AYO on left // Photo: Jim Saah

AYO Gets Help And Opportunity At Strathmore With AIR

AYO needed help. That’s the first thing she mentions when discussing her recent inclusion as one of Strathmore’s Artist in Residence (AIR). The program is intended to help them gain opportunities to perform, create and teach workshops at the Bethesda-based arts center.

Being an independent artist while juggling an upcoming EP, singles and performances is a full time job, and if you couple that with limited resources, the life can seem daunting. For a majority of her early life, AYO never even considered the path of a full-time musician, citing that she enrolled at Howard University to study Biology. Despite this, her undeniable talent behind a microphone coupled with her messages of empowerment have made her an artist to watch in the DC area.

At 7:30 p.m. on January 15 and January 29, AYO will take the Strathmore stage with two unique concerts. Before she performs at The Mansion, we got to talk to the artist about the life of a musician, AIR and writing music that resonates.

OT: What made you want to get involved with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program?
AYO: I needed help, that’s what. I needed help.  This program keeps stretching me, and it’s crazy how much help I didn’t know I needed. Creating a strong email list is something that seems common sense, but it wasn’t to me. Being your own music director or pitching yourself to venues. It’s been a lot of things, and it’s forced me to do those things. It’s classes: It’s all six of us in the room with [AIR director Betty Scott]  and one of her assistants and aids, and a presenter. We ask as many questions as we want. For example, we had a grant writing class, and I didn’t know all this money was available for people like me.

OT: What was your reaction when you found out?
AYO:
I screamed when I found out, just YAY, you know. I was really really excited and I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. I was just really honored, and I didn’t know what to expect.

OT: Obviously the AIR participants are all from different backgrounds, what’s it like getting to know your contemporaries from different genres? 
AYO: Yeah, it’s definitely been very encouraging to see, to feel this much support in this music thing. To know that it’s possible to know that other people are on this journey with me. It can feel very alone. Like you’re out here alone trying to make this ting work, to know that other people are working toward the same thing in other genres is really inspiring.

OT: How did your musical journey start? How did you start singing?
AYO: I lived in Nigeria, from five to 11, and my babysitter used to sing songs with me. She heard me sing, and realized oh you have a nice voice. She was also the director of our Youth choir at our church, and she would give me little solos and stuff like that. 

OT: From there, what kind of involvement did you have with music and singing?
AYO: I remember singing a lot of church music, a lot of leading worship. Didn’t really sing anything outside of church. I did a couple of talent shows. My dad listened to a lot of Sunny Adaye, Nigerian artists and afro beats and stuff like that. 

OT: You’re sound is often listed under the umbrella category of pop, so what’s your relationship like with that term?
AYO: For me, pop music happened when I was in high school. I used to go on Limewire and Frost something, all of those ripped music sites, I would go on there and type in artists. At the time I loved Maroon 5, and then I listened to Coldplay, then Plain White Ts. I loved the way those songs made me feel and how they would build. I loved Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I was obsessed with Pink and Katy Perry. I loved big pop songs, those go to another place type pop songs. Coldplay was really good at that. I loved Journey, a lot of these songs I would hear on the show Glee, and I would go look at it from there. 

OT: Were you writing your own “big” pop songs at the time?
AYO: There’s stuff I wrote my senior year at high school, [and] I’m not saying I was a bad writer, but I definitely wrote different. My freshman year of high school, I would write melodies and I would play the piano by ear. I would just play the harmonies I heard in my head. That made songwriting slow for me, versus now, I can hear a melody in my head and build songs fairly quickly.

OT: What changed about your song writing? Was it the inclusion of the piano as a tool?
AYO: Oh absolutely, for me, it was very much hand in hand. I started playing piano when I was five, but I didn’t really do anything. The guy would try to teach me, and I would run around. In high school, my mom would make us sing worship at night, and I would play different chords on the piano. I tested into the remedial music course in college, and I took classical and jazz piano, and I practiced my butt off and I started to see a difference in my writing. It was really playing piano and theory that fueled me as a writer.

OT: Your music is extremely emotional, which makes sense because of your church backgrounds. Where you always writing songs like this?
AYO: I was a sad child. I wrote about my parents’ divorce, I wrote about being alone a lot. I wrote about liking people, crushes. So yeah. It definitely was there, I wrote about everything I experienced. I basically loved seeing people’s stories and having the chance to tell them. It was very unrefined, when I was raped in college, it took me six years to write about it, but I did. The struggle with depression and anxieties, seeing what children in Baltimore went through when I was teaching them. Despite that, I don’t want the music to sound depressed, or have that vibe. 

