Decades dc
Photos: Alex Martin

Dancing Through the Decades

Last August, I checked in with Panorama Productions owner and longtime DC event promoter Antonis Karagounis about potentially covering a few upcoming events. I’ve been collaborating with Karagounis since the start of my nine-year career as a music and nightlife journalist, covering the likes of Tiësto, David Guetta and more at his Club Glow parties.

But instead of a media pass, Karagounis presented me with the opportunity to become the concept development and social media director of Decades, a three-story, 12,000-square-foot, retro-themed nightclub that opened downtown at the end of 2016. The last six months have been entirely unexpected, and ultimately beneficial to the nightlife scene in the nation’s capital.

Until February of last year, the space now occupied by Decades was known as Midtown, a club that specialized in Top 40 pop and dance from the present day. However, for Panorama Productions, opening a pop nightclub wasn’t enough. Panorama owns Northeast DC mega concert hall Echostage, and a quartet of Northwest DC spaces including restaurant and nightclub Barcode, fully soundproofed underground house and bass music venue Soundcheck, multilevel dance den Ultrabar, and urban pop space L8 Lounge.

Alongside vaunted turntablist DJ Enferno (who once toured with Madonna), venue designer Josh Lee, artist Keneth Nyakabwa, Decades  Marketing Director Kamal Azzouz and myself, Karagounis focused on creating an atmosphere “celebrating club and DJ culture, plus the hits of the recent past and the present day.” Together, we are aiming to do something more by paying homage to the top hits of the 80s, 90s, 2000s and today.

As the journalist involved in this process, my most significant role is ensuring that the story of the club is correct. Everything in the planning stages was selected with precision – the Air Jordan sneakers hung artfully as if they’re swinging from telephone wires on the Decades of Hip-Hop floor, the beer and other alcohol served on the 90s floor, the faces of the most culturally relevant pop stars in the 2000s floor’s Pop VIP bottle service area, and of course, the music itself. It’s my job to ensure that the respective timeframes of each floor are accurately represented, making a nostalgic impact on the nightclub’s clientele.

It’s important to hear the perfect song in the perfect place with the perfect mood and feel completely transported to a likely forgotten, but pleasantly remembered age. If even one of those concepts falls short, in many ways the club falls short. In my attempts to overdeliver alongside a team of creatives also obsessed with overdelivering, Decades has thankfully been packed since it opened.

The larger goal of Decades is to celebrate just how well-liked and remembered these songs and eras were – forever. Within one classic era cycle, the music industry sold nearly 1 billion albums in the year 2000 alone. And for roughly 30 years, MTV excelled at turning music into indelible pop culture. There is now a very real, three-story and must-enjoy opportunity in the heart of DC for everyone who wants to connect with a sound from their past.

Decades: 1219 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-853-3498; www.decadesdc.com

music picks

Music Picks: Winter Edition

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27
Basecamp
Basecamp is what you get when three badass producers from Nashville decide to join forces to write their own music – and it’s mixing magic. Not just your typical drum and bass, these guys are masters at subtle layer, sick beat and sophisticated rhythm. If you dig the likes of Phantogram and Chvrches, check them out. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15. U St Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com 

The El Mansouris/Young Rapids
Both bands are calling it quits. And it’s a real bummer for the DC local music scene, and especially for those of us who have been following the curiously beautiful evolution of experimental alt rockers Young Rapids. They’re going out in style with a farewell show, where they’ll both be releasing new (and final?) records. Rumor has it the first 150 in the door get a limited-edition cassette copy of The El Mansouris’ self-titled, full-length album, and a limited edition copy of Young Rapids final release, the Everything’s Perfect EP. Get ‘em while you can. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10. Smith Public Trust: 3514 12th St. NE, DC; www.publictrustdc.tumblr.com 

The Smithereens
Oh where did the 80s go? We don’t quite know, but the four original members of the classic New Jersey power pop band who left us with hits like “A Girl Like You” and “Blood and Roses” are getting back together to bring us back in time – for four shows only. It’ll be just like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $21. State Theatre: 220 North Washington St. Falls Church, VA; www.thestatetheatre.com

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28
Crystal Bowersox
Who needs to win a reality show to become a bonafide performer? Not Crystal Bowersox, who actually made the cast of American Idol’s ninth season. Instead of taking home the mantle of “American Idol,” she has crafted a successful career simply creating music, instead of living up to a title. How many winners still even make music? Not many. But Bowersox does, and you can catch her rocking side to side while delivering powerful folksy songs into a microphone at Wolf Trap. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26-$28. The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Mogwai
These Scottish post-punkers have been shoegazing since the mid-90s. With influences like Sonic Youth, The Pixies and The Cure, their music is heavy on distortion and effect. Their stop in DC is part of a North American tour promoting their latest project, Atomic, the soundtrack to Mark Cousins’ film Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. Show at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $30 in advance; $35 at the door. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

SUNDAY, JANUARY 29
Star FK Radium
The cosmic, ethereal songs that this local chamber rock trio creates are hypnotic – but far from repetitive. The notes are colorful enough to keep from lulling into a bore, and the tracks are smart enough to keep you wanting more. It’s Sigur Ros-eque but not quite as esoteric – seeing guitarist Bill Martien in a cowboy hat really flips the lid on any preconceived notions about musical genres. Plus one if you’re a sucker for anything with a violin. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $5 at the door. Galaxy Hut: 2711 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.galaxyhut.com

