Maryland native and singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers performed for a sold-out crowd at 9:30 Club on Monday, March 25, performing her debut album Heard It In A Past Life, with R&B musician and guitarist Melanie Faye. Photos: Kimchi Photography
In Monday’s wide-ranging onstage interview by NPR’s Ari Shapiro to celebrate the synagogue’s 15th anniversary, Diggs, whose mother is Jewish and father is African-American, discussed his career, including his latest role in the play White Noise and life after Hamilton.
“Daveed’s artistic choices mirror the multifacted nature of his talents and his personal background,” said Sixth & I Executive Director Heather Moran. “Offering colorful and provocative art at the intersection of race, culture and identity, Daveed Diggs embodies the essence of what Sixth & I stands for.”
Diggs won a Tony and a Grammy in 2016 for his dual part as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton. While Diggs made his entrance to the song “Guns and Ships” from the musical – the conversation focused on his hip hop group Clipping and more recent work, not just the founding-father themed phenomenon.
He performed “Something in the Water” from the soundtrack of Blindspotting, the 2018 movie he wrote and starred in with friend and collaborator Rafael Casal. Mutual friends introduced the two and set them up on a “rapper playdate” shortly after college and they have been creating music and art together since, Diggs said.
He dismissed the idea of dividing his career into pre- and post-Hamilton eras, instead saying his spot in the musical was actually “part of a very long progression.”
At first, working on the musical was just “doing a piece of art with my friends,” he said. “It felt very small until the whole world wanted to see it.”
“What Hamilton did for me, more than anything else, was allow me to keep working in the way that I’ve always been working but making money off of it,” Diggs said.
He had been writing raps and doing plays with his friends for as long as he could remember, “and nobody cared, and then Hamilton happened and everybody cared.”
Days after wrapping up his three year stint as Lafayette and Jefferson, Diggs said he flew straight to play a teacher in the movie Wonder. He later had roles in Black-ish, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the upcoming small screen adaptation of Snowpiecer.
“I just wanted to keep doing things that I have never done before,” Diggs said, so film and TV were the logical next steps.
But Diggs has also found his way back to the stage – although he emphasized he was looking to do another play, not musicals, as Hamilton was a unique scenario.
His latest role is Leo in Suzan-Lori Parks‘ White Noise that opened last month off-Broadway. The piece tackles how two interracial couples who are longtime friends deal with the aftermath of Leo getting attacked one night and brings up intense racial discussions.
The conversations Park’s play or Shapiro’s discussion with Diggs at Sixth & I can spark are why live performances are needed in an age of so many screens and media choices, Diggs said.
“We just are all here negotiating whatever we’re talking about in real space,” Diggs said. “Places that have committed to creating these kinds of spaces are so important because they create community.”
Diggs’ appearance is a part of a larger fundraising campaign for the synagogue’s 15th anniversary celebration this year. for more on his work, visit www.daveeddiggs.com.
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org
As the Nationals warmed up to play the Mets at Nationals Park for opening day, fans enjoyed a pregame show with live music from Lloyd Dobler Effect and ice cold beer on the Budweiser Terrace. Photos: Mark Raker Photography
French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg released her fifth studio album Rest in 2017. Outwardly, its timing and themes appear to be the processing of Gainsbourg’s grief; she lost her sister, photographer Kate Barry, in 2013 and her father Serge in 1991. But it also marked a new era of the artist looking inward to grow through these experiences, and not despite them. While her previous work had been primarily written and composed by collaborators, Rest saw Gainsbourg taking control of the songwriting process, adding more significance to the album among the rest of her discography.
“It made me much more responsible in a way, but it meant that I was judging what I was doing and not being tolerant [of] myself,” she notes of the songwriting process.
Fellow musician Beck offered her sage advice as she tried her hand at new aspects of the album’s creation.
