take it to, it makes a strong statement.”

Giving a tour, Fagan identifies a few rooms as fan favorites including “Dream Doorways,” a display with several (you guessed it) doors leading to stunning visuals that could make you question whether you’re on psychedelics; “A Conversation With Your Inner Child,” an interactive room which allows you to tap into the dreams and desires of a younger you; and “29 Questions,” a collection of tables and chairs meant to evoke discussions among strangers congregating throughout the exhibit.  

The different perspectives from a diverse set of artists is meant to represent and reflect those same qualities in the audience of the attendees. For Fagan, the doors are open for everyone, and she hopes people are as excited to explore the rooms to find their own favorites. 

“We always welcome that,” Fagan says. “I think Refinery has perceptions around it: people know us as a women’s publication, people know us for having certain types of values. I think as much as we can attract people in, and then surprise them with something they may not have thought of in a certain way, it’s always a gift if we can. If we’re creating a space where our values are just resonating with that audience already, that’s great too.” 

Gallery times are 1:30-10:30 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday and 10:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. on Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $29 and guarantee access for one 2.5 hour session. For more information about 29Rooms, visit here.

DC Armory: 2001 E Capitol St. SE, DC;

Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

Down in the Reeds artwork by Noah Friedman Studios

Down in the Reeds Organizers, Performers and more Talk DC’s New Fall Festival

Leading up to Down in the Reeds’ first year as a beacon for music, healing and hope in DC, On Tap spoke to four individuals involved in the festival about their roles, contributions and what healing through music means to them.


Aaron Abernathy, Musician

On Tap: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started as a musician and your experience in the DC music community?

Aaron Abernathy: I got started as a musician in Cleveland, Ohio. I learned how to play the piano by ear and my mom caught wind and threw me into some piano lessons. I started singing around seventh grade. My choir teacher, Mrs. Patrick, was really adamant about pushing me into singing. I didn’t think that I could, but she pushed me that way and it ended up working out. She helped me discover that I had a voice. From there I started singing in choir in middle school and high school [then] I started singing in an acapella choir, which was our top choir at our high school. And it really started to help me develop my ear as far as harmonies and arrangements were concerned.

I went on to Howard University to major in music business and jazz piano. I created a demo because I wanted to be a songwriter, and my roommate started selling it on campus one day and gave me some money, and said “Hey, I’m selling a demo.” And so that lead to me doing a lot of shows. My band that was formed at Howard, we started to see if we could perform on U Street. And it was actually a Hurricane Katrina benefit that allowed me to perform with local artists at the time. That’s when I really got my start locally and I just started working from there. DC is where I started my professional music career and I was thankful that, being from outside the city, I was embraced.

OT: There’s a huge emphasis and with this festival on the healing power of music and what a powerful tool it can be in that regard. What does the healing power of music aspect mean to you personally as a musician?

AA: I have an album out now that talks literally about healing after a breakup, and I think all of my albums have to do with healing. On my first album I speak about how family and purpose helps you heal. And on my second album I speak about how the community needs to come together and heal. And, and on this latest album, again, I speak about finding restoration after heartbreak – you know, all of us go through heartbreak. So we have to find a way to heal and be better.

OT: That’s a really beautiful connection. So tell me a little bit more about, the inspirations and influences that you take into account when you’re writing and recording. especially on your most recent album.

AA: Inspiration, for me, comes from everywhere. Especially when it comes to songwriting. I love reading…and writing is important to me because I feel like we are supposed to speak for the community…I’m supposed to be a voice. It’s my mission. I’m responsible for the words that come out of my mouth, and the music and vibrations that I put out into the world.I can like name artist and books I’ve read for days now, but even with being a Christian man, like I know how important words are, you know? The heart speaks out of your mouth. And even when you’re writing music, like I said, like there’s a vibration in even the music that goes out. So I’m very cognizant of like how music makes people feel and how it can [create] a mood.