TUESDAY, JANUARY 31
J Boog
Some people like to argue that all reggae music sounds the same, save for the occasional run through the Bob Marley greatest hits. Although I’ll agree that there is a formulaic method to the madness of most great musicians operating within the genre, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time bobbing your head and subtly allowing your shoulders to roll while partaking. J Boog combines those simple tunes with a raspy voice, most often reserved for traditional R&B, in a beautiful medley of digestible songs. So forget the naysayers, and boog to J Boog. Doors 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.25-$20.75. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3
Joe Purdy
He had a beard and suspenders and heartbreak on his face before it was cool. Singer-songwriter Joe Purdy has been a figure on the American folk revival scene since Y2K, and has put out a new release almost every year since – all consistently well-crafted. It’s hard not to be seduced by his deep, gravelly voice, especially when he’s crooning original tunes that combine some of the best elements of blues, ballad and rock. In his latest album, Who Will Be Next, Purdy taps in a little more to traditional Americana a la Dylan, so you can probably expect a bit more of a protest-song vibe from this show. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $20-39.75. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4
Bob Marley’s 72nd Birthday Tribute Event w/LITZ + Threesound
With the extensive catalogue and legacy of Bob Marley, it would be really difficult to screw up a tribute event as long as you had folks on the stage who could play the music. Jammin Java will double the trouble with two groups set to take the stage as they pay homage to one of the most influential reggae artists. LITZ and Threesound will tackle some of the legend’s timeless material, with twists representing who the two respective group are as artists. LITZ brings a sonic sound, while Threesound brings heady festival experience. Whether you’re a casual fan, or a diehard groupie, this is a must-see show. Show at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$22. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Charlie Hunter
He’s been a soloist, a trio and a quartet, and for this show four is the magic number. Charlie Hunter has been called a “guitar virtuoso” by critics – he plays on custom seven and eight string instruments – and brings Latin flavor to traditional jazz. He has written interpretive arrangements and covers of the late greats Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain, but his original work can certainly stand solo in the catalogue of (sometimes aggressively) experimental jazz. His new album, Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth was released July 22 on GroundUP Music. Doors open at 5 p.m., show at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $22. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Here’s to the Night
Hailing from Baltimore, Here’s to the Night fully immerses listeners in a nostalgic experience, with a song list comprised of some of the most fun and energetic rock songs from the mid-90s through the turn of the millennium. From start to finish, audiences can’t help but recall countless memories and unforgettable nights, as the party vibe transcends the stage and makes its way to the dance floor. These four musicians bring their years of experience and “frontman” performing mentalities to the table to give audiences an unforgettable live show that is as visually interesting as it is sonically impressive. Union Jack’s: 9811 Washingtonian Blvd. Gaithersburg, MD; www.unionjacksrio.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8
Sampha
Don’t think about it “Too Much” and go see Sampha. His lyrics are touching and soulful, and his melodies are to die for. The British singer had been experiencing an explosion in popularity over the past few years, which is the opposite of his sound, as he chooses to dabble in sentimental experimentation with his vocals, often bellowing emotional, heartfelt tracks. Sampha isn’t a concert you go to if you’re looking for a rave-like atmosphere. Instead you’ll find a man on a stage with a propensity to get you laughing, crying, smiling and crying again. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9
VHS Collection
Synth on synth on synth – that should be the mantra of VHS Collection, as the band embraces the sounds of 80s pop music in a more somber tone. It’s not as fast as a-ha, or even contemporary stalwart Chvrches, instead favoring a more deliberate approach to the noisy electric sounds. Speaking of which, I used to watch Beverly Hills Cop on VHS all the time when I was a kid, and is there a synthier intro than that? Probably not, no. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10
Aztec Sun
If you guessed an Aztec Sun would be hot and smoldering, you’d likely be correct. However, did you think it would be groovy? DC’s Aztec Sun is just that, as they combine funky chords with bluesy vocals that sounds similar to Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. and some of the slow jams owned by The Black Keys, particularly in their indie days. The group has experienced an eventful 2016, and is looking to get your 2017 started off right with moody, groovy blues. Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1363 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

The Dustbowl Revival
In a talent-laden place such as L.A., the moniker of “best live band” carries a tremendous amount of weight, especially when the title is awarded by LA Weekly. Apparently, The Dustbowl Revival puts on such a raucous show that The Hamilton is clearing out a dance floor so folks can throw away their inhibitions and cut loose. With the fusion of old school bluegrass, blues and folk music, with some New Orleans flair, the revival won’t be of the tough times dustbowl. No, it’ll be the resurrection of your closeted dance moves. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11
Kali & Ancestors in Training
Growing up in Vermont, Kali Stoddard-Imari was big into poetry, hip-hop and chorus until his teenage discovery of the guitar. With a wide array of experiences, he has used these influences as a springboard to learn more about the craft of making music, and now as a bonafide performer in his own right, the musician hopes to help others see the art how he does. Sometimes combining too many influences can mean chaos, but Stoddard-Imari embraces this clash of sounds, forming a truly unique live show. Doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Free show. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC: www.gypsysallys.com

The Wood Brothers
One of the most exciting things about American roots music is how much wonder it evokes when you hear what can be done by just a man, and a couple of strings on wood. But The Wood Brothers are two (sometimes three), and what they do with an upright bass and guitar is beyond impressive. Their style has evolved some since their debut album a decade ago, and they’ve opened up beyond the two-dudes-in-chairs-on-the-stage vibe to put on quite a show. They’ve also added multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix to the mix, and the combo really amps that big, round rootsy sound. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Nuex
Nuex is a duo out of the DMV that is making moves. With a combination of tight control over instrumentation and electronics, and Lady Gaga-like vocals, it’s not hard to be mesmerized by Nuex. The pair cites Lana Del Ray and Beach House as musical influences, and you can hear some of those otherworldly effects. Their live performances are sultry and intimate – Galaxy Hut should be a perfect spot to see them. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $5 at the door. Galaxy Hut: 2711 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.galaxyhut.com

