Amidst the sticky heat in June of this year, a buzz was rising from restaurants around the District. StarChefs, a platform and publication for restaurant industry professionals, was searching for “the future of American cuisine” through their Rising Stars initiative – including a stop in the nation’s capital to review the talent.
In preparation for StarChefs’ visit, prominent chefs around the city poured over their menus, determining what to put on display. One of those chefs was Drew Adams of Bourbon Steak, whose approach was simple: “Let’s have fun with it.”
Adams will be honored during the Rising Stars Awards ceremony and tasting gala at Union Market next Tuesday, December 11. Himitsu’s Kevin Tien and Kith and Kin’s Kwame Onwuachi are among the 24 local chefs accepting awards. Rising Stars is a prominent mention in the world of chefs that helps to launch and strengthen careers, highlighting those with “strong, compelling culinary philosophies and are committed to fostering a culinary community by sharing their knowledge with fellow professionals.”
Those who are familiar with Adams’ work know of his extensive experience in fine dining, as well as his love for whimsy. This was captured perfectly on a plate when he presented a scallop-on-scallop crudo dish with scallop cream made from abductor muscles and scraps. The dish was topped with chive oil, caviar and a squid ink tuile for a touch of salinity. A little-known fact about Adams is his love of foraging.
“I’m obsessed with it,” he says. “It’s nice to get out of the city and outside. I started off with ramps about five or six years ago, and then just went down the rabbit hole.”
For StarChefs, Adams plated up a tartine of chargrilled sourdough with ricotta, asparagus, peas, fiddlehead ferns, Edwards ham and pickled green tomatoes – a dish that rotates seasonally on Bourbon Steak’s menu. No prominent culinary philosophy is complete without a nod to nostalgia. For Adams, it’s a simple dish that does the trick.
“My family were not cooks,” he laughs. “My grandmother would marinate steak with Wish-Bone dressing and then throw it in the broiler and, somehow, I loved that fatty steak with the acid coming through.”
Adams elevates this fond childhood memory by marinating pork with balsamic and local maple syrup, and then caramelizing it on the grill. The pork is topped with pickled mustard seeds and charred mustard greens, and served with white balsamic and beet puree.
“The fine dining part is great, but when you have a wholesome meal with a nicely composed entrée, it makes you smile. And that’s awesome for me.”
Adams saved the best for last and, luckily for Rising Star Award attendees, his olive-fed wagyu beef is on Tuesday’s menu.
“We made and clarified miso with barley and dashi,” Adams says. “We put the seared olive-fed wagyu on top of a bed of raw mushrooms with a little chive oil on top and covered them in honey truffles.”
The truffles have a sweet yet Szechuan-like taste, making your mouth tingle. The broth will be poured tableside.
“It’s over the top,” Adams admits, chuckling.
Dock5 at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds flew into DC on Thursday, November 29 for their first headlining performance at the 930 Club. This New York-based band crowded the stage with nine performers, who created a lush sound that filled the venue. A three-person horn section provided blues and jazz, while brother and sister duo Arleigh and Jackson Kincheloe took the lead up front with powerful vocals and some intense harmonica playing.
Arleigh is the perfect lead to this band; her vocals are strong, and her charisma on stage pulled the crowd in with every song. Attendees bunched up close to be part of the experience and several fans were dancing to the contagious rhythms.
The Rad Trads, also from New York, opened for the evening. Their rock and jazzy melodies were the perfect way to start this evening. Photos/write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen
Thom Yorke brought his series of live electronic performances to the Kennedy Center on Friday, November 30. There he performed songs with the help of Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri, all spanning his solo works The Eraser, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and Atoms For Peace’s Amok. Photos: Mike Kim
The moment Thom Yorke walked onstage at the Kennedy Center on November 30, the crowd shot out of their seats with fervent cheers and applause. But as Yorke, co-collaborator Nigel Godrich and audiovisual composer Tarik Barri launched into their first song, the crowd sheepishly sat after a person a few seats over from me loudly declared their distaste for the bout of standing as “This is the Kennedy Center, after all!”
Mere minutes later, Yorke asked the crowd to rise again. And once we were all on our feet – some dancing, some swaying and some just transfixed by the storied musician – it felt like the show had actually begun.
While the Kennedy Center is a formal venue, were we really going to let that stop us from fully enjoying the show – movement and all? Yorke’s grand assortment of achievements certainly make him worthy of a show there, but the venue itself shouldn’t act as a gatekeeper for how we experience the art. Eventually, even the once agitated attendee was seen standing and swaying.
The show itself was a healthy mix of just about everything Yorke has done outside his illustrious Radiohead career. From his own work, supergroup Atoms for Peace and even the Suspiria soundtrack, the show was a reminder that even though he’s best known as Radiohead’s frontman, his other ventures are just as jaw-droppingly stunning.