OT: hat do you think that you contribute to the lineup of a festival? Why are you looking forward to being a part of it?

AA: When I get on stage, I really pride myself and my band in bringing good energy and uplifting people through music. I’m into that vibration and making people want to get up and dance and smile and see our energy and I know that our energy will rub off on there. So it’s always good to come back and give back to the community who gave me a start.

OT: As someone who grew up in a different city and then came here and was fully embraced by DC, what do you think makes the local music scene special?

AA: I think DC is special because number one is the nation’s Capital. People are always coming in and out of the nation’s Capital, but there’s a certain energy in the music. I mean, DC has his own music, and Gogo already has like this culturally rich like music that is progressive. So I think, just to speak to the scene, it’s always had this youthful energy that I loved that…has an identity, musically, unlike anywhere else. To have that right here in the city that makes it super special thing, you know? Because most cities don’t have their own musical music culture.

OT: Other than down in the reeds? Are you working on anything else? Do you have any other upcoming, uh, tour dates or?

AA: I am headed to Europe in November to do a tour. And I’m playing in the city, at Sotto. I’m doing an intimate show with my band on November 2nd.

Aaron Abernathy will perform at the festival at 4:30 p.m. on the Parks at Walter Reed Main Stage.


Artis Moon Amarché, The Boundless Eclectic

On Tap: Can you start by telling me about yourself, your background and your work as The Boundless Eclectic?

Artis Moon Amarché: As a DC Native, I was raised on Jazz & Justice, and I’ve been into all the arts as long as I can remember. I’ve had an unconventional life by most people’s standards. My dad was close friends with the owners of one of DC’s oldest jazz venues, The One Step Down (closed in 2000), and my mom was a waitress there for a bit. From birth in the Fall of ’73 until I was 4, we lived in an apartment directly upstairs from the club, and I spent a lot of time in there growing up, especially those early years. It felt like home to me, throughout my childhood. I soaked in jazz like osmosis, and as I reflect back now, I see how it has influenced almost everything about my life.

Growing up, I was always involved in music, dance, theater, and visual arts. After three years in Indiana (seeing my father’s parents transition out of this world), when we returned to the DC area, in a converted school bus mobile home, we wound up in Arlington, where we remained for the rest of my childhood. I was fortunate that the Arlington public school system, from my experience, truly valued the arts and provided a lot of (free) opportunity for exploration there. I consumed them voraciously, they gave me life, helped me to make sense and order of what felt in some ways like a very chaotic world. We were pretty poor, but my life was rich with arts & culture. My dad was a single father, and DC cab driver until I was about 12, and funds were limited, but he was always very supportive of whatever I wanted to do and somehow always followed through on my initiatives, whether it was dance lessons, private piano & voice instruction, community theater, art workshops, you name it. He was always an arts aficionado, so he took me to shows at the Kennedy Center, and art openings, museums, etc. And then riding around in the cab with him, plus at home, I grew up listening to WPFW – Jazz & Justice Radio. The One Step and WPFW undoubtedly are both a huge influence on the foundation of my life and who I am today, and the conviction that everyone deserves to be free and to express themselves in a fulfilling way which is honored and valued.

I always balked when well-meaning folks would tell me, “You know, Artis, Jack of all trades, master of none…” I loved all of the arts and knew I could not completely give any of them up, so I have made it work for me! They have served me well and influenced one another as I’ve moved between them with an ebb & flow, successfully mastering & building a career around whichever one(s) was/were my focus at the time. This is what gave birth to the idea of ‘Boundless’ for me a long time ago – the idea that we can do anything we want to do. I’ve had a number of businesses under the umbrella of Boundless over the past 20 years.