Sweet Yonder
Have you ever seen the Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother Where Art Though? If you have and enjoy the music from the period film, Sweet Yonder will make you warm and fuzzy inside. From plucking banjo strings, unison backup vocals and lead vocals with a pension for storytelling in a bold folk manner, this all-woman group is a must-see for those without a time machine in search of classical bluegrass music. In fact, even if you do have a time machine, go see Sweet Yonder. Doors open at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20. Frying Pan Farm Park: 2739 West Ox Rd. Herndon, VA; www.fairfaxcounty.gov

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13
July Talk
This. Is. Rock ‘n’ roll. I mean blues-rock, the Elvis-inspired kind. I mean the kind that screams primal sexy. Peter Dreimanis’ deep, soulman voice catches you completely off-guard – Consequence of Sound describes it as Tom Waits on steroids – but mingles in perfect contrast with fellow vocalist Leah Fay’s. These guys have grown a following by putting on “explosive” live shows. We’ve got a feeling they’re about to blow up the scene. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $13. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com 

Parquet Courts
Forming in Brooklyn, Parquet Courts is a tad hastier, and honestly, a little more fun than your average indie band. Why? Probably because their guitar riffs border on twangy, and their use of instruments reminds us of the 70s, or any track from Reservoir Dogs. We’re not saying Quentin Tarantino will put their music in a movie, we’re just saying we wouldn’t be all that surprised to hear a track playing in the credits, likely after a weirdly humorous death of a pain-in-the-ass antagonist. Oh right, anyways, Parquet Courts is a perfect way to kick off February with a subtle bang. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15
The Radio Dept.
In many markets, the radio department is sort of marching slowly toward doom, being replaced by podcasts, the Internet and it’s longest foe, television. One reason for this is radio’s inability to adapt and evolve into something fresh. The Radio Dept. isn’t one to follow the fate of its namesake, offering up experimental tunes reminiscent of a baby Radiohead. The group strives to bring balance and shifting tones to each of their tunes, creating a whirlwind of enjoyable indie music. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$18. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Teamster, Sundrainer and Consumed with Hatred
Make sure you remember to bring your earplugs to this one. As their names might suggest, all three acts produce heavy, headbang-inducing contemporary hardcore. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17
Big Gigantic
When you think of electronic music, you might immediately think of musicians hitting keys and buttons on a device in a studio, carefully planning which sound to tack onto the main track. For Big Gigantic, it’s different, as the group has spent years honing their live performances. With backgrounds in jazz, the Colorado group has been a staple at festivals, performing at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and other events. So instead of braving the elements of an outdoor concert, cozy up in Echostage and see one of the best electronic live performances imaginable. Show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $44.45. Echostage: 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, DC; www.echostage.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17 – SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18
Arlo Guthrie
In many American households, it’s a Thanksgiving tradition in to listen to the full, extended version of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” But beyond the 27 8×10 colored glossy photographs, Arlo Guthrie has been carrying on the American folk tradition for decades. Like his famed did father before him, he writes and performs songs of protest and of change. Catch him Running Down the Road as we enter a new era in American politics. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $65. The Birchmere: 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.birchmere.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Palm/Horse Lords/Dove Lady
This trio of bands represents what we’ve been hearing leaking out of basements and garages in the past few years – in other words, they are what is happening in music right now. It’s not quite rock, not quite electronica, or anything else definable, really. It’s largely noisy and gritty, and has a distinct quality of making you want to simultaneously thrash around and solve math proofs. Not for those looking for lowkey. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:00 p.m. Tickets cost $12-$14. Songbyrd Music House & Record Café: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com 

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23
brushes
Luce Unplugged is one of, if not the most, influential local music series. Acts are featured at free monthly concerts among the paintings and sculptures in the Luce Center. If you haven’t been, you definitely should. February’s show will host brushes, the solo project from Nick Anway of locals Baby Bry Bry. brushes is a fitting name for the project because Anway uses a palette of lyric, layer, loop and more than a few dashes of feedback-heavy nostalgia to paint tracks that bring us into a realm somewhere between Stranger Things and The Velvet Underground. Art Talk at 5:30 p.m., show at 6:00 p.m. Free. Luce Foundation Center for American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum: 8th and G Streets, NW, DC; www.americanart.si.edu/luce/unplugged

George Clinton
There’s not much to say about George Clinton that hasn’t already been said, or written. Clinton is undeniably on the Mt. Rushmore for funk artists with a long and storied discography. You only get a few opportunities to see pioneers of anything, so think of this as a plea to go see this music icon perform live. It’s a grant chance to get funky with one of the funkiest dudes on the planet. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42-$138. The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

Lisa Hannigan
With a strum of her acoustic guitar, Lisa Hannigan can either melt your heart or give you a severe case of the feels with her faint Irish accent and soothing vocals. Sometimes it’s good to melt into a puddle or get lost in your emotions, especially if you have an excellent performer helping you along the way. Hannigan is someone who drives this bus, with every song featuring twists and turns, that can leave the listener in tears of joy, or tears of sorrow. Good art makes you feel, and Hannigan is exceptional here. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Formed in Cleveland in the early 90s, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony changed the way hip-hop sounded, with fast and furious rhymes paired with a melodic know-how, rare for the then rough and tumble genre. Though there are a few original members following other paths in the music world, the group still knows how to put on an epic performance, and remain rap legends because of their electric past. Doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $30. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Leopold and His Fiction
With vocals that cause comparisons to Jack White and Julian Casablancas – think a whiney, nasally high-pitched screeching sound – Leopold and His Fiction is an extremely fun listen. From the bleached blonde hair to the 80s sensibilities, the groove is strong with this group, as they use psychedelic guitar riffs to perfectly compliment the strange, irregular rhythm timing from the percussion. Leopold and His Fiction is a nonfiction success story, and you should experiences this story of a concert. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

By Trent Johnson and Courtney Sexton

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
Photos: Courtesy of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Back on the Road: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

On a recent call with Joe Lewis, it was clear that he was enjoying the comforts of home, just as he was poised to give them up again – for a while at least. The heart, soul and frontman of the eponymously named Austin, Texas band Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears was having a quiet lunch at home as he prepared to hit the road for the better part of two months, the band’s biggest tour since 2013.