OT: How do you strike that balance during the construction process?
AYO: Most of the time I have a theme. If I’m feeling a certain type of way. With my single “Direction,” I remember really liking this guy and I didn’t want to be the one to approach him, I wanted him to approach me. [So], what kind of chord would make it seem like I was moving in a direction? I also thought about what artist I wanted to influence the song, so I used Earth, Wind and Fire and early Michael Jackson. [When] I wanted to write a Christmas song [“Direction”], I love Jazz music, and I wanted to use Nat King Cole, he used a lot of two-five-ones and key changes, and I figured out what sounded Christmas-y, and wrote the lyrics according to that. That’s kind of my process.

OT: You have several concerts coming up, an acoustic performance on January 15 and a larger pop show on January 29, what should people know about those showcases?
AYO: So, the first one couple of concerts is very intimate, very singer songwriter type of vibes. The second one is a very pop show, with huge pop songs, such as “Don’t Stop Believing.” My music is very uplifting and very fun, but it’ll make you think. It’ll make you think about those experiences that you have in life. That what my music will do. 

AYO’s performances on January 15 and January 29, tickets $25. For more information, click here. For links to her music, click here.

The Music Center At Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

New Year’s Eve at Grand Central DC

Photos: LAFlicks Photography

Photos: courtesy of Ian McLeod

Scoring Stories: DC’s Cleod9 Music

Ian McLeod, a DC native, grew up with a strong passion for music. However, his path diverged when he took an advertisement job. After a year of working in an advertising position, McLeod left and founded Cleod9 Music, where he could produce and compose music for films and storytelling. McLeod’s goal is to help clients tell their stories. 

Cleod9 Music provides filmmakers, businesses, non-profits and advertisement agents with custom music and scores. The team at Cleod9 recently finished scoring Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait, and the film won an Audience Award for the Documentary Feature category in the Austin Film Festival. They have also scored content for brands like REI and Nikon. 

McLeod’s work breathes creativity. When he worked under a larger corporate umbrella, he found his talent constrained. He was charged with choosing music that productions would use, but found the process difficult. He described the procedure as time consuming and cold. 

“This is all how Cleod9 started,”  McLeod explains. “Music was always my side hustle. Throughout college, throughout high school I grew up playing jazz in the city of DC. When you’re playing in those clubs, you’re not just playing jazz; you’re playing funk, go-go, hip hop and an array of different music. So, I quickly realized that I wanted to record that music and I started making beats. So, I actually sold hip hop beats to artists in high school. That’s how I paid my way through summers. And I continued that side hustle in college.”

After a year, McLeod left and started his own company, which is different from competitors because it is a relationship-driven business. McLeod knew how to make music, but he needed to make a mark for himself in the industry. 

“I did not even know how to start a company,” he says. “I actually took the first couple of months when I left my job, and I got together with probably 20 different business owners. I just grabbed coffee with them, and I picked their brain on how they started their companies. I just wanted to learn.”

A relationship-driven company means that the work creates deeper connections. Cleod9 Music is designed this way so clients know they can depend on the service for more than quality work. McLeod hopes to develop connections with even more talented filmmakers and big feature films.

“Our business structure is a good one because we are able to tackle a steady stream of commercial work, which keeps our lights on,” he says. “We want to sink our teeth into longer format storytelling. Like short-documentaries, long form-documentaries [and] feature films, because it really gives us the freedom to create something musically and to tell a story musically.” 

Music and scoring can make a commercial or video come to life. It adds another dimension to the medium, and adds a texture that contributes to the story. There are more than 500 original songs in the Cleod9 library, and McLeod’s team adds new music following every project. The deep library allows them to complete lower budget projects on a fast turnaround, which enables McLeod and his team to give bigger projects more time and attention. Notably, the process helps them work with first-time filmmakers. 

“Our goal is to grow our library,” he says. “We want to continuously update it with new music, and we want it to be a go-to resource for filmmakers, especially the DC area.”

Overall, McLeod is drawing attention to the broad spectrum of the DC music scene. His return to his roots, and the success of his company, shows his creative talent for business and for music. McLeod’s story is a story of determination, creativity and change.

 “DC is an underrated music scene,” McLeod says. “It just is. It is not considered a major hub like New York, LA, Nashville or even Austin. But, I think that there is a growing movement here, not just on the performance side, but on the composing side. Film making is a big industry, and it is really starting to grow in the city. And we are trying to help build that movement too. And we just wanted to be a go-to music source for all those filmmakers.” 