I’ve lived a rich life as an independent interdisciplinary artist and educator, teaching and performing tap dance & percussion in the U.S. and abroad, producing, directing, & choreographing numerous residencies and performances; doing a bit of visual art exhibitions and mural work; teaching theater, visual & language arts, along with my unique Museum As Classroom series; and working as a photographer, writer, & editor, both for news organizations and the community at large (my photo site is

During my entire adult life, I have also worked with a range of mindfulness, meditation disciplines and contemplative practices, and I became a Reiki Master 9 years ago. There was an organic progression, for me personally, drawing me to shift my focus from healing through entertainment to more personal engagement in the arts & healing, and more intimate interactions, diving deeper with folks, supporting individuals and groups in exploration of Path & Purpose. I am thrilled to be forging my way in the healing arts and honored to integrate my roles as healer, artist, musician, dancer, mother, and yogi. I love to combine various traditional practices with innovation.

As the Boundless Eclectic, my passion is guiding people to set themselves free, sharing tools & practices for Deep Restoration & Transformation. I am all about helping people to empower themselves in their growth and healing. My healing arts offerings include a variety of meditation classes such as Yoga Nidra, sound healing & sound baths; corporate engagements, special events, workshops, including monthly Moon Circles & Reiki trainings; retreats; talks on holistic approaches to wellbeing; and unique 1:1 sessions drawing on meditation, Holistic Life Coaching, sound healing, Reiki, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mind-body skills, and arts processes. This work is heart medicine, providing the opportunity for you to actively dive deeper in your personal journey.

In addition to my healing arts business, I am a single mother of three amazing kids, ages 8 to 17, and primary caregiver for my 89-yo father, and my 34-yo disabled brother who recently moved in with us, so that all keeps me busy! I am grateful for a supportive community.

OT: Down in the Reeds is placing an emphasis on the healing power of music. I noticed on your website you use music, sound and creativity in your work. Can you tell me more about what music means as a healing tool to you and how you use it?

AMA: Music is everything. It has been part of the fabric of societies I’m sure since early human existence. Music has the power to heal people, both on the physical and metaphysical level, on the micro and macro level. It’s so deep. At the root of it all is Love.

There is the community component of the way music performance brings groups of people together, all united toward something, perhaps love of a particular style of music, or a particular artist. There is the community/cultural component in societies where coming together to make music, sing, dance, tell stories, is a natural, integral part of life, and a part of how they express their love for one another. You find this all across the world, through space and time. I feel that’s part of what American society is missing, is that for the population at-large, outside of churches, communities don’t generally have a regular opportunity to come together in that way. There is the power of music to bridge cultural divides and remind people of our oneness, of our humanity. There is the power of music to calm and soothe the mind, body, and nervous system, both by being relaxing to listen to, as well as because of the vibration of the sounds, quite literally. And there is the enormous healing power of expressing your soul by playing music, finding your voice, whatever that is. Music improvisation in particular is so empowering and liberating.

In reflecting how I got to where I am today, with the theme of the healing power of music as the backdrop, and hearing the experiences, stories, and ideas of some of the other Stakeholders, it has inspired an understanding of my life path in a new context, how certain dots have connected…. and how my process and flow in everything I do is heavily influenced by Jazz, tap dancing (both uniquely American art forms), and dissent, all a huge part of my roots.

In my work now, I play with music and sound in an intuitive way. My sound baths are sort of like a concert you listen to laying down, with your eyes closed. But there is more at work. Deep Restoration and Transformation takes place during these sessions. I have had people tell me they gone through more productive inner work in one of my sound baths than in years of therapy. Part of what I’m providing is a safe, held space for people to Be with themselves, sometimes guided in specific reflection and contemplation.