Yorke appeared to be having the time of his life, too – dancing and shimmying across the stage, sometimes with a guitar and sometimes making his way to a table of synths. Even during the stripped down and serious “Suspirium,” he closed his eyes and smiled. Many in the audience did the same.
The Kennedy Center’s stage was the perfect backdrop for Barri’s audiovisual elements. Sure, Yorke and company could have performed at a larger or less formal space, but perhaps those venues wouldn’t have accommodated the dizzying images on the triptych as well. They felt so integral to the performance as a whole, so the trade-off felt more than fair – especially once concertgoers committed to immersing themselves in the music, the movement and the images.
For more on Thom Yorke, visit www.wasteheadquarters.com.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org
Odetta Hartman describes herself as a vessel for stories, songs and sounds.
“Sometimes it feels like lightning striking, and other times, I’ll be really intentional about the poetry of it,” she tells us of her writing and recording process. “Without getting too witchy about it, I think that music is a really spiritual thing for me. I’m a superstitious person, and a fully formed song will sometimes come out of me and I’m just like, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Whether it’s some sort of musical witchcraft or simply fate, music has been embedded into the fabric of Hartman’s life for as long as she can remember. She recalls her New York City upbringing surrounded by music on the streets and exposure to avant-garde performances at her parents’ encouragement.
Hartman trained as a classical violinist and honed her self-described “nerd focus” on traditional folk music, writing a college thesis on ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s travels with author Zora Neale Hurston. Now she crafts a masterful blend of American folk and country with modern sensibilities, weaving many of her music-related memories into her songs.
When given the opportunity to move to DC, she embraced the change of scenery as a way to envelop herself in another city’s musical framework.
“I fell in love with DC really intensely, and I wasn’t expecting that,” she says. “It was an immediate crash landing into this really vibrant community. I understand that’s not most people’s experience with uprooting yourself to a new city.”
Similarly, the community embraced Hartman. She found herself collaborating with countless DC artists – Babeo Baggins and The Rob Stokes Band among them – and used the tightknit aspects of the city’s creatives to add another facet to the many things in her life she has to draw inspiration from. Jack Inslee, founder of Full Service Radio in AdMo’s LINE Hotel, provided creative direction on and produced both of her albums.
“Everyone is super supportive and really reached out and welcomed me. I know as an outsider New Yorker, I could have been just whatever, but I felt so immediately absorbed into the team. There’s a fluidity and openness that I really appreciate. In a place like New York, it’s a little more difficult to have the freedom and the space to do that, so I found it really refreshing.”
Even though her move to DC and work with the community here has been intentional, part of Hartman’s success is owed to her ability to embrace the unknown and accidental in both her creative process and music.
“A lot of it is just mistakes in the studio,” she explains, specifically of a moment on her sophomore record Old Rockhounds Never Die. “My favorite part of the record is on a song called ‘Widows Peak’ when an orchestra of strings comes in. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Jack accidentally triggered all the tracks. You can have an idea, but you have to be open to weird things happening.”
This year has seen Hartman hard at work, on tour for Old Rockhounds Never Die with bands like Let’s Eat Grandma and The Ballroom Thieves. Although she’s been exceptionally busy on the road, there’s a sense of complete joy in her voice as she explains how even a grueling schedule can give way to inspiration each night.
“Going to different markets and meeting different people is interesting [to me]. You get such a beautiful depiction of this slice of life in each town, talking to people and learning about the personality of different places.”
She pauses for a moment and ends with this.
“I don’t know if you can hear me smiling.”
Hartman plays Rock & Roll Hotel with The Ballroom Thieves on Thursday, December 6. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7 p.m. Visit www.odettahartman.com to learn more about the artist.
Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhotelldc.com
It has been seven years since indie-folk rockers DeVotchKa released a new album. While a break like that is hardly unusual in the music industry, the seven-year hiatus seemed lengthy for a band that was putting out new albums – including film soundtracks – every one to two years for a decade.
Even more surprisingly, the Denver-based quartet went quiet following their major arena tour in 2012 that saw them at the peak of their popularity. Frontman Nick Urata admits that despite DeVotchKa’s accomplishments like producing the wildly popular Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, he wasn’t enjoying the band’s success as much as one might expect.
But his feelings of disconnect were not for nothing. Spurred on by feelings of detachment from his music and audience, DeVotchKa traded the big arenas for smaller, more intimate venues. It was at these smaller shows that he saw the connection the crowd had with the lyrics. This would drive Urata to take time with the band’s next album – developing the lyrics, revisiting them and letting the words drive the music.
