Photo: Courtesy of Anacostia Watershed Society

I Am The River’s Keeper

The relationship between man and water has long been part of our biological history as a species. In the U.S., European settlers often chose locations near rivers and lakes because of the convenience and access that comes with living near clean water; those settlements often transformed into massive hubs of industry and transport over the next two centuries. DC’s story is the same.

Booming areas like Capitol Riverfront became extremely profitable off the flow of the Anacostia River, but the river did not improve in the same way. Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) President Jim Foster says 40 years ago, no one wanted to even go near the water because of the smell and pollution.

But since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, AWS and other organizations like Anacostia Riverkeeper and DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) have dedicated resources to bring the human connection back to the Anacostia by leading cleanup efforts, proposing legislation and educating the public on why it’s so important to have a clean water source. DC Water, the District’s Water and Sewer Authority, has also contributed to the river cleanup in a big way as part of the Clean Rivers Project, a two-billion, 20-year initiative that will reduce combined sewer overflows by 98 percent in the Anacostia River through a massive infrastructure program designed to capture and clean wastewater during rainfalls before it ever reaches the river.

Construction on the Clean Rivers Project Phase I deep underground tunnel system began in 2013 and was completed in spring 2018, contributing to a much-healthier-than-before Anacostia River. Capitol Riverfront is a primary example of the benefits cultivated from their hard work.

“Capitol Riverfront was an opportunity to do waterfront redevelopment with high-end retail [and] residential office space for a whole new group of folks,” Foster says. “It married up well for the goals of local population and the cleanup of the river.”

As the river became cleaner and more people visited its waters, the AWS received more support from the general population to do something about the state of the Anacostia. As more people moved to the waters, the river became cleaner because of the residents’ personal investment in its well-being. This beneficial, symbiotic relationship all starts with education and getting people down to the river to see for themselves, according to Anacostia Riverkeeper Outreach Coordinator Trey Sherard.

“The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District wants a river that they’re proud of, that looks clean and supports healthy recreation,” he says. “For the sake of the river, having the neighborhood here brings so many people to the river who may not have seen it or interacted with it otherwise.”

Capitol Riverfront is one of the only places in DC with easy access to the Anacostia, which makes it important to the cleanup efforts of Anacostia Riverkeeper and other organizations, according to Sherard.  

“It’s one of the only places where people live this closely to the river,” he says. “People only started seeing how dirty the river was maybe four or five years ago. Then they wanted to join groups and get involved. This whole conversation around a clean Anacostia wouldn’t have happened as fully or with as much broad support so quickly without this neighborhood here.”

But the DC population isn’t the only entity benefitting from the effects of cleaning the rivers. DOEE Director Tommy Wells says one of the most telling signs of the improvement in the waters has been the return of the eagle to its shores.

“Fifty years ago, there were no eagles on the river,” he says. “Four years ago, the eagles returned and they’re on their fourth [or] fifth generation of eaglet. They can finally feed themselves off the river again.”

Although there has been a massive overhaul in the cleanliness of the river over the past several decades, Foster, Sherard and Wells all agree there is still work to be done. AWS wants to make the river swimmable again and has a plan to get there by 2025. Foster says the organization created the Waterway to 2025 plan five years ago to “help drive that vision of connecting people through storytelling through the river.”

“Everybody has a different mindset or connection to the water,” Foster says. “It can be spiritual [or] it can be liking to reflect and relax and be energetic in sports. The water is very powerful. To stand here and look at a waterbody that you can’t touch is just not right. We advocate, we try to engage and persuade and teach people, and if we can’t make that work, we find the legal remedy.”

Meanwhile, Anacostia Riverkeeper is continuing to test the river for E.coli – the bacteria present in solid waste – as they have done for the past few summers. But this year, they have a $140,000 grant from the DOEE to expand testing sites to cover the rest of the rivers in DC and include temperature and pH levels in the readings. This year’s water testing data will be posted online to the Anacostia Riverkeeper website and to Swimmable, an app used to track whether or not the natural bodies of water would be swimmable on any given day. Sherard says there’s an intention behind making the data public.

“In DC, when it’s a 110-degree natural heat index, we think it’s silly you can’t swim in the natural water bodies,” he says. “It’s illegal to swim in the rivers, and we want to get that ban lifted by studying how many people are swimming and document days when water is swimmable.”