“I remember Beck telling me that it wasn’t such a big deal to write lyrics,” she says. “The thing that did it for me was, you try and write the worst song ever and that’s your starting point. [You] just let go and authorize yourself to be just who you are. That may be mediocre, but that’s all you can do – just keep going. It’s easy to say now, [but] it wasn’t easy when I was recording. I needed affirmation on every song. I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Beyond the advice of fellow artists including album collaborator Sebastian Akchoté, best known as SebastiAn, a change of scenery also allowed Gainsbourg the freedom she required to create Rest. She and her family traded their home in Paris for the bustling streets and relative anonymity of New York four years ago where she felt empowered to express her feelings through other forms of art, too.
While she’s no stranger to the silver screen, starring in films like controversial director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, she returned to other outlets of expression.
“I tried a little bit of everything,” she says of the time she took to record Rest, also spanning about four years. “I used to develop my own film but I wasn’t very good, so I didn’t continue. Drawing I did all my life. I love drawing. So, I was in New York and suddenly I felt like I was completely free to try and be unpretentious about it. You feel that everybody is an artist in New York. You don’t feel like it’s a big deal.”
As a companion to the album, Gainsbourg released a book of photos, notes, lyrics and more. She notes that Rest is an album that “doesn’t explain much,” and that she wanted to better convey the atmosphere she was in while making it.
“I would have been quite worried [about] sounding pretentious in wanting to release a book of everything that I had done during the making of the album, but a friend validated what she saw and said it would accompany the album quite well. I’m not taking myself seriously as a photographer or a painter, but at the same time it was lovely to be able to put all of that together to accompany the album.”
Overcoming stress and learning not to judge oneself while attempting the unfamiliar are common themes for Gainsbourg in her creative projects. She says after trying for years to break through internal barriers and write her own material, she brushed it aside because she felt like she wasn’t good enough. While trying to write in French, which she says carries a lot of weight for her, she removed some of the pressure by writing in English as well. This ultimately resulted in the bilingual element throughout Rest.
“It was funny to not really know where I was going and to be much less in control,” she says of bilingual songwriting. “That helped me have fun with the writing. I felt that with the French, I was being very sincere and honest and that that was the only way I could do it. And when I switched to English, it was more musical and finalized the songs.”
And while she never intended to hit the road with Rest, she had a change of heart and decided to recreate the magic of the album live as best she can on her 2019 tour. SebastiAn aided in the process, but in the end, she says it was up to her to strike a balance. Her hesitation around touring has been assuaged by the band she’s bringing along with her.
“I feel like I’m really part of a team for the first time,” she says, and you can almost hear any previous doubts melt as she speaks. “All of it is so much fun because they’re great musicians and great people.”
Gainsbourg will play the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 8. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $40. For more on the chanteuse, visit www.charlottegainsbourg.com.
9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com
TUESDAY, APRIL 2
Commercially successful English rock band Muse will stop in DC as a part of The Simulation Theory world tour. The band’s eighth studio album by the same name was released in November last year. Perhaps, the best way to describe their latest project is through the album cover. It was designed by Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert, and like the show, the songs have a futuristic feel with all the trappings of electronic rock. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets start at $43. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3
Kennedy Center Spring Gala with Idina Menzel
Award-winning Broadway star, singer and actress Idina Menzel is set to perform at The Kennedy Center’s annual gala, Celebrating the Human Spirit. Menzel is best known for her portrayal of Elphaba in the smash musical Wicked and for voicing Queen Elsa in the hit animated film Frozen. Including a mix of fan favorites and original songs, the gala concert is poised to be a memorable one. This year, the center will be honoring Citizen Artist Forest Whitaker and Distinguished Philanthropists Patrick G. Ryan and Shirley W. Ryan. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets start at $99. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org
FRIDAY, APRIL 5
Amanda Palmer is absolutely haunting in her newest studio album There Will Be No Intermission. Tackling difficult subjects like abortion, miscarriages and cancer, this is exactly the kind of daring work one should expect from Palmer. She’s gained a bit of a reputation for her shocking, bold imagery – and she’s aware of it. In an interview with On Tap’s Trent Johnson, Amanda said, “You don’t go see Halloween 8 and expect a guy without a knife, just like you’re not coming to an Amanda Palmer show and expecting Disney songs and jazz hands.” Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets $39-$54. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org