“I made a chicken pot pie the other night,” he said. “I’m gonna finish that off.”

Lewis is soft-spoken in conversation, a marked contrast to the gruff, high-energy singer that he becomes when leading his band. Combining a range of influences from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Iggy Pop, Nile Rogers to James Brown, Lewis and his band have made a name for themselves through their live shows, featuring horns and a rhythm section that doesn’t quit. They show off that same intensity on their albums, the fourth of which, Backlash, will be released on February 10. Lewis thinks it’s the band’s best yet.

“My skill level now versus then…everybody has just grown so much,” he said. “The songwriting [has] gotten better. I’m getting older, maturing. I was older when I started playing guitar, and all those early years you’re kind of learning, I was just doing it onstage. I feel like now I know my way around stuff more. You refine all that over the years.”

The band’s last album, 2013’s Electric Slave, featured a heavier, rockier sound and didn’t come with the “and the Honeybears” part of the band name which, Lewis said, sowed confusion. His intention at the time was just to shed a part of the band name that he didn’t want to keep for so long, but the change made a bigger splash than he imagined.

“We had the name and kind of just got tired of it,” Lewis said, “and we took it off. And it became like a big issue, and everyone was confused. So this time around I just put it back on, simple as that. The name change threw everybody off. I didn’t think it would, but it did.”

As for the band’s four-year hiatus, Lewis said there wasn’t any master plan, just a lot of different factors that added up, including wanting to record and release the band’s best possible material. While he often brings an idea to the table, he said the band’s songwriting process varies.

“Each song’s different,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll come up with the beef of it, and I’ll bring it in and the guys will do what they do to it. Or it’ll be an idea that comes up in a sound check that we jam out on, and somebody will record it on their phone, and when we’re back home working on stuff, we’ll f— with it. A lot of times, something will come up and it won’t be going anywhere, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, that thing from back in the day would sound cool here,’ and we’ll put ‘em together.”

The band has been signed to Lost Highway Records and Vagrant Records in the past, but this time around, they’re self-releasing their album.

“Unless someone is gonna be able to guarantee how much they’re gonna pump your stuff, and how hard they’re gonna work it…if you have enough money saved, it’s definitely better to do it on your own. You can control what’s gonna happen with it more.”

As the band gears up for the album release and tour, Lewis’s home cooking will be replaced with whatever is available on the road – just one of the changes that takes a little getting used to after some time off. But Lewis knows the drill and he’s ready.

“It usually takes me about a week to acclimate to being back out on the road,” he said. “And then it’s all easy sailing from there.”

Catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the 9:30 Club on February 21. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $25. Learn more about the band at www.blackjoelewis.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Hot Tuna

Hot Tuna at The Hamilton

Hot Tuna is a tight, masterful duo that is on the cutting edge of great music and they rocked Washington D.C. at the Hamilton. Photos: Mark Raker

Band of Horses
Photo: www.bandofhorses.com

Band of Horses Gets Real

It’s not always the case that when you sit down to interview a musician you are immediately disarmed. And it’s definitely not always the case that you smile and laugh later when you listen to the transcript, and then again when you read it over while writing the piece. What I mean is, you aren’t always lucky enough to feel like the artist on the other side of the table, or at the other end of the line, is just being real. But it’s exactly what happened when I got the opportunity to speak to Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell.

Sure his charming Southern accent may have thrown me off – largely because it doesn’t come through that heavy when he sings – but it was Bridwell’s easy joking and genuine gut responses that were so refreshing.

For example, here’s how the start of our conversation went.

CS: So, how has tour been so far?
BB: [deadpan] Oh, not good, Courtney, let me tell you, not good.

CS: [caught off-guard] …Oh… uh…
BB: [laughs] Nah, nah. It’s all good! We’re, I think we’re kinda hittin’ the stride right now, hopefully. I’m gonna knock on some damn wood if I can find it.

Ice. Broken. Okay, I see you now, Ben.

And it makes sense. The band’s latest album has the same effect – while previous releases are certainly strong in their own ways, Band of Horses’ fifth studio release, Why Are You OK (out June 10 on Interscope), offers an honesty – especially sonically – that makes it stand out in the catalogue. Apparently, that was Bridwell’s intent.

“With this one, it was a much more deliberate approach to everything,” he said. “Lyrically, textually, I wanted it to be something I wouldn’t be ashamed of. It was easier to stand behind and easier to be enthused to play live, honestly. I wanted the songs to be more honest and I wanted to be more honest with myself. So I believe, even in the sonic sense, it was a bit more of a return to center, and even though it’s a bit confessional and cringe-inducing at times, I wanted to at least tell the truth a bit more than just looking for a clever turn of phrase.”

We hear traces of earlier work (chords from my old favorite “Detlef Schrempf” float around some of the tracks on the first half), but Why Are You OK is decidedly less melancholy, packs a little more punch and seems in some ways even playful. “Casual Party,” for example, is full of catchy pop that masks a slightly darker side in the lyrics, and the intentional twang in “Country Teen” is endearing as hell.

But that doesn’t mean that Bridwell fails to address some of the big questions like, “But are we really in love? Completely in love?” and, “Why spend half the time indifferent and the other half alone?”

Track five, “In a Drawer,” acknowledges the “what could have beens” while still keeping an eye toward what’s next. Musically, the song sounds like that thing you lost or forgot about and didn’t really know you were looking for, which seems to be the essence of the album for Bridwell.