Released in August, This Night Falls Forever marks the return of DeVotchKa – a band whose sound is bigger and whose lyrics prove more authentic than ever, but with all the signature characteristics their fans know them for. Ahead of the band’s stop at U Street Music Hall on December 12, we caught up with Urata to reminisce about the past and look ahead to what’s in store for DeVotchKa.
On Tap: How do you feel about coming up on your first album SuperMelodrama’s 20th anniversary, and playing with bandmates Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King for two decades?
Nick Urata: Wow, well you know, pretty scary when you put it in that frame [laughs]. We released that album in the year 2000 and man, it’s been quite a journey. For us, it seems like just yesterday. But I’m actually really proud that we’ve held it together this long.
OT: Not a lot of people can say that.
NU: No. If you’d ask me back then, I would have laughed in your face [laughs].
OT: Do you feel like the chemistry between the four of you is the same after all these years, or do you feel like you all have changed?
NU: I think we have grown up together. And the chemistry is even better right now because we’ve been through a lot together, and so now we’re just like a family. And you know, in your family you can have massive disagreements and still get together and have dinner.
OT: What drew you and the band to the folksy, Eastern European-inspired and sometimes dark sound you all have and what keeps you going back to it?
NU: I was always fascinated with it. I wanted to create the kind of music that I wasn’t hearing and I was able to find the same people that wanted to help me with that. We’ve always been drawn to that sort of palette – that gypsy, folk sound that we have. And in those early days of traveling around playing hostile environments, we found that really broke down barriers and connected with people.
OT: You grew up listening to that kind of music, right?
NU: Yeah. I think that was a big part of it, too. There was a lot of sentimentality to that music, and when I was trying to write my own stuff, I was just kind of searching for who I was and that was the kind of stuff that was deeply ingrained in my bones.
OT: I would imagine a lot of people could relate to that. For example, I’m Italian and I also grew up listening to that kind of music. Frank Sinatra was always playing in my grandparents’ house.
NU: I’m glad you said that because I think that was a part of it, too. I can relate [with] one story. We got booked at this bar in one of the subway stations in New York. But when we got there, the staff was very angry, the patrons were angry and the bar manager was acting like he was going to kill us [laughs]. But when we started playing and brought out our accordions, that same big, tough, scary guy came up with tears in his eyes and said that his grandfather played the accordion. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.
OT: Your 2012 tour saw the band playing big arena shows and at the peak of popularity, but you were having a bit of an identity crisis. Could you elaborate on where you were in your life at that point?
NU: I don’t want to sound too negative, but the main problem was I had lost my connection with [the music]. We got to the end of that album tour and release and unfortunately, I sort of hit a low point and had this emptiness. In the end, it was good because it forced me to rebuild and the rebuilding process was the album [This Night Falls Forever] that we just released.
OT: Why the switch to playing more intimate venues?
NU: We came up that way [in smaller venues], and I just think there’s a purity to it. I was losing the connection with the crowd and it wasn’t feeling as natural as when we’re in a smaller place where everybody has a good seat and everybody’s part of the show.
OT: How have all of your professional experiences over the last couple of years influenced your new album?
NU: The experiences made me want to go back to really focusing on the lyrics and letting the lyrics guide the song. The lyrics really drive where the music goes. That was one of the reasons why it took so long [to make the new album], because the lyrics take a long time to develop. Because of all our experiences with writing and arranging for orchestras and producing soundtracks, we were able to have a big, epic sound as well.
OT: Where did the album name, This Night Falls Forever, come from and what does it mean?
NU: A lot of the songs and subject matter deal with the fact that your entire trajectory romantically, or even your destiny, can change in one night. You never see it coming, you’re never prepared for it and I just wanted to capture that feeling that this night is going to be with you forever.
OT: Moving on to your upcoming tour, how do you handle having so many instruments onstage?
NU: It can get a little overwhelming and sometimes it doesn’t work. We end up having to each haul a lot of suitcases around [laughs]. But going back to our origin, it was one of the reasons we all connected so much because we have a love for picking up new or underrated instruments and bringing them into the fold and making them do things that maybe they weren’t meant for. So bringing them onstage is definitely a part of that.
OT: It’s been a few years since you’ve done a tour. What are you most looking forward to and what should people coming to your shows expect?
NU: I think we’ve done a good job of performing the new songs live, which was a challenge because they are large and epic on the record. We’re doing a nice mix of our past albums with our new songs and new instruments, and we have a few new guest players. It’s going to be a good time.
OT: Any final thoughts?
NU: Man, I think I’ve added a lot! No, I just wanted to add how excited we are to get back to DC. We didn’t mean to take so long to put out a new album, but these things take time. We hope it will be the beginning of a stretch of new albums and a new period of creativity.
Catch DeVotchKa at U Street Music Hall on Wednesday, December 12. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more about DeVotchKa at www.devotchka.net.
U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com