The Infamous Stringdusters
And the Grammy goes to…The Infamous Stringdusters! The quintessential progressive bluegrass band earned its first Grammy nod in 2011 for the song “Magic No. 9.” Last year, they secured the big win: Best Bluegrass Album for Laws of Gravity. In their follow-up project, The Infamous Stringdusters are expected to release a new album in April. Their jovial title track “Rise Sun” teases a groovy, uplifting celebration of life. Show starts at 9:30 p.m., tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com
SATURDAY, APRIL 6
The Vijay Iyer Sextet
Highly acclaimed keyboardist-composer Vijay Iyer is close to achieving icon status at the age of 47. Boasting an impressive musical catalogue, critics have offered nothing but praise for the young jazz genius. He formed the The Vijay Iyer Sextet, collaborating with five other contemporary masters to release Far From Over, an album that made Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Albums of 2017.” Shows start at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., tickets $45. The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org
SUNDAY, APRIL 7
Aaron Lee Tasjan
When Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band performed at Bob Boilen’s famous Tiny Desk at NPR, Boilen later wrote, “The sound of the middle-and-late 1960s came through his sea green, Gorsuch 12-string guitar while his voice felt both familiar and fresh.” In other words, Tasjan is a vintage-loving, fedora-wearing, oldies-listening hipster. But what’s wrong with that? Especially when you’re damn good at what you do. In his new album Karma For Cheap, the Nashville resident takes audiences back in time – YouTube archives it is, youngsters – to rediscover what they love about classic rock music. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com
City of the Sun
The New York City trio City of the Sun play experimental, instrumental music with indie rock, American folk, flamenco and blues influences. Somehow, this eclectic band combines these genres in a coherent fashion. Their sound challenges the perception of instrumental music and resolves to propel it into the future. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $15-$18. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com
MONDAY, APRIL 8
After going solo, Neyla Pekarek is soaring on her own. Formerly a cellist for the uber-successful band The Lumineers, Pekarek decided to split with the band after eight years because it was no longer the right fit. Announcing her departure, The Lumineers tweeted, “A band is like an organism – it grows, changes and evolves.” Soon after her exit, Pekarek dropped her debut solo album Rattlesnake earlier this year. She was inspired by a Colorado frontierswoman known as “Rattlesnake Kate” who, according to legend, shot 140 snakes on horseback to protect her infant son. In what she’s described as “a feminist record,” Pekarek lays her perky vocals and instruments on 13 tracks meant to inspire fellow women. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets $18-$20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com
THURSDAY, APRIL 11
Guitarist, singer-songwriter Arielle is an old fashioned, young woman from Austin who prefers all things bohemian and lives to jam out. Her classical folk-rock sound has caught the attention of many notable acts. She’s opened for Heart, Vince Gill, Eric Johnson, Joan Jett, Gregg Allman and more. The talented up-and-comer shows special promise and has plans to release a new album in the near future. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $12. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com
FRIDAY, APRIL 11 – SUNDAY, APRIL 14
Damaged City Music Festival
Damaged City Music Festival’s is DC’s premiere hardcore punk rock festival. This annual festival draws punk lovers from around the world to the nation’s capital for a rockin’ good time. This year, the diverse lineup includes Despise You from L.A., Raw Brigade from Colombia, Rotten Mind from Sweden, Impulso from Italy and more. Various dates and times. Tickets $10-$60. Damaged City Music Festival: Various locations around DC; www.damaged-city.com
FRIDAY, APRIL 12
Robert Glasper Trio
Few musicians, if any, are in Robert Glasper’s category. Fusing an extensive command of jazz with his love of hip-hop and R&B, Glasper was always destined to become a visionary artist as a singer, expert pianist and producer. His unique musical background placed him in a world of his own, which did not go unnoticed by the industry. Glasper has been nominated for a Grammy six times, winning three. Working with artists across genres including Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Kendrick Lamar and Esperanza Spalding, Glasper’s brilliant artistry has garnered the respect of his peers. Show starts at 6 p.m., tickets $55-$70. City Winery: 1350 Okie St. NE, DC; www.citywinery.com
SUNDAY, APRIL 14
Los Lonely Boys