To learn more about Ian McLeod and Cleod9 Music, visit www.cleod9music.com.

Photo by: In His Eye Photography (www.inhiseye.com)

New Year’s Eve at Kelly’s Irish Times

Kelly’s Irish Times celebrated the new year with an open bar, including a special Jameson bar, appetizers, live music and more. Photos: Naku Mayo

Shea Van Horn as Summer Camp // Photo: Jason Tucker

Summer Camp Rings In The Raging ‘20s with BENT

A new decade is upon us and the start of 2020 means we can channel (even more than we already do) the infamous Roaring ‘20s, where fashion was iconic and partying wasn’t only a way of life, but a risky thrill (thanks Prohibition). Celebrating the new decade with similar theatricality, this Saturday 9:30 Club will host BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s

With just one year under their belt, 9:30 Club’s quarterly BENT parties have increased in popularity and scope with each event, consistently filling and transforming the venue in new and exciting ways. With a focus on celebrating LGBTQ entertainment, the quarterly parties for 2020 will focus on different decades from the 20th century, including 1970s disco, 1980s Halloween, PRIDE and this weekend’s Raging ‘20s.

BENT will be hosted by Pussy Noir and has a long list of entertainers including DJ L Stackz, Baronhawk Poitier, Lemz vs. Tezrah, Sean Morris, Baby and Majic Dyke. Also, DC DJ Shea Van Horn’s drag persona Summer Camp will debut on the 9:30 Club stage.

“Nightlife does shift and evolve, and some of the things that have changed in the last couple of years are for the better and I think that BENT is a good example of how things have changed to be more inclusive,” Van Horn says. “It’s a mix of DJs and performers and go-go dancers, and I think they’ve done a really great job of being more aware of a fuller queer community.”

Van Horn has long been a staple of the DC LGBTQ entertainment scene says Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director for I.M.P. Back in 2005, he, Chris Farris and Karl Jones created the non-profit, queer performance group CRACK with the goal of providing a space for local performers and artists who fell through the “cracks” of more traditional DC venues. Van Horn also co-produced and co-hosted Pride dance party MIXTAPE at 9:30 Club with DJ Matt Bailer since 2008.

After many years performing and DJing in DC, Van Horn moved to India with his husband and planned to take a hiatus there. His break lasted for about a year, but eventually he met local LGBTQ performers and promoters and dabbled in performing again. Now back in the District after more than two years, BENT’s Raging ‘20s party is more than a debut for Summer Camp; it’s also a return to the DC entertainment scene for Van Horn.

“Each time I get on the stage it still feels incredible and humbling and exciting to be on the same stage that idols of mine have also been on,” Van Horn says, having DJed as himself at 9:30 Club for MIXTAPE numerous times. 

As for it being Summer Camp’s first time at the venue, it will be special Van Horn says, especially as Camp has never performed in front of 1,200 people before. Playing on the theme, Van Horn is looking to bring an old Hollywood vibe to Camp’s performance, and may include visuals as well.

Van Horn adds that the 9:30 crew, especially BENT co-creator Steve Lemmerman, have done a great job in the way they’ve subtly but effectively changed the venue for each party, not just the décor but the energy of the room as well.

“I think they’ve done a really effective job at creating a night that has evolved and built off of the alternative, queer scene in DC over the last decade, but just seems like the next level, the next sort of iteration [of the scene],” Van Horn says.

Schaefer also highlights the shift in energy of 9:30 during BENT parties, saying you can feel the close-knit ties as you wander through the crowd.

“We hear a lot from friends that are in different cities across the country that are talking about BENT, and that’s something that is really flattering and encouraging,” Schaefer says. “What I would say is probably the most gratifying aspect of it isn’t just the fact that it sells out each time, but the feel once you walk in, and that really is a sense of community.”

Don your best flapper dresses and pinstripe suits and head to 9:30 Club on Saturday, January 4 for BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s. The doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets $20 and are going fast. For more information, visit www.930.com.

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

Photo: courtesy of Drew Gibson

Virginia Native Drew Gibson Returns To Pearl Street

When Richmond native Drew Gibson released his debut album Letterbox in 2007, the singer/songwriter quickly developed a strong local following, with songs that harkened back to American days of country-blues and songwriters of yesteryear.  

By 2015, now living in Sterling, VA, Gibson came out with the critically acclaimed 1532, his third album, one that had a theme of family. Dedicated to his dad, who passed away a few years prior, the recording included tales of Gibson’s family beginning with its roots in Scotland.