A throng of volunteers from many different organizations invested in the cleanliness of DC’s natural water supply will conduct the tests this summer. Sherard says he would love to see more people to volunteer and come out in support of cleaning the rivers because there’s nothing like having a clean body of natural water to recreate on.

“People love water,” he continues. “Almost all the world’s cities are on rivers or coasts. We want to simultaneously introduce people to the Anacostia and have them realize the river is fun and safe.”

For more information on how to get involved with Anacostia River cleanup efforts, visit AWS at www.anacostiaws.org and Anacostia Riverkeeper’s at  www.anacostiariverkeeper.org. To review the Clean Water Act and learn more about DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project, visit www.doee.dc.gov and www.dcwater.com/cleanrivers.

This article also ran in the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District’s 2019 Riverfront Review, an On Tap-produced publication.


RIVERFRONT RECREATION

Ballpark Boathouse
DC’s newest river recreational hotspot Ballpark Boathouse will officially open its docks for kayaking, canoeing and river tours on the Anacostia in late May. Stay cool on the river and tour some of DC’s most notable locations like the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Riverfront this summer. Potomac Avenue and First Street in SE, DC; www.boatingindc.com/boathouses/ballpark-boathouse

Riverwalk Trail
Instead of taking a stroll down crowded downtown streets this summer, get out to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The continuous 20-mile trail along both sides of the river for walkers, runners and cyclists alike is perfect for a jaunt in the cool breeze off the Anacostia. Only 12 miles of the trail are currently open, but DC’s Department of Transportation is working hard to get the Capitol Riverfront project completed. Start at Diamond Teague Park and head east along the Anacostia riverfront in SE, DC;  www.capitolriverfront.org/go/anacostia-riverwalk-trail

Riverkeeper Motorized Boat Tours
Join the Anacostia River Explorers this summer for an educational river tour focused on the Anacostia’s history, wildlife, environmental threats and possible solutions to the problems it faces. The best part? They’re free. Various locations in Capitol Riverfront, check website for details; www.anacostiariverkeeper.org/tours

Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Nationals

Pitching Expected to Take Nats Far in 2019

You can’t talk about the 2019 outlook for the Washington Nationals without first addressing the elephant on the field – mainly that franchise icon Bryce Harper has departed to Philadelphia thanks to a record-setting, 13-year, $330 million contract. But even without the former MVP at Nats Park, the team is still flush with outstanding talent and has made some of the savviest moves of the offseason.

The team signed Patrick Corbin, the top pitcher on the free agent market, to a six-year, $140 million contract in early December. Coming off a season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 246 batters in 200 innings pitched, the former Arizona Diamondback immediately made the already formidable rotation arguably the best in baseball.

“I think [the Nationals] have won the most games in regular season baseball in the last five [or] six years,” Corbin says. “And knowing how deep of a team they are, I saw this as a place that I could live for a long time and be part of this rotation. Honestly, I feel like I just stepped right in, and I can’t think of one thing that hasn’t been great. Between all the players, all the things that we’re doing on and off the field together, the coaching staff [and] the training staff, everyone has been awesome. Being a new guy here, it seems like it’s been easy to join and be part of it.”

Staff ace Max Scherzer struck out 300 batters in 220 innings on his way to a league-leading 18 wins and 2.53 ERA. While Stephen Strasburg had some injury concerns last year, he still managed 10 wins and 156 Ks in just 130 innings; he’s looked healthy all spring and should be poised for a top season. The rest of the rotation includes veterans Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson – both recent free agent signees – and 25-year-old Joe Ross, who has been a dependable arm for the Nats since 2015 as insurance against injury.

Sean Doolittle established himself nicely at the closer in 2018, as the lefty recorded 25 saves and an anemic 1.60 ERA. This year, he’s joined in a revamped pen by veteran Trevor Rosenthal, who will serve as his primary setup man, as well as young fireballers Kyle Barraclough, Koda Glover and Justin Miller. The new additions reinforce a bullpen that should improve on its overall 4.05 ERA.

Even without Harper, the Nats shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. A breakout season by rookie Juan Soto last year is just the tip of the iceberg of what MLB experts expect from the left fielder. Expect plenty of tape measure home runs to go along with an impressive eye at the plate.