I typically begin with guiding folks in some mindfulness and breathwork, helping them drop into themselves, into their bodies, feel that shift, that sigh of relief. I progress through an improvised soundscape on various instruments. Because I am also a Reiki Master, that Divine Life Force is also flowing through me and my music, and I do my best to give some individual attention to each person in the space. The music journey I provide has two purposes. One – to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, letting your body know it’s safe to turn off the fight-or-flight response that is usually on the ready, and surrender to total relaxation; feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are released in the brain, and the brain waves slow down to the Theta state, which is the slowest vibration before deep sleep, and the same place as dream state. Two – to move energy; some of the instruments are very powerful for clearing out trauma, energy blockages, and even physical ailments. In particular, instruments that are made with metal or crystal interact with the body and the biofield on a cellular level, they actually can repair your DNA. This is not just woo-woo, it has been scientifically proven.

In my 1:1 work, I incorporate sound healing sometimes as guided by intuition, say with crystal bowls or frame drum, and sometimes I also will engage my clients in arts processes such as visual art, writing, singing/chanting, dancing, drumming. There are a number of reasons for this – self-expression is healing, sometimes we discover things through the arts by exploring in that nonverbal place in ourselves, uncovering things hiding in the subconscious that we didn’t even know were there, helping us to get to the heart of the matter and gain clarity on what it is that we are growing through.

Now, with my music partner Donne Lewis aka the Wychdokta back in DC, I am excited to explore the combination of more performative music combined with healing energy, which is what you will experience with us at Down in the Reeds.

OT: What drew you to Down in the Reeds and made you want to be part of it?

AMA: I was thrilled when I was invited by Chris Naoum, on recommendation from a couple of friends, to be a sponsoring partner of this festival and member of the programming committee. I love everything about the concept, including the fact that rather than focusing on one particular music style, we are showcasing the rich, diverse heritage of DC’s music scene. I was excited by the eclectic group of folks invited to be Stakeholders for this project, and the opportunity to be a part of something like this from the inaugural year. Also, I have produced and directed a number of shows over the years, but have never been involved in putting on a festival, so I was excited to learn from being involved in the more of the logistical aspects of something like this as well. And I loved the idea of sharing the universality of music healing and meditation with those who may have never experienced it.

OT: What will you be offering at the festival?

AMA: Boundless Eclectic is opening the main stage at noon with a performance that fuses music with ceremony. I’m excited to be working with two women who are powerful solo performers in their own rights – my dear sister, sand dancer Donne Lewis, aka the Wychdokta, and producer/singer/songwriter Tamara Wellons, both artists who, like myself, are deeply rooted in the American tradition of Jazz & improvisation with an eclectic mix of other influences. There is a synergy between us that feels like reaching into infinity.

I’ll be bringing meditative vibes with wooden flute, metallophone, crystal bowls, drums, and more. You will experience the magic of the Wychdokta with percussive sand dance and movement, energy healing (Reiki), and Tamara’s scintillating vocals. Together we will be blessing the performance area and the festival grounds, imparting a unique experience that will intrigue your eyes, ears, and soul.

We will also have a tent next to the Healing Partners Tent representing my business ( where my daughter Adobe ( will be vending art & jewelry made by the two of us. there will also be 15-minute Reiki & massage sessions offered during portions of the day, a friend will vend all-organic and ethically sourced textiles, and people can learn more about meditation, Reiki, sound healing, holistic life coaching, and more.

In addition, I will be collaborating with Jeneen Piccuirro – Creatrix, of Soul Voyage – to activate the Healing Partners’ tent where we will have more intimate offerings of extended improvised soundscapes, and some activations for families with music and visual art.

OT: What do you think a festival like Down in the Reeds brings to the DC music and creative community overall?

AMA: I really feel that in some ways this is more than a music festival, it is a consciousness-expanding festival, providing our audience the opportunity to be exposed to music, people, and practices that they might not otherwise find in their lives, and likewise, providing the artists an opportunity to reach new patrons. Providing everyone with the opportunity to connect – with one another, with our Unity, and with love through music, which is so healing for ourselves individually, as a community, and as a city. That collective love also helps to heal all the hurt in the world.

And again, part of what makes this festival unique is that we are celebrating the diversity and heritage of DC’s music scene. We have made attending the festival accessible for all, and we also are providing an opportunity for vendors to join us at no cost, plus taking conscious actions to engage the local community.