After the success of his first concept album, Gibson returned to the format for his latest release, Shipbuilder, which came out in 2019, and carries a theme of water throughout.

“I felt that having a concept drew people in to my prior record, and it made it more special to have a theme,” he says. “As successful as that record was, I was really worried about how to follow that up because it was so personal. Over the course of time, I developed the theme about water metaphorically talking about the ups and downs of life.”

He considers Shipbuilder his best work to date and is happy his fans are enjoying it just as much as 1532

On January 5, Gibson will be performing a free show at Pearl Street Warehouse located on DC’s District Wharf, one of his favorite venues.

“It’s a full band show and we’ll be playing stuff across all four of my records,” Gibson says. “It will be a little less emphasis on just the new one, and really spanning equally among all four.”

Playing live is always an exciting time for the singer, and he’s happy to be kicking off the new year with this intimate show at a time when the band is at the best it’s ever been.

“Instrumentally, we can all breathe a little bit with expansion of solos and the night is going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “These are some of the best musicians in not only DC, but even on the entire coast.”

Gibson knew at a young age that he wanted to be a musician. Although he wasn’t a fan of his four years of piano lessons, once he found a guitar in his home, he taught himself how to play and started a band with friends. 

“As you start to feel good about something, it breathes your drive to do it,” he says. “I started writing songs and went out solo in college. Throughout my life, I had mini-successes that have kept me going, and I feel blessed that people are enjoying my albums and I get good reviews.”

Being heard wasn’t always easy. Although it was easy to get songs online, because so many others are doing that as well, attracting a following took some time. Gibson built that up by playing live shows mostly in the DMV at places like Jammin Java, the Birchmere and of course, Pearl Street. 

In 2020, Gibson hopes to release a live recording and will continue touring and playing throughout the area.

“Being on stage is one of the most enjoyable things I can do you just get that chill,” Gibson says. “I get it from feeding off of other guys in the band and hearing how they attack a solo. And I love communicating with an audience. I just enjoy sharing my music.”

Drew Gibson will perform at Pearl Street Warehouse at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 5. Admission is free. For more information about the artist, click here.

Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; 202-380-9620; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

Photo: courtesy of The Roots

The Roots Take Center Stage At Kennedy Center

A decade ago, The Roots were already one of the most dynamic and potent bands in the world; then they got the call that made them one of the most popular. If you’ve heard of “The Legendary Roots Crew” from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you probably recognize them as the house band for Late Night and now The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The group – in an expanded form featuring more keyboards and percussion – excels at their on-air role, pulling out new walk-on music for each guest, playing along to numerous musical sketches, and sometimes going head to head with other rappers in “freestyle” games. It’s this last category of sketches that reveal a sliver of the group’s full potential as frontman and emcee Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter weaves dense rhymes that flow like warm honey.

All of that late-night talk show band workhorse talent comes from The Roots’ long years on the road and deep study of creating one of the most fulfilling live experiences in hip-hop. Live sets often reflect some of the hits from the group’s 11 studio albums – including the monumental breakthrough album Things Fall Apart – and the deep jazz, classic soul and R&B roots that fuel the symphony that surrounds Black Thoughts’ raps. In fact, the group also digs into some of the sounds that inspired them, including classic hip-hop tracks like Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work,” R&B party anthems like Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and heavily-sampled, well-beloved soul numbers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” The Roots’ live set can be like a jazz show in that way, a spontaneous, dynamic mix of music; with Black Thought and drummer Questlove’s propulsive attack pushing you out of your seat.

After a decade playing it up on Fallon’s shows, releasing their own studio projects and full collaboration albums with the likes of John Legend and Elvis Costello, and recording one of the most popular NPR Tiny Desk concerts with neo-soul powerhouse Bilal, The Roots cap off the 2010s with their first headlining show at the Kennedy Center. The group will take over the Concert Hall on December 29, turning the room that houses the National Symphony Orchestra into a South Philly house party for a pre-New Years blowout.

“Questlove and Black Thought are founding members of the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council,” Simone Eccleston, Director of Hip Hop Culture at the Kennedy Center, reminds On Tap. “Therefore, having The Roots at the Center reflects a natural progression in our relationship with them.”

Historically, The Roots have graced DC with a show or two this time of year and have played at the Kennedy Center before as part of tributes, honors shows and other special programs, but this will be the first time the group takes center stage at that great temple to the arts. This show also marks the last show of the year for the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop programming, which had a remarkable second year of events and performances, including notable headlining sets by De La Soul, Robert Glasper, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Flying Lotus, as part of the REACH opening festival in September.