“Maybe it tells a story of starting out and having no damn idea what you’re doing. That first record is the first songs I ever wrote, and that was in my mid to late twenties. I never set out to be a musician, ever, in my life – like it was the most far-fetched scheme that could ever come to fruition. So I think it probably shows some naiveté, being led by the nose at times, but hopefully some redemption, at least where we stand now…in trusting your gut and following your own sense of self, hopefully.”

Band of Horses has a somewhat colorful history of “dabbling in the major label system,” and on the flip side, Bridwell even ran his own label before turning to making music.

“I [thought], well, if I’ve got the right to bitch about music, I should give it a try myself and just see how hard the damn thing is. Turns out, it’s hard as shit but I got lucky as hell.”

After nearly 10 years playing together as the current lineup including Bridwell, Creighton Barrett, Ryan Monroe, Tyler Ramsey and Bill Reynolds, and with a Grammy nomination (for 2010’s beloved Infinite Arms) under their belts, it seems Band of Horses has something more than just luck on their side. Obviously, it’s talent, but it also is perhaps a groundedness. Amid rising fame and being on and off the road, they’re managing to raise families and still appreciate what life has brought.

“I’ve really enjoyed the surprising turn of events that’s led to more than a decade plus on the other end of the spectrum in music,” Bridwell said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for it.”

Before our time was up, I asked Bridwell one more question: “What do people never ask you that you wish they would?”

“Why are Creighton and Ryan so fucking handsome? That’s what I wanna be asked. There you go. God, they look good.”

Band of Horses will play two shows at the 9:30 Club on December 30 and 31. Bridwell said they haven’t played a big New Year’s Eve show in awhile.

“I think we’ll make it fun, and make it a different kind of show than you see from Band of Horses on any other night.”

The band’s December 30 show is sold out, but $75 tickets are still available to the NYE show. Check 9:30’s website for details.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

local music dc

Music Picks: December 2016

By Jon Kaplan and Trent Johnson

SATUDAY, DECEMBER 3
Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Showcase
The Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Awards was founded by local Cathy Bernard, and named after Fred Ebb, an American songwriter who wrote “New York, New York,” and many other hits. This show will showcase 2016 winners Justin Jones (Grand Prize Winner) and Maddy Clark (winner of Young Songwriter Prize), and finalist Jason Byrd. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $23. AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; www.ampbystrathmore.com

Dark Star Orchestra
Now going on almost 20 years as the premier Grateful Dead tribute band, Dark Star Orchestra pride themselves on faithfully recreating the Dead experience. At most shows, DSO recreates an entire Dead show, right down to the set list and instrumentation. That level of dedication is what draws Dead fans to DSO shows, and has even led to appearances by members of the Dead themselves. Doors open at 7 p.m. $29. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
Andy Shauf
Canada’s Andy Shauf returns to our area to headline his own show. He last appeared a few months ago as opener for the Case/Lang/Veirs tour. Shauf’s tunes are a mix of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and Harry Nilsson, and his most recent album, “The Party,” came out in May. With Chris Cohen. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $12 in advance; $14 day of show. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
The Jezabels
Though I wouldn’t go so far as aligning the sound of The Jezabels to the definition of “jezebel,” that being impudent, shameless and unrestrained, the music the group makes is certainly free. The indie rock group hailing from Australia had planned a World Tour earlier this year, but was put off because member Heather Shannon underwent treatment for ovarian cancer. With her “feeling stronger,” the band is back on tour promoting their February release Synthia. Rock and Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6
Delta Rae
From NPR to Time to Forbes, this six piece band from North Carolina has made waves since their inception. The folk group has been pretty prolific with two albums and numerous festival stops including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, plus the group shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama. With a soothing sound, the group is now aiming to deliver an all acoustic holiday celebration. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., shows at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $24.75-$49.75. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Stop us if you’ve heard an origin story like before: two college freshman met in their dorm room and began writing music only to form an awesome band. Yeah, that’s the story behind Rainbow Kitten Surprise, which is the most hipster band name perhaps ever. The band uses soulful lyrics combined with acoustic strums of guitars with sporadic pinches of “dynamic instrumentation.” The band’s website assures you’ll be humming along, and we concur because the tunes are undeniably catchy. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15. The Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8
Pasadena Band
The Pasadena Band has been around the block, touring for many years all while cultivating a national audience. The Maryland group often produces well thought out lyrics and grooves any audience can dance to. Though the band is almost constantly touring throughout the country, they recently added DC native Zach Bellas to the lineup, helping to reinvigorate the group for future tours on the horizon. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $8 in advance, $10 day of show. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

Third Eye Blind
With colorful lyrics, electric riffs and adoring fans, Third Eye Blind has been a recognizable cog in the rock machine for more than 20 years. With classic tracks such as “Jumper,” “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Never Let You Go,” the band has a number of deep tracks sure to provide 90’s nostalgia to anyone in proximity, unless you caught their set at the Republican National Convention. We’re pretty sure they’ll play the hits for this show, we hope. Doors open at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $35. The Fillmore at Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9
American Wrestlers
Now based in Missouri, the American Wrestlers was actually founded by an immigrant. Hailing from Scotland, Gary McClure eventually made his way stateside before recording the Wrestlers’ self titled debut album in the rural midwest. The freedom of the environment is easy to spot in the tracks, as the group sounds like an 80’s indie band with lo-fi and all. If you’re in the mood for an early show, this upbeat group of guitar grapplers might be your speed. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance and $12 day of. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

Atlas Road Crew
Atlas Road Crew have only been a band for five years, but they are already generating buzz and packing music venues across the country. This Southern rock band with soul accents was formed when its members were attending The University of South Carolina, and their first EP was produced by Mark Bryan of Hootie & The Blowfish. Also appearing Saturday, December 10 with Stop Light Observations. With Mo Lowda & The Humble. Doors open at 7 p.m. $15 in advance; $17 at the door. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