Soto’s joined in the outfield this year by Adam Eaton in right and top prospect Victor Robles, whose speed rivals anyone in the game, manning center. Michael A. Taylor injured himself near the end of spring and until he’s fully recovered, power hitter Matt Adams will see some time in the outfield as will veteran Howie Kendrick.

“It’s exciting to know that you’re on a team that wants to win and tries to put the best team on the field,” Corbin says.

Anthony Rendon is the true star of this team to many, and even though he’s entering the final year of his contract, it’s a good bet that he’ll be reupping on a long-term deal sometime soon. The third baseman hit .308 last year, with 24 homers and 92 knocks, and was exceptional as always at manning his position. Longtime Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will try to rebound from another injury-plagued season, and hopefully provide more than the 85 games he played last year. He’s only a year removed from a 36-homer season, though three of the past five seasons, he’s seen action in less than 95 games.

Adams will most likely find some ample time as his backup. Veteran Brian Dozier was signed to play the keystone and forms a new double-play combo with speedster Trea Turner, who led the league with 43 steals in 2018. In fact, speed is going to be a major weapon for the Nats this season.

Between Turner, Robles, Dozier and Eaton, this team can run, and manager Dave Martinez is not afraid to send his guys or call on the hit-and-run. The team brought in two longtime backstops this off-season to handle catching duties, with Yan Gomes coming over in a trade with Cleveland and Kurt Suzuki signing a two-year deal to return to the club after seven years. Both offer solid framing skills and are above average with the bat for the catcher position.

The NL East is expected to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball this year, with the Phillies adding Harper plus four other former all-stars in shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, catcher J.T. Realmuto and closer David Robertson. The Mets are making a splash adding Edwin Diaz, last year’s AL saves leader, in a deal that also netted them offensive-minded second baseman Robinson Canó, not to mention signing catcher Wilson Ramos and infielder Jed Lowrie. And the Braves brought in former MVP Josh Donaldson to man third for the team that won the division in 2018.

The Nationals seem to have put together a team that is a perfect balance of pitching, offense and defense, and should be able to ride the strength of their arms all the way to the postseason.   

“I think we’re as good as any team in baseball from top to bottom,” Corbin says. “Everyone’s goal is to win a World Series. That’s going to be ours. Our job now is to get better each and every day.”

For more information on Corbin and the Nats’ 2019 season, visit www.mlb.com/nationals.

Nationals Park: 1500 South Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-675-6287; www.mlb.com/nationals

Photo: Oscar Merrida

Oh He Dead, DC’s Next Big Indie Soul Band

No one really died. When Oh He Dead singers Cynthia “C.J.” Johnson and Andrew Valenti first formed the band in 2014, Johnson wrote a ballad about a boy she’d fallen in love with. In the song, she walks in on him cheating, pulls out a gun and shoots him.

“About a week later, we had practice,” Valenti says. “It dawned on me to ask, ‘Whatever happened to that guy in that song that you wrote?’ She responded, ‘Oh, he dead!’ We all died laughing.”

After collecting themselves, the then duo decided to immortalize the phrase, resolving to begin their journey into the music business together. Their first big break came at the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival in 2016, and it was all the confirmation they needed to keep going.

“I think it was a very pivotal show in our trajectory where we looked at each other afterward and felt like, ‘Okay, we can do something with this,’” Valenti says.

Oh He Dead will be playing this year’s Kingman Island Festival on May 4, but fans may be surprised by what they hear. The once strictly country folk band has transformed into what is perhaps best described as indie soul. Their new sound is much groovier, with an R&B base.

“Someone in the crowd [recently] told me that people were grinding at one of our shows and I just started laughing,” Valenti says. “I never thought I would be in a band where people would be grinding to our music.”

They cite the addition of new band members as the primary cause of their evolution. Guitarist Alex Salser brings his jazz background to the group while bassist John Daise offers an R&B influence.

“I think everyone has a unique skill and knows what their role is,” Salser says. “It’s been really special to utilize each other’s different talents. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s fighting for the spotlight like in a lot of other bands I’ve played for.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is Johnson’s strikingly smoky, textured voice that lingers long after she’s stopped singing. It’s no surprise to learn who she idolizes and emulates most as a vocalist.