The Roots continues the line of performers embodying the highest principles of the art of hip-hop, something that is at the core of all the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop program.

“It is important to have artists like The Roots at the Kennedy Center because they reflect the very best of who we are as a culture,” says Eccleston. “Their live performance is a masterclass in musicianship, showmanship and lyricism. They have helped to shape and redefine the American canon so it’s only fitting that they would perform at the nation’s performing arts center.”

The Roots went national at the beginning of the decade, and it’s fitting that they end it at one of the biggest stage’s in the nation’s capital.

For more information about The Roots or their performance at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.reach.kennedy-center.org

Letters To Cleo // Photo: Chris Sikich

OK Christmas: Letters To Cleo Guitarist Michael Eisenstein on the New EP

Hearing the same dozen Christmas songs on repeat gets pretty old pretty fast. Luckily, Letters To Cleo’s new EP will add four more songs to your holiday playlist. Whether you’ve been a fan since 1990 or discovered them in this decade (possibly through Parks and Rec’s Cleo super fan Ben Wyatt), OK Christmas will have you wishing for more 90s alt-rock this season. They recently came to DC to rock out at Union Stage. We talked with Guitarist Michael Eisenstein about OK Christmas, touring and what’s next for the band.

On Tap: What inspired you guys to reunite in 2016? What was it like getting back together after a 15 year hiatus?
Michael Eisenstein: It was our drummer Stacy Jones who really instigated the whole thing. Three of us lived in Los Angeles and we would occasionally run into each other. Stacy had been on the road for a long time and was back, going to be having a kid and taking some downtime. He said “Hey, want to maybe to do some Cleo stuff? Get together and write?” I said if Kay [Hanley]’s into it, I’m into it. We kind of got together, worked on writing a song, wrote the song the first day and [Jones] right way was like “let’s record!” We were at the studio and started recording that day. Within a month, I think we had three songs and said, “Okay, we’re doing this!”    

OT: How has the band’s sound evolved over time? In what ways has it stayed the same?
ME: We’ve tried to keep it the same, as much as possible. Obviously, we’re different people and we’ve been playing a lot of different music over the years. Just starting out with the band together, the concept was not to stray too far…the two guitars, bass, drums. You know, “dance with the one that brung ya,” as they used to say. We try to bring in different influences. We’re working on new stuff now that’s less like the old Cleo of the 90s. We try to always keep it about the two guitars, Kay’s voice and some rocking drums but every song we approach differently now, too. 

OT: What is it like to tour again? How is tour life different now? What are your audiences like now?
ME: Well the audience is… mostly older. They’ve grown up with us. But we also have some audience members who never got to see us back in the day and maybe through Josie and the Pussycats or 10 Things I Hate About You or even an older sibling have gotten into us after we split up. They’re now seeing us for the first time, which is kind of cool. The thing that’s different about touring is that we do it in small doses now. Instead of going out for two months, we’ll go out for two weeks and come home for two weeks. 

OT: How did you guys enjoy your tour stop in DC?
ME: It was excellent! We hadn’t played a DC show since, I think, 1997. We had a great show and people came down since we play less now, people will travel a little bit more than they maybe would have in the old days, and they always come back around again. We had people coming in from all over the Mid-Atlantic area. Some old fans we recognize, some new fans and some random people– it was an awesome show. A great little venue too.       

 OT: There is a lot of nostalgia surrounding the 1990s, especially in music. Why do you think that is?
ME: Two things: I think it was the last time that rock was the most popular music in the world, so people have a glorified memory of when Weezer, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alanis Morrisette were on the radio all the time. And also, it gives some nostalgia about that pre-social media, pre- really even high-speed internet time, when you weren’t wired into everything all the time. If you found something, a band or an album that you loved, you had to work a little bit harder to find out about it [or] go see it. Now, all of that stuff comes easy. So I think people are longing for that less wired-in time.     

OT: Why was now the right time to make a Christmas EP?
ME: I’ll be honest. [It’s] a very interesting answer. We had planned an LP of new original music this year. With people getting involved with other projects, we didn’t get to do that. We demoed a bunch of songs but not enough to get in the studio and make the album the way we wanted to. Since we do these shows through November, we kinda wanted to have a new release for it. Our manager had this idea of doing a Christmas single for a few years now, to coincide with the November concerts we do. Stacy, our drummer, said “why don’t we just do a Christmas record? We can pick songs and write an original and get it out really quick.” And that’s more or less what we did.    