OT: What do you hope participants gain from your specific offerings at the festival, and from the festival overall?

AMA: The work I’m doing with Sound Healing, meditation, and Reiki is really more Universal than one might presume, a melting pot (thus ‘Eclectic’) that I have organically and intuitively added different ingredients to over the years – which is metaphoric of what’s really great about the U.S. of A., all of the influences that have come together here over time. I hope people who come to Down in the Reeds will enjoy experiencing something new and feel inspired, empowered, centered, balanced, and renewed.

At our first Stakeholder meeting, as we were distilling down what this is really about, Dom Flemons and some of us were speaking about the universal healing nature of music. We can chant Sanskrit mantras, we can sing Spirituals, play the Blues, we can spit poetry, play a drum, play banjo, bass, piano, or simply let healing sounds and vibrations of different instruments wash over & through us as we have time to just Be with ourselves… ultimately, it is all different expressions of the same energy: We do it because it feels good! It’s healing, it’s cathartic. It allows a release, a transmutation of energy, an alchemy of the soul. It brings us closer to ourselves, and closer to one another. And I love it. I love bringing different elements together, building bridges, opening minds, shifting perspectives, and witnessing transformation.

OT: What kind of dialogue do you hope your work opens with those who see and work with you?

AMA: Ultimately, I hope my work opens an honest and compassionate inner dialogue that helps people reduce stress in their lives, get centered on their life path, and undergo life-changing transformation. I am here to hold space for that. A lot of people have never even heard of sound baths or sound healing. Some people think of meditation and Reiki as too woo-woo, or inaccessible, or sometimes even that it is in contradiction to their religion, which is not the case. I always like to let people know that this is nothing new, people have been healing themselves and one another with music, touch, vibrations, meditation and contemplative practices, and other arts, in one way or another since the beginning of time. I have never had someone leave a session more stressed than when they arrived, and I have witnessed transformation and miracles again and again. The arts are such a valuable tool of self-discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, just do it because it feels good! I don’t expect anyone to just take my word for it, the best thing is for them to experience it themselves!

My work with people, whether in groups or 1:1, transcends religious orientation and really has so much to do with helping people liberate themselves, helping them find what really resonates with them, what brings them joy, fulfillment, and purpose, helping them to manifest their dream life, while also helping them to find peace in the present moment.

Alongside Wychdokta and Tamara Wellons, Artis Moon Amarché will be at the Parks at Walter Reed Main Stage at 12 p.m. You can also find Amarché at the Music Healing Tent alongside Studio in the Woods. 


Chris Naoum, Listen Local First

On Tap: How did Down in the Reeds originate? Why did you want to start this festival?

Chris Naoum: The festival was the fortuitous collision of a couple different ideas that I had been incubating with a couple different partners. First, Daniel Buchner and I who have been working on Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival for over seven years have been talking about starting up a new event and after working on a special headlining showcase with Grammy Award Winning Musician Dom Flemons in 2018 we were interested in working with Dom on a new event as a partner.

Independently about 2 years ago Cultural DC invited the arts community to come check out The Parks at Walter Reed. The second I saw the amphitheater, I knew it was going to be an awesome place to have a festival. The natural amphitheatre is a gorgeous outdoor space but I also had a feeling that the sound was going to be amazing (I found out later that it definitely was) I originally connected them with other festival folks in the city but since the space is designed to be an open public space, those employing the standard ticketed model of events did not find it as ideal.

The third part of how the festival came together involved another local music group and their story. Those of you who don’t know of the War and Treaty, you should check them out. We have had them at festivals and events for a couple of years. They are an amazing band fronted by Michael and Tanya Trotter. Michael and Tanya have told their story in many different places including this recent CBS interview. Their story kind of begins around the old Walter Reed Army Hospital and also revolves around the power of music to heal. Dan and I had been speaking with Michael and Tanya and they encouraged us that this was the message we needed to carry forward if we were to organize a music festival at the old Walter Reed Army Hospital.