“My inspiration was definitely Fleetwood Mac,” Johnson says of her influences during her formative years. “I listened to them a lot in high school. I love Stevie. Her voice is just something, that raspy voice. I was like, ‘I want to be like Stevie!’”

Though difficult to categorize, Oh He Dead’s unique sound has earned them a growing fanbase in the DC area.

“I think the reception we’ve gotten from our crowd [in DC] has been super encouraging,” Valenti says. “We played Union Stage last week. There were over 300 people in the crowd, and I don’t think any of us have had that kind response with original music.”

Oh He Dead seems to have finally hit their stride, finetuning their sound and discovering their own audience. The band is currently working on their debut album, which they plan to release this year. As far as their hopes for the future, Johnson puts it best.

“I want to win a f–kig Grammy!”

Learn more about Oh He Dead at www.ohhedead.com, follow them @ohhedead, and catch them at Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival on Saturday, May 4. Tickets start at $35.

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC 205-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Chaia taco lineup // Photo: Maya Oren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Plant-Forward picks

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

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

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

Light It UP! Scores Funding For Alexandria Basketball Courts

It’s truly amazing what a group of citizens can do when they partner up on something they care about – even if it’s something as simple as installing lights at outdoor basketball courts.

Started by Alexandria, Virginia natives Chris Denby, Bruce Falk and Mike Porterfield, community group Light It UP! (LIU) has gained enough support to partner with the City of Alexandria to provide lights at the basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park. Through fundraising efforts in the area, the group’s connections with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and councilman John Taylor Chapman, and sheer patience and determination, this $150,000 project has become a reality.

In 2016, the trio noticed there was inequity at the brand-new facilities at Potomac Yard, whether they were just passing by or in Porterfield’s case, picking up his son from the park just after dusk. There were lights on the tennis courts but not on the basketball courts. His son was shooting baskets in pitch black, but light was coming from the tennis courts, which didn’t seem right to him.

“As I’m waiting for him, I’m texting [Mayor] Wilson because we all know he’s dialed in,” Porterfield says. “He responded saying, ‘You’re a little late to the party; there’s already two guys [Falk and Denby] who are on it.’”

Mayor Wilson, along with the Alexandria City Council, supported the creation of a public-private partnership to help fund the new project, giving the guys the freedom to really make it happen.

“From there, Mike was a huge help, spurring us along with connections, energy and fundraising expertise that Bruce and I didn’t have prior to this,” Denby says. “We also took advantage of a lot of the opportunities [nonprofit] ACT for Alexandria provided to get well-known in the community. Their fundraising efforts were great and gave us some more clout.”

ACT for Alexandria’s annual Spring2ACTion event aims to strengthen the local community as a “giving day” to support all the nonprofits doing incredible work locally, which benefited LIU’s progress as well.

“We got some camera time, and experienced good camaraderie with people organizing Alexandria-specific events,” Falk says. “John and Justin came out to dunk on our mini-hoop; those things also lead to productive, positive photo ops that we can leverage on Facebook and elsewhere – things that are individually small but amplify one another.”

LIU is all about extending the use of the basketball courts and their overall time availability, but there’s also increased opportunities for local rec leagues and others that might be able to take advantage of the courts in a structured way “that’s beneficial to specific organizations and the city in terms of revenue and maintenance,” Falk says. “We think of it as a positive feedback loop.”

Of course, only time will tell the long-term impact LIU will make, but it’s clear the project is creating opportunities for the overall community.

“The legacy of what this could be [includes] more kids who are staying occupied, doing healthy activities and not hanging out playing video games when the weather is good,” Denby says. “You’ll get adults that are staying fit, staying happy and they’re outside being good citizens for good health. There’s no measure for that, but you know that it’s going to be the result.”

Falk touches on an invisible benefit for people that have been going by Potomac Yard, seeing lights from the tennis courts and darkness on the basketball courts.

“For people inclined to make use of the basketball courts, there was an implicit message that they are somehow less important, or their needs are somehow less important,” he says. “Now that the lights are going up, we are showing the city values everybody equally.”

Not only that, the usage of the courts will increase significantly, raising an excellent point about the numbers of the sport.

“In basketball, you’re going to get at least 10 people playing and sometimes more,” Falk says.

Denby adds, “There’s always someone saying, ‘I got next game.’ The force multiplier is huge. You’re rotating through [players] on a good day.”