 OT: The EP doesn’t feature covers of well known Christmas songs, which is typical of a lot of Christmas albums. How did you go about choosing the songs?
ME: We wanted to avoid the tropes of the same Christmas songs that everyone else has been doing for all these years. “Father Christmas” was one we chose right away, everyone loved that song and it’s kind of in our sound, it’s an uptempo guitar number. It’s a little bit more about how Christmas is different for people of different economic backgrounds. We decided to write an original and Kay had the perspective of writing from the viewpoint of her cousin’s wife, who’s home while [her husband is] off overseas in the military. The Elvis Presley one, “If I Get Home On Christmas Day,” was a suggestion of our other guitarist Greg McKenna. The original version is really kind of schmaltzy and he wanted to make it more of an intimate, country thing. The final song, “Xmas Time, Sure Don’t Feel Like It,” is a song by an old Boston garage punk rock band from the 80s. That was really the start of the whole project. Our manager had been harassing us saying we should record this song for our Boston fans for a couple of years now. The list came together pretty quickly, we had a few other songs that didn’t quite work out and that’s how we arrived at those four.  
OT: Do you have a favorite track off of the EP?
ME: I like the original, “Missing you this Christmas.” Just because we really got to do our own thing with it from the ground up. I had an idea of how the harmonies should work and I think Kay wrote a great melody and lyrics to it. The production just all came together really nicely.  

OT: Do you and the band have any fun holiday traditions?
ME: We always all send text messages to each other on holidays. My son’s birthday is Christmas Eve and my birthday is December 27th, so we always do sort of a group birthday dinner because I think our birthdays can get overlooked.  

OT: What’s next for Letters to Cleo? Any future plans for a full-length album?
ME: Yeah, we have a bunch of songs and we’re still planning and the plan is to get that done in the spring or summer of next year so it will be out for the Fall. We also have more touring plans than usual but the contracts are not signed yet so I can’t talk about what it is yet but we will be around playing more shows than we did in the past three years. 

For more information, visit Letters To Cleo’s website here.

Dark Star Orchestra at The Anthem

Inspired by The Grateful Dead and touting 20 years of touring prowess themselves, Dark Star Orchestra brought jam band goodness to The Anthem on December 6. Photos: Mark Raker Photograpy

December Music Picks

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9 – TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Mariah Carey
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mariah Carey’s album Merry Christmas, and her All I Want For Christmas Is You Tour commemorates her album’s success. Carey recently announced that she will be re-releasing Merry Christmas with its original songs as well as remixes, and a portion of ticket sales from her holiday tour will benefit Toys for Tots. Carey also encourages ticket buyers to bring donations for the program. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $160. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com/entertainment

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Cher: Here We Go Again Tour
The goddess of pop returns to DC for her Here We Go Again Tour. Fans can expect Cher classics as well as songs from her newest album, Dancing Queen, a tribute to ABBA. Special guests Nile Rodgers and Chic will also grace the stage for the North American stint of Cher’s tour. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11

The Suitcase Junket
Considering Matthew Lorenz began creating music with repurposed items from the garbage, the professional production of Mean Dog, Trampoline is an enormous step for this self-made entertainer. His classic melodies carry through to his newest album, but artistic tweaks from the production team make these songs more accessible and even more worth hearing at this performance. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12

Alicia Ward & Joey Antico
Cellist Alicia Ward and percussionist Joey Antico come together for a performance that pairs beautifully with Ward’s stunning melodies and Antico’s percussive prowess. Ward has shared her talent at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Moscow Conservatory, and has won the Lennox International Competition as well as the National Symphony Orchestra Soloist Competition. Antico’s background in jazz traditions promises a unique night as he shares the stage with another thrilling talent. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $24. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Rachael & Vilray with Akie Bermiss
Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price lends her velvet voice to an album made in partnership with guitarist, singer and composer Vilray. Their self-titled debut album Rachael & Vilray stars the duo’s shared love for 30s- and 40s-inspired jazz, and their performance is sure to set the mood for a chilly December evening. Akie Bermiss, pianist for Lake Street Dive, joins Price and Vilray on their musical adventure and provides unobtrusive tunes that complement the duo’s playful, bantering lyrics. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13