So the short version is we shared the story with Dom and Vania and then reached out to Cultural DC and the developers to see if they wanted to host a fall music festival celebrating the power of music to heal across culture and community. The rest is history.

OT: Why did you choose this specific location?

CN: I think that location is incredibly important when it comes to festivals and events. The location is a huge part of the story, it sets the atmosphere and the feel. The space needs to complement the music and the theme. The bucolic historic campus of the old Walter Reed Army Hospital is the ideal location to spend a fall day outdoors listening to music and embracing the history of the space and the healing power of the art itself.

OT: Can you speak more to the festival’s emphasis on the healing power of music? How are you working to educate and promote this?

CN: I had been thinking about what healing through music means for over a year. Every time I found myself talking with someone about it I would get different examples of how it related to that individual’s experience or that of their family. Whether it was friends who grew up in a family of army veterans and blues musicians or friends who’s family used to host pickin jams in rural West Virginia the idea of coming together through music to heal seemed to cross all genres and cultures. I would hear about use of music in eastern meditative practices, music through through religion and church, and the roll drumming plays in healing and communion in African and Native American traditions.

Furthermore the deeper you look into healing and music the more you learn about the actual science and real therapeutic benefits of music and sounds.

I have been a huge believer in the healing power of music from my own personal experiences but I also felt that embracing the topic of healing through music involved too much of a focus on spirituality. From speaking to folks I realized that healing through music is as much spiritual as communal and all experiences are unique to ones self. That understanding really helped push the theme of this festival out into the open.

On the 19th we are bringing in musicians, presenters and speakers who embrace the power of music the heal through their own music, presentations or stories. One stage will be all music performances and the workshop stage will be performance, presentation, jam and demos from creatives of all cultures and backgrounds from across the DMV.

OT: What do you hope attendees gain from this event?

CN: There is a little bit for everyone. If you just want to come and enjoy a full day of amazing music outdoors with delicious food and drink you can just do that. If you want to check out some workshops or go talk to some of the music healing partners and take part in some of the demos, you can do that. If you want to go all in and spend time learning and listening to the presenters, working with the music healers and joining in the participatory jams then you can do that too.

OT: As it’s the first year of Down in the Reeds, what is your vision for the festival and for your involvement in it going forward?

CN: I hope that this is just us scratching the surface of something that goes much deeper. With more time and resources there are so many ways this event can grow.

I hope that with more time and planning we can partner with folks doing very interesting work in this space including the NIH and the Kennedy Center as well as organizations like the American Music Therapy Association. We also know so many folks who have done some amazing films on these issues and would love to bring in those film makers to present their work.

More artist, more stages and more ways to engage with different communities and the public is what we hope to accomplish.

OT: Why would you encourage someone to spend the day at Down in the Reeds?

CN: This is DC’s newest outdoor fall festival. You are going to love it. Come for the music, come to learn and embrace the healing power of music, come for the food, the art, the vendors the outdoor activities for the whole family or the beer garden!

Bring a blanket or some folding chairs come by yourself or bring the family!

Chris Naoum is a co-organizer of the festival and founder of DC music initiative Listen Local First.


Dom Flemons, musician

On Tap: Can you start by telling me a little bit more about your personal involvement, kind of how you became involved with Down in the Reeds and what your role in the festival looks like?  I understand you’re not performing but have been heavily involved with getting this off the ground.

Dom Flemons: Absolutely. I first met Chris and Dan at Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk several years back when I performed there. Earlier this year Chris had reached out to me and he told me that he wanted to do this festival over at the historic Walter Reed hospital site, which is near where I live in Silver Spring. So I’m just down the street and I’ve seen the way they’ve been rebuilding that site and that they’re wanting to re-fashion the site and the hospital so that it can cater to, as well as help develop, different parts of the community: the arts community, the schools and education. There’s an array of amazing programming that I think the neighborhood could use and it would be a wonderful way to commemorate the history.