The lights have been ordered by the City of Alexandria and the LIU team is waiting eagerly for the installation date. Signage is being finalized and funds are completely transferred. Now all that’s left to do is host the unveiling later this spring.

“The unveiling should be awesome,” Falk says. “[We’ll] have two rec kids’ teams, and we’ll have them play under the lights. We’re excited be able to recognize all our donors and major supporters.”

Light It UP! is successfully bringing lights to the community basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park thanks to PARKnerships with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA).


To learn more and receive updates about the LIU project, visit www.fb.com/pg/lightituppotomacyards.

Artistic Rendering Courtesy of www.rfkcampus.com

Breaking Ground: Local Community Pushes for Sports Fields at RFK Campus

What do you do when there’s 40 acres of asphalt not being used for anything? Most would have no idea why or how to address the situation, but to a group of neighborhood parents in Southeast DC eight years ago, the answer was obvious: build a sports park.

This group eventually became Friends of Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park (CRYSP), and since forming in 2010, CRYSP has engaged with the community around RFK Stadium to develop a joint vision of how this unused parcel of asphalt could be activated for community use.  

“More and more families are having kids and staying in the area, but there’s less and less space to do it,” says Mike Godec, CRYSP president.

Godec spearheaded the vision into motion and presented ideas to the National Capital Planning Commission, Commission of Fine Arts, National Park Service and various city council representatives.

“Everyone wanted it to work and be valuable,” he continues. “It was just one of those things that’s a kind of no-brainer.”

While awaiting feedback, this determined group of parents started the CRYSP coalition to keep it local, focused and simple. Eventually they were able to nab a meeting with Mayor Bowser, who said their idea was consistent with her vision of promoting youth sports and activity in the city. Soon, the coalition was joining forces with EventsDC. According to Godec and other CRYSP members, the original proposal looked “nice and flashy,” but not totally functional.

“Based on our experience as parents, coaches and members of the community, we made a variety of suggestions [to EventsDC] for the [field] design to make it more [accessible] to kids and more useful to organizations, including what kinds of turf to use,” Godec says.

EventsDC took those suggestions and incorporated most of that feedback into their specs for building the revised proposal. The fields are just the first part of a multiphase, multicomponent plan for the RFK Campus project, which will dramatically increase access to youth and adult sports and take demand off other facilities and the National Mall.

“Is it enough?” Godec asks. “No, this is just the beginning. It’s exciting that EventsDC is valuing it [because] it’s valuable to the city and their mission as an organization.”  

The RFK Campus site is expected to open next month and will have three major artificial turf fields, several grass lawn areas, an events pavilion, a plaza and more. One of the many ways this no-man’s-land-turned-recreation-wonderland will benefit the city is its location at the intersection between Wards 5, 6 and 7.

“By creating this fantastic green space, those wards will get together, mingle and became less distinctive,” Godec says.

The new campus also has the potential to be one of the top spots to host sports tournaments in the region, bringing in more visitors and generating more revenue for the District. Godec mentions that DC is one of the largest cities in the country in terms of green space per capita, but that green space is organized and managed by several different agencies; there’s not just one park service. He hopes DC will be recognized as a community, and not just as the nation’s capital.

“We at CRYSP don’t want this to be the end. We succeeded. We know this means more [and] better access to fields, but we need the federal government and park service not to restrict uses of the Mall just because they want the grass to be green. We need to provide those kinds of assets to the city itself.”

Godec commends EventsDC for having this vision to pursue this opportunity in an aggressive way.

“I hope [EventsDC] sets an example for other things that the DC and federal governments could do, such as how to turn valuable green space into something that’s really truly a community benefit.”  

For more on CRYSP, visit www.capitolriverside.org. For updates on EventsDC’s plans for the RFK Campus, visit www.rfkcampus.com.

Photo: www.studiotheatre.org

Queen of Basel’s Playwright Discusses Adaptation and Influences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Jawbreaker and War on Women at The Anthem

Old-guard punk rockers Jawbreaker and Baltimore’s War on Women played The Anthem on March 28. As you would expect from musical rebels, the two units stirred the crowd into a raucous frenzy. Photos: Shantel Mitchell Breen 

Photo: Ryan Scherb

Amanda Gookin Discusses Forward Music Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.