Cautious Clay with Remi Wolf
Cautious Clay characterizes his music with electronic twists that make his songs catchy yet soothing. His passion for music shines through his lyrics, and it’s clear that each song reflects an important aspect of his life and career. Remi Wolf’s impressive beats and blunt lyrics will prep the stage for the Cautious Clay main event, and audiences can expect honest and passion-fueled performances. Doors at 10 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Harry & the Potters
Harry & the Potters will dive into the hidden possibilities of the Harry Potter universe. The group explores an alternate reality in which Harry misuses a time-turner and starts a punk rock band with a past version of himself, and their songs will cover a range of topics from saving Ginny Weasley to Voldemort’s inability to defeat rock ‘n’ roll. A portion of each ticket will benefit the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that encourages humanitarian activism. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Vim & Vigor with Kellyn Marie Goler
Vim & Vigor, a pop-folk band based in DC, produces unique songs that resonate with melodic sweetness. Their band name translates to “enormous vitality and energy,” and their music and performances live up to that promise. Kellyn Marie Goler, an independent singer-songwriter also based locally, creates acoustic folk-pop that will pair perfectly with Vim & Vigor’s performance. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9 Nightclub: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14

80s Mayhem Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party
FYM Productions will bring groovy 80s remixes to the 10th annual Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party. Their group consists of DJ Steve EP, DJ Missguided and Killa K. These experts are well-versed in mixing quality music. DJ Steve has been in the business for more than 25 years and DJ Missguided is a regular at Black Cat’s exceedingly popular events. Their group was founded in 2001, and they continue to pursue their mission of promoting good times. Dance party kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Anuel AA
As part of the Emmanuel World Tour, Anuel AA is visiting Eagle Bank Arena to showcase his talent as a rapper and singer. He was the recipient of the 2019 Billboard Latin Music Award and is well-known as a pioneer of the Latin trap movement. His songs feature unrelentingly honest lyrics and moving beats that will shine as the artist shares his reggaeton and trap blends. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39. Eagle Bank Arena: 4500 Patriot Cir. Fairfax, VA; www.eaglebankarena.com

Best of 2010s Flashback Showcase by 7DrumCity
The 2010s featured trends like YOLO and unforgettable music like Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” and Young Money’s “Bedrock.” As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to honor the music this decade had to offer. 7DrumCity’s Best of 2010’s Flashback Showcase will feature nine bands time traveling through the top hits of the past 10 years. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $13-$15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Lomelda with Long Beard and The Goodbye Party
Texas songwriter Hannah Reed, a.k.a. Lomelda, says her stage name is a made-up word meaning “echo of the stars,” and her performances maintain this drifting vibe. She is a strong stage presence, though, and her song “Interstate Vision” is full of original sounds that demand audience attention. In contrast, Long Beard’s music explores the definition of home while incorporating impressive melodies. The Goodbye Party, another solo stage presence, started with bedroom recordings and eventually upgraded to mostly self-recorded album Silver Blues. Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 15

Amy Guess
Amy Guess finds her musical inspiration from bands like Evanescence and Portishead while incorporating industrial sounds and emotive energy. Guess is currently preparing for the release of her sophomore EP that details her experience as a music presence, and she continues to unapologetically create bold content. She feels confident that her music career is just getting started, so join her journey at this upcoming event. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli, the world’s most beloved tenor, captivates audiences once again during his 2019 tour. Bocelli has paired with pop icons like Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion to produce stunning duets, and he has been in the international spotlight for more than two decades. His career barrels on as he travels across America to share his impressive vocals once more. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $83. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

Horton’s Holiday Hayride
The Reverend Horton Heat reinvents country twang by infusing his music with punk rock vibes. This hybrid genre – psychobilly – is the Reverend’s specialty, and his band is picking up momentum as they begin their holiday shows and prepare for their upcoming 2020 tour. The Reverend will be joined onstage by the Voodoo Glow Skulls, an American ska-punk band, and The 5.6.7.8.’s, a Japanese rock trio. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16

Hot 99.5’s Jingle Ball
This year’s Jingle Ball will feature headliners like Halsey, Khalid and Charlie Puth. Halsey paired with South Korean boy band BTS this year to produce “Boy with Luv,” and Khalid recently wrapped up his Free Spirit World Tour. Niall Horan will also grace the stage along with French Montana, Lewis Capaldi and Why Don’t We. The lineup for this Jingle Ball is packed, so don’t miss this opportunity to see multiple music icons rock the stage in a single night. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Capitol One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17 – THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

The Hip Hop Nutcracker
The Nutcracker meets the modern world in this reinvention of a holiday classic. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is set in New York where Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince embark on a thrilling adventure through the city. The performance features Tchaikovsky’s original score while incorporating updated hip-hop choreography and a DJ. Kurtis Blow, described by Strathmore as “one of hip-hop’s founding fathers,” will open the show and prepare the audience for a remixed version of a Christmastime favorite. Shows at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $33. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

CeeLo Green Holiday Hits Tour
CeeLo Green, a five-time Grammy Award winner, returns to the stage for his Holiday Hits Tour. He initially released his Christmas album CeeLo’s Magic Moment in 2012, and the album was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. Green is also well-known for his four seasons as a coach on The Voice, and his wildly popular song “Forget You” was nominated for five Grammy awards and won Best Urban/Alternative Performance. Green’s tour will showcase his well-rounded talent as he continues to push his career. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

The Slackers with Mephiskapheles
The Slackers have been sharing their ska-, reggae- and soul-inspired music with audiences for more than 28 years. Since the NYC band’s beginnings, they have released 15 albums and were referred to as “the sound of New York” by The New York Times. Ska band Mephiskapheles will open. Concert at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Turnover with Men I Trust and Renata Zeiguer
Turnover, an American rock band from Virginia Beach, boasts four albums, two EPs and a handful of singles their fans are wild for. They will share the stage with Men I Trust, a Canadian indie pop group that self-released their latest album Oncle Jazz. While these bands have extremely different sounds, their music is complimentary without overpowering the other. Renata Zeiguer will open for the Turnover and Men I Trust, and she recently released her newest album Faraway Business. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20

The Captivators
The Captivators describe their genre as third-wave ska, and have proven themselves worthy members of the DC ska scene through electrifying shows and captivating tunes. The six band members pride themselves on providing soulful and danceable music. An important aspect of their concert is the dance floor, so you’ll definitely want to groove to their irresistible beats as they blow through their energetic lineup. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21

FeelFree with The Elegant Plums
Alexandria-based FeelFree’s Define The Free won Best Reggae Album of 2018 at the Wammie Awards, and members of The Elegant Plums hail from a variety of music backgrounds and use their diversity to provide unique jams. Everything from reggae to bluegrass to rock will make it onstage at this show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

LITZ + Radii
LITZ blends funk, go-go and electronica vibes with the intent to distract their audiences from everyday stresses and provide an unforgettable concert experience. The band has been hard at work on their newest album, and they plan on sharing their 16 new songs in four separate EPs, one of which will be released at this show. Radii plays a mix of rock, funk and alternative music, and they perform remix covers of your favorite classic tunes. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28

Hackensaw Boys with Yarn
For 17 years, the Hackensaw Boys have delivered their unique version of American roots music to fans that are hungry to hear more. Their band promotes a “the more, the merrier” attitude while sometimes fostering up to 20 members. Yarn, a folk band with rock ‘n’ roll influences, uses their music as an outlet for storytelling. Their lyrics are meaningful and reflect experiences from all walks of life. Each band brings a distinct personality to the stage, and audiences can expect a night of toe-tapping songs. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Throwback Bash featuring Almost Queen
Almost Queen strives to create experiences as similar as possible to Queen’s concerts. This four-part tribute band dresses in realistic costuming and creates an energetic concert that emulates the legends themselves. Audience members will honor classics with the help of Almost Queen’s dedication to throwback experiences. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29

The Roots
Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and Black Thought (Tariq Luqmaan Trotter) of The Roots originally performed together on street corners while attending Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. They are now well known in the hip-hop industry and have been considered one of the greatest living bands by Rolling Stone. The Roots will share their iconic music with audiences on one of their free nights away from serving as house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

MONDAY, DECEMBER 30

The White Panda
This EDM duo started with two college guys looking to procrastinate their homework. Eventually their remixes, made in lieu of doing school assignments, topped the Internet radio charts in 2009. Entertainment Weekly named The White Panda “a veritable party-mashup machine,” so prepare for a wild time at their high-energy performance featuring loads of thrilling special effects. Concert at 9 p.m. Tickets $30. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31

Moonshine Society’s NYE Speakeasy Party
Moonshine Society combined talents in 2009, and their inspiring blues and old-school music is a testament to their success. Band members were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for their work with harmonica player Charlie Sayles, and Moonshine Society was listed in top four fan favorites in DC two years in a row. Join this on-the-rise band as they take over the Hamilton Loft Bar to ring in the new year. Doors at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $35. The Hamilton LIVE: 600 14th St. NW, DC; http://live.thehamiltondc.com