Dragonette
After a two year hiatus from making music, Dragonette is hard at work on another yet to be titled album. Regardless of the gap between releases, the group has still been touring internationally, playing with names such as Major Lazer, Mike Snow and the Presets. With indie pop principals, the group’s music has enjoyed success in pop culture and on the radio, which has provided fuel for the proverbial fire. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10
Emancipator
Since the 2006 release of Soon It Will Be Cold Enough Emancipator, or Douglas Appling, has been a mainstay in the EDM scene. Appreciated for his organic approach and fusion of different sounds from various cultures, his sets are often diverse and engaging. In 2015, Emancipator released Seven Seas after working on the album for nearly two years through extensive mixing and collaborations. After a busy two years, the performer is likely looking to close out 2016 with a bang on U St. Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Kacey Musgrave
The two-time Grammy winner is touring on her first Christmas tour titled “A Very Kacey Christmas Tour” on the back of an album of the same name. This will be the famed country singer’s first foray into holiday themed music, but if Musgrave tackles the subject matter with the same confidence and fierceness she does the twangy genre, this will surely be a fun show. Don’t believe us, ask her; “I’m making sure these are going to be some very magical nights.” Shows at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $53-$68. The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

The Reverend Horton Heat
Born Jim Heath in 1959, The Reverend Horton Heat is known to his fans as the godfather of modern rockabilly and psychobilly. Their music is a mixture of country, surf, punk, big band, swing, and rockabilly, and keeps fans up and dancing in the aisles all night. With Unknown Hinson, Nashville Pussy, and Lucky Tubb. Doors open at 8 p.m. Mainstage. $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11
Matt Pond PA
Matt Pond has been making music since 1998, and his most recent album, “Winter Lives,” just came out last month. The “PA” part of his name was a tribute to his musical beginnings in Philly, although Pond has sometimes dropped the initials, only to bring them back later. His indie tunes are hard to classify, but Pond has covered artists like Elvis Costello and Oasis, which gives you an idea of his influences. With Moving Panoramas. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $15. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 12
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was started by a couple of former punks who decided to, er, swing in a different direction. Yes, these guys were at the forefront of the swing revival, and their profile received a major boost from their appearance in the 1996 indie flick “Swingers.” Since then, BBVD has been touring and recording constantly, and every winter, they hit the road for their special holiday tour. Don’t miss it! Show at 7:30 p.m. $49.50. The Birchmere: 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.birchmere.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13
Mac Miller
Hailing from Pittsburgh, few rappers have evolved from album to album like Mac Miller, who burst on the scene with rhymes about drugs and life as an adolescent is now touring on the heels of a full blown romance album in The Divine Feminine. With beat experimentation and a textbook, old school rhyming style, Miller is for sure on the rise in the rap game. Lack faith, well he’s rubbed shoulders in the studio emcees such as Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson and Earl Sweatshirt. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35. The Fillmore at Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17
Driftwood
Though the name “Driftwood” implies either a rigid band with a country and folk sound, this band often shies away from those strict identifiers. Instead the group hailing from Binghamton, New York attempts to blend and blur the lines of preconceived genres in order to reflect the truest sound of the members. With three songwriters constantly collaborating and honing on each song’s particular sound, this band doesn’t plan on settling within a genre anytime soon. Doors open at 9 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, Virginia: www.jamminjava.com

Rasputina
When dealing with classical instruments, they are often accompanied by a set of traditional standards. For Rasputina, and their cellos, the rock group has often found the best music comes when shattering those expectations and creating new sounds with old tools. Couple this with costumes of marginalized women from different historical periods and you get a raucous group prepared to storm the stage with screams and strings. Doors open at 6 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20 in advance, $25 day of the show. The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21
Darlene Love
Legendary singer Darlene Love comes to town for “A Darlene Love Christmas.” Love is famous for hits like “He’s a Rebel” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and is inextricably linked to producer Phil Spector, who she worked with early in her career. Love also had success acting, appearing in Broadway musicals and as Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movies. Doors open at 6 p.m. $45-$82.50. The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC: www.thehowardtheatre.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22
Todd Wright’s 14th Annual Santa Clauster-f@%!
The granddaddy of all holiday shows takes place on December 22nd and 23rd when Jammin’ Java presents Todd Wright’s 12th Annual Santa Clauster-f@%! Christmas Spectacular. Tons of area musicians come together to play holiday songs with little or no rehearsal and a merry time is had by all. Grab your tickets as soon as you read this, because these shows will sell out! Another show on Friday, December 23. Doors open at 6 p.m. $15-$30. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

The Funk Ark
This DC-based band, signed to Thievery Corporation’s ESL Music, is led by pianist Will Rast. Their sound is funk and Afrobeat, and the band is populated with some of the best jazz musicians from around the DC area. With Three Man Soul Machine. Doors open at 7 p.m. $12 in advance; $14 at the door. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23
Biz Markie
This holiday season, The Fillmore Silver Spring welcomes an 80’s vs 90’s Dance Party, featuring none other than the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” himself, Biz Markie. Released in 1989 as the lead single from his album “The Biz Never Sleeps,” the song “Just a Friend” made Biz a household name. Besides live appearances, Biz appears in movies and TV shows, including the kids show “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Doors open at 7 p.m. $15.50. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

Joe Budden
After more than 15 years in the hip hop game, it’s arguable Joe Budden produced his best work with his recent album  Rage & The Machine. With subject matter such as depression, relationship problems and even addiction, Budden has always allowed his lyrics to carry a certain weight portraying the real happenings in his life. While some may see rap as a young man’s game, Budden enjoys his veteran status even referring to himself as “Uncle Joe.” Look, just Christmas gift yourself a pair of tickets and thank us later. Doors open at 11 p.m., show at 11:30 p.m. Tickets cost $27.50 in advance, $35 on the day of. The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

The Pietasters
Since forming at Virginia Tech in 1990, The Pietasters have been on the scene in DC and the mid-Atlantic area, pumping out ska tunes for loyal fans. Lead singer Stephen Jackson has been the stalwart member all along, and continues to lead the band to this day. With Mephiskapheles, Hub City Stompers, and Loving Paupers. Doors open at 8 p.m. $15. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Virginia Coalition
Virginia Coalition, known to their fans around the area as VACO, have been playing together for almost 20 years. Meeting as friends during high school in Alexandria, VACO has been moving fans with their blend of rock and folk since 1997. They don’t play a whole lots of shows anymore, so catch them whenever you get the chance. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $12.25-$17.25. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27
Clutch
With a growling melodic approach to music, Clutch is a bit harder than a rock band, but not quite a metal band. This is good for people who aren’t really in the market for music that’s so fast and so loud that it’s hard to understand the depth of the lyrics. The Maryland group has been performing since 1991, and have always made it a goal to differentiate each album from the last, which gives them an eclectic catalog for live shows. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28
The Fat Katz
“Never the same,” that’s the mantra for The Fat Catz who rely on compositions meant to get the crowd feeling something. Though the group constructs meticulous electric sounds and acoustic instruments, they are always heavy on improvisation taking their “space rock” to new dimensions as no two shows carry the same highlights. Either way, if you’re into electronic instrumentation, this is a good show for you. Doors open at 7 p.m. show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $8. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29
John Kadlecik Band
It’s happened a couple times in rock and roll. The leader of a tribute band gets plucked from on high to appear with the actual band they are paying tribute to. This happened to Takoma Park’s John Kadlecik when he was invited to tour with Furthur in 2009. Furthur consisted of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and Kadlecik had spent years with his Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra. With the John K band, he performs Dead songs as well as originals. Also appearing Friday, December 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. $15 in advance; $20 day of show. The State Theatre: 220 N. Washington St. Falls Church, VA; www.thestatetheatre.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30
Old 97’s
Old 97’s have been rocking the alt-country scene since they formed in Dallas in 1993. Lead singer Rhett Miller has released solo albums and toured on his own, but he always comes back to the hard-rocking full band. They’ll also be playing the next night, New Year’s Eve, and that ticket comes with champagne and party favors. Not a bad way to ring in the New Year. With Justin Jones. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $31.28-$47.75. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

DJ zacheser
DJ zacheser

‘Weird’ DJ zacheser Looks Forward to Year’s End

The 25-year-old Laurel, Md.-based DJ and producer “zacheser” is looking forward to a holiday season where he’s going to “actually get to see his industry friends when they’re not behind the decks.”

It’s been a big year for the DJ, born Zach Eser, traveling to Denver for the Cloak and Dagger Music Festival and releasing three remixes and an original production, all while gaining a national following via dance music website Hype Machine. However, there’s a lot more going on in the mind and soul of the creative force seen and heard locally behind the decks at U Street Music Hall, Soundcheck, Rock & Roll Hotel and more.

“I [became] interested in playing music for people when I was at St. Mary’s College [on the Chesapeake Bay in southeastern Maryland],” Eser says.

He describes that era as a good time to get into dance music. The DJ threw underground college parties and describes himself as the kid who grew up on his dad loving Hall & Oates, and dove headlong into sounds he’d never heard before.

When it comes to spinning in the nation’s capital, he says that “DC has an atmosphere where I feel the most comfortable. It was the first place where I felt that way, and knew I could be who I wanted to be and do what I want to do.”

As far as offering something more, he notes that while DJing, he realized that, “[t]here weren’t…well…there weren’t a lot of fat kids.”

“There were a lot of DJs with athletic builds,’” he says. “[And in]dance music culture, [coming] from a place where everybody was an outsider and not the world’s view of beautiful, I want to show that [plus-sized] people still fit in dance culture and can still pursue music.”

“I’m weird, wonky, play house music and [when I DJ], I wear makeup and loud colors,” he says. “I don’t necessarily treat holiday parties like a different gig, but I do think that they really present a lot of people, if they’re not already big partiers, with the opportunity to let their hair down and dance.”

As Eser looks forward to what’s on the horizon in the New Year, the DJ says he’s done a lot of the dirty work, and is now allowing himself to be happy, work on his sound and image, and play music that he describes as “unapologetically me.”  To sum things up, zacheser  “can’t be more stoked.”

Follow zacheser on Twitter @zacheser.

Elle King

Elle King at 9:30 Club

Elle King has taken the world by storm with the release of her debut album Loves Stuff last year and played for a packed house at 9:30 Club. Photos: KGabrielle Photos

LHS-110

Love, Hope, Strength with Eric Hutchinson at 9:30 Club

Love, Hope, Strength – a rock and roll cancer foundation hosted a charity event at 9:30 Club featuring headliner Eric Hutchinson headline and opening acts Matt Mackelcan and Humming House. Photos: Mark Raker

local music dc

D.C. Gon’ Give It To Ya: How We’re Listening Local, Now

The bricks of Blagden Alley glinted under a Hunter’s Moon as pairs and small groups of people – many carrying six packs of beer and cider — began to filter toward the back door of Beyond Studios. They filled back-alley space with a buzz of energy atypical for a Sunday night in the middle of downtown DC — they were waiting. Upstairs in a lofted photography studio-turned-performance venue for the evening, three bands were finishing sound check. On the next floor up another group of local musicians were hard at work laying tracks in a recording studio.

The gig was a Sofar show — attendees didn’t know where they’d be going until that morning, or who they’d be seeing perform until arrival. Turns out, local rock and rollers Wanted Man headlined the evening’s three acts.
The setting couldn’t have been a more appropriate microcosm of the current state of music, performance and sonic artistry in the District – an internationally-recognized organization sponsoring killer local talent in a pop-up venue in an alley.
For all of the changes the DC music scene has undergone since its revered post-punk heyday, one of the greatest aspects we’ve got going for us in 2016 is the variety and breadth of music that spreads throughout our capital city and beyond. Looking at the increase in opportunities for DC listeners and artists to connect in the past year alone, it’s hard not to be excited, and a little impressed by how far we’ve come.

Enter through the back: A resurgence of new, small and alternative venues
This year has seen the much-lamented departure and/or imminent demise of some long-standing alternative performance spaces, notably the original Paperhaus, Above the Bayou, and Union Arts. Despite these losses, we’ve seen several individuals; businesses and smaller venues fill the gap, and then some. Beyond Studios, for example, has opened its back door in Blagden Alley more than once to let the music in (and out!) Songbyrd Music House and Record Café — which just celebrated its one-year anniversary — has quickly become the place to see and be seen. Mission-driven Blind Whino is reppin’ in SW, and Josh Cogan has merged sustainability and the arts with Sweet Magnolia Farms — a twinkle-lit backyard performance paradise. As DIY goes, the Scooby Doo Mansion stands strong in Mt. Pleasant; and, if you listen closely as you walk down the street, you’re likely to hear notes floating out of any number of basements and back alleys.

Peter Lillis, who is Songbyrd’s Media Director, part of the team at Babe City Records, and a musician in his own right says, “I think there’s a relationship between the rise of DC music and house show culture. People want to eat locally, but they also want their punk band to come from down the street. They identify with people in the community.” He sees the smaller venues playing a big role in the future of DC music. “People are gravitating toward rising above the DIY world, and are hungry to get to the next level.”

Label It Indie
Though that hunger for getting “to the next level” may well be alive, DC musicians are getting there with a little help from their friends. While Dischord Records dominated the local label market for years (and certainly still holds weight), several other small and independent outfits and projects have also cropped up. Native DC musician and sound engineer Peter Larken owns and operates Lighthouse Recording Studio out of Del Ray, VA; Young Rapids, Foozle and The Sea Life are among the acts the babes over at Babe City support; and Sean Peoples is back on the scene with limited-run cassettes and digital output via his new project Atlantic Rhythms.

Raul Zahir De Leon, of the “multi-disciplinary creative studio” Wilderness Bureau sums up the move (back) towards indie best:

“Our studio has always been really influenced by the city’s longstanding DIY ethic, and we’ve always strived to bring that energy and motivation to all of our work. Part of the impetus behind filming bands and artists was that we were really excited about being surrounded by so many people who were making amazing work, and we wanted to document and share that with as many people as possible.”

Festival Frenzy
For a relatively small town, we’ve got no shortage of big festivals. The Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival and Fort Reno Concert Series are classics. There’s also Landmark, which landed ambitiously in West Potomac Park on the Mall in September 2015. Though it didn’t reappear this fall, the All Things Go Fall Classic did, bringing acts like Empires of the Sun, Passion Pit and Sylvan Esso to Yards Park. SXSL was the White House’s attempt at giving Texas a run for its money, while this year’s Art All Night theme of “Made in DC” had local acts playing well into the wee hours. And of course, in that ever-present spirit of DIY, In It Together Fest returned for a third year running to “celebrate underground art music and activism”. Like many other local musicians, bassist John “Scoops” (of Wanted Man, Typefighter, Deadmen, Jauze, etc.) played several sets during the festival. For him, the biggest draw of InFest is coming together as an artistic community to “raise money and hopefully boost awareness for the nonprofits that are doing helpful things for people in the city.”

Did someone call Donna Summer? ’Cause we on the radio…
… and TV! This year the much-hyped Live at 9:30 thrust DC’s most storied music venue into the televised spotlight with a musical variety show filmed at the club. Episodes are available for streaming and are aired on local PBS affiliates MPT2 and Howard University’s WHUT, with an eye on eventually landing a cable spot. But video didn’t kill the radio (or podcast) star. In Takoma Park, low power FM community radio station WOWD 94.3 came on air this summer broadcasting local voices and music of all genres to northwest DC and Prince George’s County. Further expanding the local net-waves is Goat Rodeo, a DC-based podcasting collective and audio network. Two of the Rodeo’s shows, Revivalism and Between the Liner Notes, are musically-focused, and co-founder and COO Carlisle Sargent says to be on the lookout for a new variety show premiering soon which will feature exclusively DC bands. “It’s a really unique, surprisingly gritty, and worthwhile collection of musicians that seem to live around here, which I love.”

High Art Gets Low
Finally, DC is famous for its plethora of high caliber museums, galleries, concert halls and performance spaces, from the Smithsonian to the Kennedy Center, the Phillips to the Kreeger. While those institutions play an important role in presenting and preserving culture, they do not traditionally cater to live (or local) and current art/music. But this is shifting. As larger cultural venues struggle to expand and retain new audiences, they too have gotten creative. For instance, Gourmet Symphony brings NSO-quality classical music tableside at local restaurants. Then there’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art, where a monthly music series, Luce Unplugged features all local acts and is free to attend. Hometown favorites Beauty Pill, Den-Mate, Paperhaus, BRNDA, Baby Bry Bry, Young Rapids, Fellow Creatures, Pree, Paint Branch and Near Northeast, to name a few, have all let loose among the gilded frames in the museum’s marbled main hall. And now that it has re-opened the East Building, the National Gallery of Art is taking a page out of Luce’s book with its new series: Evenings on the Edge. And what a page they picked — remember the time Grammy-nominated DC hip-hop artist Cristylez Bacon teamed up with cellist Wytold to kick off the series?

Clearly, the DC music scene is alive, evolving and thriving. Anyone who claims otherwise just isn’t listening.