It was unfortunate that I was not able to get the date free to perform at the festival. That happens, you know, but we’d like to continue to cultivate and develop the relationship with the Walter Reed hospital side. The main things to let people know that this site’s open. And then as we’re moving forward, we’ll start putting on some bigger programming and really try to bring in the community in a wonderful and holistic way.

OT: Outside of just raising that awareness, what else has your role encompassed so far?

DM: Chris and Dan called me right from the very beginning. So I’ve been here through the whole conceptual part of the festival. I’ve met with the board. I’m part of the advisers and as well as on the committee that decides  how we’re doing stuff. So I’ve been involved in the day to day in that regard, my wife and myself. So we were putting our American Songster stamp on the Down in the Reeds festival so that people can know that this is something that they can really get behind. Because for me, healing was the key thing that Chris explained to me as being the goal for the festival, which was something a little bit different than I was used to. Most of the time, you know, music festivals are for a good time and a party and for everyone to just enjoy themselves over the weekend. But with this festival, they’re really trying to make an effort to put out some positive energy and create a positive space that will hopefully reverberate through the community. 

OT: That seems like a really powerful message to have just in the greater DC area too. Can you tell me a little bit more about what music as a healing power means to you and how you hope to communicate that through this festival and just through your work as a musician in general?

DF: One of the big parts of my work as a musician is awakening cultural memory. And I do this through the original songs as well as traditional songs where I tried to think about the underlying messages that connect people through song. And that’s a big part of my work. And so for example, if I were to play a certain type of banjo song and someone remembers that their grandparents, maybe a grandfather, played the banjo when they were growing up, it takes them to a specific time and place in their lives where remembering those positive memories through music. And again, we don’t even have to be talking about the same song, but the feeling that creates this sort of positive inward message that almost awakens cultural memories. Sometimes the deeper implications are there. But other times when I’m presenting my material, I’m trying to awaken those deeper perceptions of strength and empowerment, of being able to uplift oneself.

Just knowing that your culture is strong enough to lift you up in that way. That’s a big part of my music as an individual. And so for the festival, that’s a big part of the whole conceptual idea. There are so many different artisans, artists as well as musicians, poets, politicians, activists, speakers, writers that are all within the DC area that, if we can just pull them all into one space, that since they’re local people can respect that their local talent. We’re trying to put them on to a higher plane with the local community. A lot of times people live here but they do their work elsewhere. And so we’re able to put a hyperfocus on local talent in whatever form it might manifest itself within the community and focus it on this historic site.

OT: What do you hope that attendees gain from this event, and why would you encourage someone to spend the day at Down in the Reeds?

DF: We want people to come in and have a great time. It’s a beautiful space. There’s some wonderful open lawns. There are also these beautiful different parts of the amphitheaters and these amazing benches and a wonderful fountain. In a world where there’s so much concrete, especially in DC, to be able to go into a place that is a beautiful, a national landmark as well as being a wonderful nature…gives them a little space. They get to be able to breathe and take in the open air. There’s nothing better than that. And then you have great music as well.

Dom Flemons, also known as “The American Songster,” is a co-organizer of Down in the Reeds in addition to being a Grammy-award winning musician.  


Don’t miss Down in the Reeds on Saturday, October 19 from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Parks at Walter Reed, located at 1010 Butternut St. NW, DC. While admission is free, a donation of $10 is suggested to ensure all participants are compensated and the festival can continue its mission in the future. For the full lineup and more information, visit

Interviews with participants and co-organizers were edited for length and clarity. To read the full interviews, check out For more on each interviewee, see below.

Aaron Abernathy:
Artis Moon Amarché // The Boundless Eclectic:
Chris Naoum // Listen Local First:
Dom Flemons // The American Songster: