Photo: Trent Johnson
Photo: Trent Johnson

Record Store Day 2017: David Schlank of CD Cellar

In a large room in the City of Falls Church, records line the walls in giant rows, acting as a candy store for audiophiles in search of the best vinyl finds. Like most other folks in the vinyl business, CD Cellar’s David Schlank is prepping for a chaotic Record Store Day tomorrow. We had the chance to catch up with him recently about his shop and all things vinyl.

On Tap: What were you doing before CD Cellar?
David Schlank: Before I started working part-time at CD Cellar, I was a college student at George Mason University. I hated it. I did, however, love working at the radio station WGMU, which is where I met Chris Elles, who got me the gig at CD Cellar. He was working part-time at CD Cellar, also going to GMU and working at the radio station as music director. I later became metal director and RPM (techno/dance) director.

OT: How did your relationship with vinyl develop?
DS: My relationship with vinyl started as a child, sampling my parents’ record collection (when I was allowed). However, I was more than happy to switch to cassettes (I preferred my boombox and my Walkman), because I liked to take my tunes on the go. I had a turntable in high school, but preferred my cassettes and later, CDs. But really, it’s the music, not the format. I’m into MUSIC.

OT: What’s CD Cellar’s vibe?
DS: I’m not sure my shop has much of a vibe. The decor has always reflected the moods and personalities of the folks working there. If you look at old pics of my shop, back when I was young, the walls and ceiling were covered with posters and ephemera. It was very chaotic, but amusing. Now, we try to keep it streamlined and tight. But it’s still a mess, and my customers don’t care.

OT: Do you host any events at the store, or partner with other stores/venues on anything vinyl-related?
DS: We were doing a “first Saturday” where we partnered with Capitol Audio Fest and showcased independent, high-end stereo gear companies. We’d let them set up their gear and play music that sounded the best on their systems. We used to host shows at our Clarendon location. We had a lot of great bands from all over the county play their first shows there.

OT: Why is vinyl still relevant?
DS: I really don’t know why it’s relevant. It would be one thing if folks were only buying clean, new, quality pressings and listening to them on high-end stereos, but they aren’t. Many of them are buying old pressings and listening to them on sh-tty little home stereos, so it’s not like they’re getting this unique, refined experience that’s better than MP3s. It’s just a new experience, a trendy experience, a very popular trend. Sh-t, at least five new shops have opened in the [DMV] in the last five years.

OT: Is your store participating in Record Store Day? If so, what do you have planned?
DS: I think this is our eighth year participating in RSD. We do the April and November editions. It’s a stressful time, but it’s worth it. We usually just stock all the important titles, set up a little area with coffee and pastries, and let the customers go crazy. If we ever get our sh-t together, maybe we’ll even have a band play and get a local brewery to sponsor us. Free beer!

CD Cellar: 105 Park Ave. Falls Church, VA; 703-534-6318;

Photo: Cristina O'Connell
Photo: Cristina O'Connell

Record Store Day 2017: Noah David of Gumbo Records

Operating out of a garage, Gumbo Records has an intimate neighborhood feel, and that’s exactly what owner Noah David is going for. Though he started selling records on the web, the small weekend shop has become a bonafide place for record collectors and casual listeners alike to peruse selections. We caught up with David just in time for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 22.

On Tap: What inspired your decision to open Gumbo Records?
Noah David: I opened the shop in the spring of 2013, out of a garage a couple blocks from my house. There was never a conscious decision [of], “Oh, I’m going to open a record shop in a back alley garage.” It just kind of evolved from me selling on Craigslist into going more public with it. People liked the off-the-beaten-path aspect.

OT: Is your relationship with vinyl lifelong, or something you cultivated when you opened Gumbo?
ND: Growing up, my dad had all his vinyl sealed up, and we listened to CDs. It wasn’t until college that I think I put on my first record. After college is when I started collecting for real.

OT: What is the vibe in your shop?
ND: The feel of my shop is kind of a Mississippi roadside juke joint – rough around the edges, [but] a comforting spot. My customers are mostly folks from the neighborhood that have heard about it and like weaving it into a Saturday morning walking their dog (we are dog-friendly).

OT: What genres do you carry at Gumbo?
ND: Mostly blues, jazz and R&B. I currently only carry used vinyl, but am hoping to start stocking new vinyl from some of the local record labels.

OT: Name some albums that have really made an impact on you.
ND: A couple albums that mean a lot to me are Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, The Wallflowers’ Breach, Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday and Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

OT: Why do you think vinyl is still relevant today?
ND: I think vinyl is special because people have this desire in the digital age to hold on to something – to touch and feel and have that visceral experience that is really unique to vinyl.

OT: What do you love most about vinyl?
ND: I love those first few seconds when you drop the needle, and the music hits. It’s just pure satisfaction.

For more information about Gumbo Records, check it out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @gumborecords.

Gumbo Records: The little orange garage behind 940 Shepherd St. NW, DC; 202-930-3131;

Nats Park 041417 (25)

Justin Trawick & The Common Good at Nats Park

Locals enjoyed a Friday pre-game concert at Nats Park on the Budweiser Terrace.  Fans sipped cold Bud and Bud Light and enjoyed tunes from the high energy “urban Americana” band Justin Trawick & The Common Good. Photos: Devin Overbey

Photo: Cristina O'Connell
Photo: Cristina O'Connell

Record Store Day 2017: Neal Becton of Som Records

Doubling as a vinyl-only DJ, Som Records Owner Neal Becton grew up consuming vinyl records before CDs and MP3s were a thing. While everybody adapted to the ebb and flow of the industry, Becton held strong and kept his records in the hopes of a revival. Now with another Record Store Day on the horizon (on Saturday, April 22), we spoke to Becton about his relationship with music on wax.

On Tap: How did you get into vinyl?
Neal Becton: I started buying records before there were CDs, so it’s the format I started with. Even when CDs came around, I never sold any of my records and still preferred them (except in my car!) Loved records then, love them now.

OT: What’s the vibe at Som? How would you describe your core customer base?
NB: I like to think the vibe is hip, but not too hip. I want folks to feel comfortable, not intimidated. My “core customer base” is all over the place – DJs, record collectors, hipsters, tourists, bands playing Black Cat and 9:30 Club, etc.

OT: How do you think the vinyl scene has shifted in recent years?
NB: For someone who has always played almost exclusively vinyl, it’s gotten way better. CDs and laptops/Serato almost shut down vinyl in clubs, so it’s nice to see it come back.

OT: What’s the best part about owning a record store in DC? What about the most challenging?
NB: Best is hanging out in a record store all day listening to music and talking to people about music. Most challenging is probably keeping your overhead low enough so you can continue to hang out in a record store.

OT: What goals do you have for your shop in the next several years?
NB: Selling more records and finding more good records for the shop and for myself. I’d like to see record companies not making the same mistakes they did with CDs (overpricing).

OT: If you had to put into only one sentence what you love most about vinyl, what would you say?
NB: Better highs, better lows!

OT: Why do you feel that Record Store Day is important to the local music community?
NB: It gets folks into the shop who you don’t see the rest of the year and gets folks talking about vinyl, which is always a good thing.

OT: High Fidelity moment: name your top five albums of all time.
NB: Jorge Ben’s Jorge Ben (1969), The Beatles’ Revolver, Big Star’s Radio City, Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis Live [and] The Clash’s London Calling. This list changes daily.

Som Records: 1843 14th St. NW, DC; 202-328-3345;

Photo: Sean Daigle
Photo: Sean Daigle

Sweet Spirit’s Sabrina Ellis Talks Rock Star Lifestyle on Tour

The first time I called Sabrina Ellis of Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog, she didn’t answer her phone. Instead, I sat through a few rings in order to leave a message, but was only greeted with a “Sorry, this mailbox is full” alert. My voicemail box has never been full; it will never be full. I jokingly texted a friend, who is a fan, that this must be the sign of a rock star: a phone constantly buzzing, which must be avoided at all costs. Ellis called back about 10 minutes later, and apologetically said she was on another interview, where the interviewee may or may not have made an off-handed and slightly racist joke. Bingo: she was obviously in demand. “Rock star,” I thought. But I didn’t just think it. I said it out loud.

“You might think it’s a sign of being in demand, but it’s more of a sign of being the rock ‘n’ roll type,” Ellis says. “A) I’m too anxious to answer the phone, and B) Once I listen to the voicemail, I forget to delete it.”

Ellis is the frontwoman for Sweet Spirit, a raucous rock-country outfit that acts as the sweeter side to the more aggressive punk band A Giant Dog. On the heels of the eight-member group’s second album release, St. Mojo, Ellis called me back from Cleveland, two hours away from Pittsburgh where her show was that night, and about six hours away from the Black Cat, the location housing their Easter Sunday show in DC. Over the course of an hour, we talked about Norman Greenbaum’s weirdness, skee-ball and whether or not Tear Dungeon (a leather-clad side project for some members of Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog), will ever get hold of their elusive, exclusive audio tape.

On Tap: When I see the title of your band, I think of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Is that way off base?
Sabrina Ellis: I like Norman Greenbaum a lot, but I don’t know what I would call his music. What I really like is one of the b-sides on that album where he uses a synth sound that sort of encompasses all of The Flaming Lips. He was really ahead of his time. I think he was kind of an oddball, and his writing was self-centered. For Sweet Spirit, I want our stuff to be universal and relatable. Maybe I’ve just listened to him too much; he’s a weird cat though. That’s a cool song, and I do think that one day when we’re old, we’ll end up covering it.

OT: Where does the band name come from?
SE: In the Mormon slang, a “sweet spirit” is someone who isn’t attractive on the outside, but they have a good personality. I haven’t heard it in a serious conversation; I’ve only heard it in a movie. But I think that Mormons from a certain age will understand that terminology. It sounds like something from the 70s.

OT: So how’s the tour been so far? I read in another interview that the first tour with all you guys was a little hectic because of “double lives?”
SE: It’s going really well. It’s one of those situations where I realized that the world around me wasn’t the problem, but I was the problem. I’ve become a better leader, and I’m just trying to be a clear communicator with my band, and support everyone’s safety. I’m finding a much more cooperative relationship when I don’t try to be the “mom.” My world has shrunken into a van, and you can imagine how maddening it is to live in a tiny world that you’re obsessed with. So I’ve had to escape into my mind a little more. Overall, we’re not in each other’s business as much.

OT: So it’s been completely different?
SE: Sometimes it’s like a rolling Mardi Gras. In the fall, we spanned the country in 18 days, and I thought we needed to buckle down and be healthy, like Rocky running up and down the steps [of the] Philadelphia [Museum of Art]. When the tour hit, we had a break-in, a flat tire [and] the death of our battery. Sh-t happened one way or another every day in the Midwest, and we didn’t fight at all during the string of bad luck. The old cliche of adversity causing people to support each other and show their strength, we got to see that. Ever since the experience, getting arrested together, we’ve all been pretty mature. Now we can save our fights for artistic sh-t.

OT: Okay, so you know I have to ask what you guys were arrested for?
SE: It was for having weed in Idaho. It’s hugged by all the weed legal states, so their game is to pull over all the cars with out-of-state licenses under some silly pretense, and then they say “I smell weed.” It was a waste of a day and $6,000. And it cost me two weeks of community service. Lesson learned? No, I wouldn’t say so. The lesson there is that it’s not me, it’s society [laughs].

OT: This band started from a very sad, intimate place in your life. Do you still tap into that when writing songs for Sweet Spirit now?
SE: Well honey, there will always be sad, intimate places to tap into. Absolutely, I still tap into that sad place. I don’t talk about this much, but I’m a severely depressed person, like clinically depressed, and my whole life I’ve been in some sort of treatment to try and manage it. If I didn’t have music as a place to exercise the depression and dark thoughts, I don’t know if I would still be around. There was a point last year in December of 2015, when I was suffering from an anger management and rage problem that had just built up. I wrecked my truck, and it was deliberate and rage-induced. I remember being in my hospital room the day after my wreck and thinking, “My life is killing me.” When I was there, I received text messages from everyone expressing deep concern and asking if they could help, but also wishing a good recovery so they could keep working. I told them I didn’t know if I could survive that anymore, and I didn’t want them to see me go in a sh-tty way that is stress-induced. I had a sense, not of obligation, to spend some time alone in the hospital. I had the alone time to think, and if I was going to leave the hospital and improve my mental health, and take care of myself, it would be pretty f—ing stupid to give up music. I wanted to see what I was capable of, and I had to understand that it wasn’t the music that was destroying me, but it was me sacrificing myself. I can play music without doing that, but it’s a hard balance to find.

OT: Is writing music about these instances and moments cathartic for you?
SE: I think I visit that place constantly involuntarily, and when I write for Sweet Spirit, it’s an exorcism. I think there is something inherently dark about being a musician, and there’s a high amount of egotism and voyeurism to allow someone to be their own canvas and instruments to display their painful thoughts for entertainment. And then no one should feel sorry for us because it’s such a cool job.

OT: Is it more or less difficult when you have input from seven other musicians on a song or concept? What’s that process like?
SE: It’s definitely helpful for the process. It’s nice to have the input of eight different minds. It’s helpful and fun, but it is always difficult. It’s usually pretty obvious when the best idea comes, but on the way to the best idea, there is struggle. Things get heated in our band, but at the end of our rehearsals, we’ll have a song that we feel good about.

OT: How do the songs come to fruition?
SE: So Andrew Cashen and I, who’s also in A Giant Dog, he’s my cowriter and we write everything together. He writes riffs by himself constantly, and he and I will set aside time to make a song. Now that we’re on the road, so we only really get to do this three or four times a year. We’ve become super efficient though. He’ll start playing and I’ll start writing; we don’t even really have to speak.

OT: I know that a lot of you guys are plugged in with other bands. Do you have different approaches for when you write music for one or the other? For instance, I know A Giant Dog is a little more flagrant. Do you almost have to censor yourself when you write music for Sweet Spirit?
SE: Sometimes, Andrew will have the riff in mind for one band or another. Often, we don’t know what band it will be for, but when we start writing the lyrics, we’ll sort of decide. You can start singing about things on a poppy-sounding song, but it can become grotesque and shocking. For instance, A Giant Dog has a song called “Photograph” coming out on the new album in August, and [Sweet Spirit’s] lead guitarist wanted that song because it’s really pretty, but the lyrics don’t fit. With Sweet Spirit, our families can dance, but the experience you get from A Giant Dog is like if you’re staying up all night watching a special about serial killers, and then you wake up and go dissect a frog in class the next day. Sweet Spirit is still real: we sweat and fart. But A Giant Dog is us pulling off our skin and showing you a real mess.

OT: How are you guys so prolific?
SE: I think we’re discovering that Andrew and I are both workaholics. And that’s a silly word; that sounds like it would be used in a 90s sitcom, but it’s a real thing to realize in your adulthood that you’re in love with something that makes you want to be alive, and for us that’s our work. It can’t be just getting off on the party or performance, or even the gratification of writing. In the world of music, we move in the seasons of album cycles, and if you drew ours, it would be like a manic Tasmanian Devil frenzy.

OT: Will we ever get an acoustic Sabrina Ellis album? Because I really dug “The Better It Feels Today.” Please say, “Yes.”
SE: I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know if I’ll ever make a solo album. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time, and to be honest, I like the songs Andrew and I make together more. When I hear my own music, I cringe.

OT: Okay, so you might not know the answer to this question, but will there be a Tear Dungeon album? Asking for a friend, seriously.
SE: A full album? Maybe if they write some more songs. I think they have nine songs now. And there’s a tape that they made, but it’s in the possession of a small tape label called King Pizza Records in Brooklyn, and for some reason, they haven’t handed it over. They didn’t even tell them the tape was made, but we found a copy of it at a person’s house in Chicago. The guys from Tear Dungeon were like, “Can we get a tape?” If we find the box of tapes in Brooklyn, it would be so hilarious if they got burned or something, and then the only tape in existence was in that guy’s penthouse.

OT: On Facebook, you guys posted that you cheat at skee-ball. Why?
SE: Because we all suck at it. Some of us are slightly athletic. I think skee-ball is harder than bowling and basketball. Maybe we need to go boot camp.

Sweet Spirit Skee Ball

Maybe Sweet Spirit needs to go to skee-ball boot camp, but you should definitely see them at Black Cat this Sunday. Tickets here.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490;

Photo: Courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Photo: Courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Celebrate Record Store Day 2017 with the Dogfish Head x Crosley Cruiser Tour

As the official beer of Record Store Day (RSD), Dogfish Head Craft Brewery proudly celebrates the yearly occurrence. Whether it’s from afar at their respective locations, or by parking in front of a plethora of record stores in collaboration with Crosley Radio, Dogfish Founder Sam Calagione makes sure his business is knee-deep in the celebrations. With the calendar counting down toward the big day on April 22, you might see the Crosley Cruiser out and about at record stores like Crooked Beat in Alexandria, Va. and Joint Custody on U Street. We caught up with Calagione about the inspiration behind Dogfish’s collaboration with Crosley, why he thinks beer and vinyl pair so well together, and what locals can expect from the Dogfish x Crosley Tour stops in the DC area.

On Tap: What inspired this collaboration between Dogfish and Crosley?
Sam Calagione: Our brewery has been obsessed with music since the day we opened, and we have enjoyed every opportunity to weave together the art of brewing with our love of music as often and meaningfully as we can.

OT: How long has Dogfish Head been celebrating RSD? 
SC: We’re in our third year as the official beer of Record Store Day. Each year, we look forward to bringing fans another round of unique Dogfish offerings to help celebrate the moment of recognizing analog music, including a celebratory brew, compilation vinyl, nationwide events and for 2017, a 29-city tour.

OT: Why do you think beer and vinyl go together?
SC: I fell in love with music at the same time I fell in love with beer, and in an increasingly digital age, vinyl records provide a deep, tangible connection to music that reverberates with craft beer fans.

OT: We were particularly excited to find out about the Dogfish/Crosley partnership because our beer writer, Jamaal Lemon, wrote a piece for our April issue on beer and vinyl pairings. He even blogs on the subject regularly. Why do you think this is a rising trend?
SC: It’s definitely a movement. For the last couple years, we’ve hosted a “Vintage & Vinyl” happy hour every Thursday at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton. I always look forward to digging into my beer stash to share a few of our rarest, ageable ales with old and new friends that stop by the tasting room. Along with the throwback beers, we spin vintage vinyl on our old-school turntables – always a good time.

OT: What demographic are you hoping to attract at the RSD events?
SC: We’re hoping to celebrate the love of good beer and great music with longtime fans, and hopefully introduce a couple new friends to the magical movement.

OT: What is your favorite record to listen to on vinyl?
SC: My favorite album to listen to on vinyl while drinking beer is Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, because we collaborated on a beer with the Miles family and Sony Legacy called Bitches Brew that was designed to be paired with the album. The enjoyment of a beautiful beer with an amazing album at the same time is an exponentially awesome experience.

OT: Is the Beer to Drink Music to ’17 a limited edition brew or will it stick around? Has anything like this been released before?
SC: This is our second year of doing a Beer to Drink Music to. The 2017 version that’s in the market now is a tropical golden ale brewed with kiwi and hibiscus. We love it and have received lots of awesome feedback, but we’ve yet to decide if we’re doing the exact same liquid for Record Store Day 2018 or if we’re changing it up again. Rest assured, we are doing something special as we continue our romance and partnership with RSD.

OT: What do you hope people take away from going to the tour date event in their respective cities?
SC: I hope folks that come out to the Record Store Day and [Dogfish Head x Crosley Cruiser Tour] events leave with a renewed respect for their local music scene, especially the indie record stores that are the bedrock of any local music community. We hope they appreciate how passionate Dogfish Head is about indie music and how deep it runs in our brand. We’re hopeful that they’ll not only seek out Dogfish Head beers in the marketplace, but also come make a pilgrimage to our Milton brewery and see a live band on our own stage in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

OT: Why do you think vinyl is still relevant today?
SC: Vinyl is more relevant today than ever. Listening to music on vinyl presents an unparalleled aural experience where music sounds warmer and has more depth. In the digital age, when so much information is shared via the cloud, holding an art form tangibly in your hands and taking in the artwork that was thoughtfully put together at the same moment you’re listening to the music is a palatable and memorable experience.

OT: What can locals expect from the events at Dogfish’s Falls Church and Fairfax locations?
SC: [At] both events, we’ll be showing our love for music, art and beer at each spot. We will be giving away Dogfish hats, key chains and RSD stickers. Each person who comes onto the cruiser can take their picture in our photo booth and hashtag it to enter to win a Crosley record player.

For more information about the Dogfish Head x Crosley Cruiser Tour, click here.

Photo: Trent Johnson
Photo: Trent Johnson

Record Store Day 2017: Gene Melkisethian of Joint Custody

With vintage clothes and posters hanging on the walls, Joint Custody is a must-visit for music and pop culture lovers in search of memorabilia. At its heart though, the shop is still very much a record store, and with Record Store Day coming up on Saturday, April 22, it’s definitely worth checking out. We caught up with co-owner Gene Melkisethian about his spot and all things vinyl.

On Tap: When and why did you open Joint Custody?
Gene Melkisethian: We opened our store on September 11, 2011. An auspicious date for sure, but we just hustled to get things going in time for the Adams Morgan Day festival held on that date. We decided to open the store that we always wanted to shop at. We both had other incomes, so we knew we could concentrate on making Joint Custody exactly what we wanted it to be without the pressures of hand-to-mouth survival.

OT: What’s the look you’re going for at Joint Custody? Who shops here?
GM: Our store has an eclectic assortment of things we find amusing on the walls and small shelves. Definitely not as fanciful as we’d like, but space is an issue. Our customer base is an assortment of creative people who are doing all sorts of interesting things. The MVP is definitely Ronald. He’s a walking billboard for everything that makes this city so great.

OT: What genres do you cover? What about new versus used records?
GM: We try to cover the full spectrum of genres. We have quite a large selection of rock, punk, jazz, alternative, heavy metal, hip-hop and international. We prefer used for a variety of reasons, be they related to sound quality, environmental concerns, price, etc. We do try to keep a wide spread of new releases, and work on improving this aspect of our store constantly.

OT: What kind of record player do you own?
GM: I have a Technics in my current setup that’s my day-to-day turntable. I have some others that I’d put into rotation if I lived in a bigger house.

OT: Any vinyl-themed events on your radar in and around the city?
GM: I travel a lot and have played in touring bands for 20 years, [so] I’m normally trying to run away from loud music and hide in Rock Creek Park when I’m home. I always to try see anything that Beautiful Swimmers are spinning at, because they’re really nice people and their events always have a positive vibe. Moneytown is great, but it’s on Fridays and I never seem to make it out to Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street. But DJ Nitecrawler is surely the go-to guy for the best in soul. Songbyrd has events constantly, as does U Street Music Hall, and Ten Tigers is a newcomer that has already had some killer events including Baltimore club legend DJ Technics. Slash Run, Black Cat and Dew Drop Inn always seem to have good music playing or on the jukebox. With the explosion in bars, venues and DJ nights in this city, you really have to try to go to a place that doesn’t have good music playing. That’s a very good thing.

OT:  Do you see a shift in vinyl’s popularity locally, and nationally?
GM: Consuming music only through computer speakers and earbuds is like eating PowerBars as your sole means of sustenance. You can do it, but why? The major labels are milking it for all they can. They are doing their best to create a bubble, but I think there will be sustained popularity for the format as people begin to value objects for their quality and not their quantity again. People are willing to pay more for ethically-sourced food and handmade products as opposed to blind consumption for the sake of it. The same is happening with records and books. Have you ever had a meaningful conversation with your Amazon shopping cart?

OT: What are the best and worst parts of owning a record store in the DC area?
GM: The best part is all of our wonderful customers. We meet all kinds of great people that have interesting things to share. All of the business-related stuff is annoying to deal with, but what can you do?

OT: What goals do you have for your shop in the next several years?
GM: We would like to continually improve and expand in every way possible.

OT: If you had to put into only one sentence what you love most about vinyl, what would you say?
GM: After backaches from repeated moves, still worth it.

OT: Why do you feel that Record Store Day is important to the local music community?
GM: I’m not sure if Record Store Day is that important to the local music community; they’re already immersed in music every day. I think RSD is more helpful for getting the casual buyer through the door to see what they’re missing out on. RSD is our chance to show the community at large what a great experience rubbing elbows with other music fans can be, and helps to illuminate the special things that can’t be emulated via the online shopping experience.

Joint Custody: 1530 U St. NW, DC; 202-643-8614;

Photo: Courtesy of the Kurland Agency
Photo: Courtesy of the Kurland Agency

‘Ladies Sing the Blues’ at Strathmore

The Strathmore continues its Shades of Blues festival tomorrow with a performance by a powerhouse trio of vocalists that channel the spirits of the divas of the past. They’ll prove to you that the blues, a uniquely American cultural creation, is as ageless and relevant as ever.

Catherine Russell, Brianna Thomas and Charenee Wade join together for the first time as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: Ladies Sing the Blues with a seven-piece band led by pianist Mark Shane. Their arrangements will transport you back to the time when you’d gather in a crowded, brick-walled nightclub to listen to the innuendo, longing, love and pain of 1920s blues divas Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters.

Catherine Russell is a Grammy Award-winning vocalist who has recently released her sixth album, Harlem on My Mind. Russell grew up surrounded by music. Her father, the late Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong’s musical director, and her mother, Carline Ray, a vocalist and instrumentalist – both were seeped in the musical culture of the golden age of Harlem jazz. On Tap spoke with Russell about tomorrow night’s performance, and the state of blues music in 2017.

On Tap: Which blues divas have influenced your singing the most, and which songs are you most looking forward to interpreting?
Catherine Russell: In addition to those listed above (Smith, Rainey, Walters), we also pay tribute to Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey and Sippie Wallace. I include a tune by Fats Waller (can’t forget Fats!), and another recorded by my father’s orchestra in 1930. I am influenced by all of these artists equally, even though I’ve recorded tunes that were originally recorded by Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters. I can’t say I have a favorite song in this program; they are all my favorites because they are great tunes and fun to sing!

OT: The blues was born out of a uniquely African American experience. Do you think the blues are still relevant to the African American experience now? How do you want to interpret it for the 21st century, and especially in 2017?
CR: The blues will always be relevant because it’s music that’s personal and reflects how we feel. It literally saved lives in the African American community by giving people a chance to improve their circumstances, particularly through recording and performing, so the music could reach a wide audience. Many blues themes are universal so everyone can relate to them, so the stories bring people together.

OT: What are you hoping the audience will take away from your performance and the songs of these women?
CR: First and foremost, I want the audience to have fun! The tunes are arranged very closely to the original recordings, so you can hear how the they might have been played in a live setting so many years ago. Charenee Wade and Brianna Thomas are exceptional artists, and together we are united in keeping this music alive, and not relegated to just the history books.

OT: How do you envision the future of jazz and blues music?
CR: The future of the music is in the hands of those who keep recording and performing it. Jazz and blues will forever evolve as they should, and we also need to keep the roots of this music alive so we never forget where we come from. And once again, it’s fun!

OT: People say that you can sing virtually anything! What’s your favorite song and/or genre to sing that might be unexpected to people that only know you as a blues and jazz vocalist?
CR: Thank you for the compliment! I love, and am influenced by, many styles of music. People might be surprised to hear that I love classic country music. Patsy Cline and George Jones are two of my favorite singers, and I also love Dolly Parton. They all interpret a lyric like nobody else, and their singing styles are very soulful. I also love harmony singing such as The Louvin Brothers and The Stanley Brothers. It’s beautiful to hear great family harmony singing.

Catch Russell, Thomas and Wade at Ladies Sing the Blues on Saturday, April 8 at 8 p.m. at the Strathmore. Tickets start at $35.

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

Photo: Lindsay Galatro
Photo: Lindsay Galatro

Record Store Day 2017: Joe Lapan and Alisha Edmonson of Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe

Whether you’re in search of records, listening parties or live shows, Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe in Adams Morgan has you more than covered. We caught up with owners Joe Lapan and Alisha Edmonson about all things vinyl, and their plans for Record Store Day (RSD) on Saturday, April 22.

On Tap: How would you describe your relationship with vinyl?
Joe: As a “generation X member,” I think the experience was somewhat typical in that I was always fascinated by my parents’ records, but really grew up in the cassette/CD era. My CD collection was quite large, and I carried them everywhere. My transition to digital was actually pretty late. I stuck with CDs for quite awhile. We probably “rediscovered” vinyl more recently as we learned more about it and appreciated it, kind of like a lot of people our age.

OT: What genres does Songbyrd specialize in?
Joe: With our record cafe concept, we are not a full-scale, large-format record store, so we have to curate well, just as a matter of space. We specialize primarily in “new” records (i.e., fresh, unwrapped), but our selection ranges from soul and hip-hop to jazz and rock classic albums as well as the best new records. It is also important to us to feature and provide space for local records.

OT: What kind of music do you play in the store? How do you select your lineup of tunes for the day?
Alisha: We have a very eclectic playlist. During the day, we tend toward low-key music, folding in new artist playlists or themes. Like right now, we are playing SXSW artists. At night, we have a little more fun. We crack open new album releases every Friday, [and] we have a Yacht Rock night [and] a Bring Your Own Vinyl night. It’s always fun stuff.

OT: High Fidelity moment: name your top five albums of all time, either most coveted or favorite to play in-store or at home.
Joe: We’ll tag team this one: The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, Voodoo by D’Angelo and Currents by Tame Impala.
Alisha: Electric Warrior by T. Rex and Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.

OT: How many record players do you own/use? What kind?
Alisha: Here at the music house, we have five Technics 1200s and one Audio Technica AT-LP120BK for daily use. Then at home, we have a U-turn Orbit Plus. For Classic Album Sundays, we bring in different, higher-end turntables, such as REGA Planar, depending on the sound the album requires. Turntable varieties are way more expansive and unique than a lot of people think.

OT: How do you think the vinyl scene has shifted in DC over the past decade?
Joe: I’m from the DC area and have lived here since 2001. I think there is certainly a renewed and growing interest in records, similar to the rest of the country. But the true “vinyl heads” never left, or aren’t new. Collecting and DJing vinyl requires devotion, and DC has always had its devotees. While its probably been increasingly difficult to maintain a record store in the city, shout-outs to shops like Crooked Beat and Som Records that have been feeding DJs and collectors their fix this whole time.

OT: What goals do you have for Songbyrd in the next several years?
Alisha: We hope we are able to grow our listening parties [and] to see more people using the cafe as a place to hang out with friends, have coffee and listen to music. We would love to explore the use of the Voice-O-Graph we have, and continue to expose musicians and regular customers to it.

OT: What do you have planned for RSD?
Joe: We try to go big on RSD. We have a great day planned with DJ Nitekrawler from DC Soul Recording spinning brunch, a series of live acts during the day and into the evening, and then partying with the all-vinyl Ritmos Raros event that night! And of course, as many of the RSD releases as we can get our hands on. We try to make the day one of vinyl celebration in addition to record buying!

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

Photo: Cristina O'Connell
Photo: Cristina O'Connell

Record Store Day 2017: Rob Norton of Hill & Dale

From the healthcare industry to helping run a record store, Hill & Dale’s owner Rob Norton grew up cultivating his love of music via repeated listens of old cassette tapes and vinyl records. With Record Store Day fast approaching on April 22, we caught up with Norton to talk about the renaissance of this timeless medium.

On Tap: When did you open your store, and what inspired your decision to open it?
Rob Norton: We opened in January 2014. I grew up playing in bands, living and breathing music, and always wanted a record store. The recent resurgence of interest in vinyl records made it possible to open a store. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Operating a record shop is hard work, but it’s well worth the effort. Nothing’s better than offering an interesting selection of music for other people to explore and enjoy.

OT: What were you doing before Hill & Dale?
RN: Before the record store, I was working for a big company in the healthcare industry. I was about as far from the music industry as you get. Life is much better now.

OT: How have you seen the vinyl scene change in recent years?
RN: The vinyl resurgence has helped new record shops open. It’s helped more established shops thrive, and it’s made it possible for vinyl-only DJs to have the records they need to keep up with new music. We’re seeing turntables pop up all over the place. In the last week, I’ve seen four [or] five turntables in coffee shops, sandwich shops and in retail stores.

OT: Why do you think vinyl is still relevant today?
RN: It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the continuing relevance of vinyl. For some people, it has to do with sound and the higher quality they hear when they play an LP instead of a digital file. Some people like the combination of the record and the packaging with artwork that can be touched and enjoyed in a larger, more visible format. For many of our customers, buying and enjoying a vinyl record is a social event where a few people can play a record and listen to it all the way through in the order originally intended by the artist. For many others, buying records is an exercise in nostalgia. They’re enjoying music the way they originally discovered it. Finally, I think there are a lot of people who just want something that’s more substantial and enduring than a digital file playing out of earbuds or substandard computer speakers.

OT: Any upcoming vinyl-themed events on your radar?
RN: Gypsy Sally’s has a vinyl listening room that’s pretty good (and close to our shop), and Songbyrd has a great lineup of vinyl-listening events.

OT: What’s the best part of owning a record store in DC? What about the most challenging?
RN: The best part is offering a selection of music that excites people, and selling records that make people happy. You can’t understate the value of offering something that people enjoy. The most challenging part is operating a shop year round with many, many moving parts: finding and buying new records, making sure customers know about the store and that their experience is positive, [and] sometimes handling customers who seem demanding or may be disappointed. Whatever challenges we’ve encountered are greatly outweighed by the positives.

OT: Why do you feel that Record Store Day is important to the local music community?
RN: Anything that gets people out enjoying music and supporting artists is great for the DC music community. This year, the folks at Crooked Beat Records are putting out an excellent Record Store Day exclusive compilation that includes a number of local artists celebrating the music of The Clash. That’s a great local record shop releasing an interesting record with representation from our area.

Hill & Dale: 1054 31st St. #010, NW, DC; 202-333-5012;