Chances are you’ve heard the song “Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys. The Chicano rock band is from Texas – and they sound like it. Steeped in their regional brand of blues with country rock overtones, Los Lonely Boys is literally a band of brothers. Despite several career setbacks in recent years, the Garza brothers always make positivity a priority by sharing their feel-good music with the world. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $40-$55. City Winery: 1350 Okie St. NE, DC; www.citywinery.com
Hip-hop legend and award-winning actress Queen Latifah will grace audiences with a performance in The Bridge Concert Series at the Kennedy Center. Latifah was a pioneer for women in hip-hop, creating a more inclusive space in what was and still is a male dominated genre. The Bridge Concert Series seeks to showcase the contributions black artist have made to American society. Show starts at 8 p.m. $59-$199. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org
MONDAY, APRIL 15
The Southern California rock band Bad Suns formed in 2012 and first gained popularity with their song “Cardiac Arrest.” Following the release of their new album Mystic Truth, the band will be kicking off their tour, traveling to cities throughout North America and Europe. Keep your eye out for this dynamic group – there’s just something about those Bad Suns. Doors at 7 p.m., tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com
American electro-pop duo Terror Jr came to prominence in when their single “3 Strikes” was featured in Kylie Jenner lip gloss commercial. With an apparent endorsement from the social media star, Terror Jr was thrust onto the scene early in their career. Their unapologetic, catchy pop tunes sustained the momentum and placed them prominently on the charts. Upon the release of their debut album Unfortunately, Terror Jr earlier this year, critics were surprised to find the group had gone political. Addressing heavy issues like reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and substance abuse, Terror Jr is growing up and revealing all their dimensions. Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets $18. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com
TUESDAY APRIL 16
This soulful, swingin’ band will give you all the feels and leave you wondering why you’ve never heard of them before. Hailing from Seattle, The Dip gives you Motown vibes complete with a full horn section and a lead singer whose raspy, booming voice is simply beautiful. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $15-$30. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com
Topping the U.K. charts with their album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1, it’s safe to say Foals is making their mark at home. The English rock band – who managed to crossover with two albums on the Billboard 200 – is currently touring following the release of the first part of their double album. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 is expected to drop this fall. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis described the first project as a prequel that ended in what felt “like a cliffhanger.” Doors at 7 p.m., tickets $38.50. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com
What’s space rock, you say? Think The Dark Side of the Moon meets 21st century sensibilities. Want to hear it? Look no further than English rock band Spiritualized. Prepare to be transported to outer space where time no longer exists, and you’re left floating in the vast expanse of the universe. Trippy, right? Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $35. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17
The National Symphony Orchestra Presents Beethoven’s Fifth: Fate Knocks!
The National Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 for music lovers at The Anthem. With a strict dedication to artistic excellence, the 96-member orchestra is unlikely to disappoint. If you enjoy the classics, this masterpiece is one you won’t want to miss. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$30. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com
THURSDAY, APRIL 18
Method Man and Redman
It’s been 20 years since Method Man and Redman from the legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan broke out as a duo and released their first album. Currently touring the country, the rappers will be stopping at Howard Theatre to perform classics from their repertoire. Show starts at 9 p.m., tickets $55-$65. Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com
FRIDAY, APRIL 19
Adventure Club is a Canadian dubstep duo who made the unusual transition from playing hardcore punk rock to light-hearted electronic dance, where they fit right in. They are best known for their hit remixes of Flight Facilities’ Crave You and Yuna’s Lullabies, which have 82 and 52 million views on YouTube, respectively. Show starts at 9 p.m., tickets $25-$35. Echostage: 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, DC; www.echostage.com
TUESDAY, APRIL 23
Los Amigos Invisibles & Aterciopelados
Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles blends funk, disco and pop with a distinctive Latin sound that makes you want to get up and dance. They are especially popular in their home country, where their music has been well-received since their debut album in 1995. Touring with Columbia’s top rock band duo Aterciopelados, this multicultural concert is sure to delight Spanish and English listeners alike. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $45-$50. The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com
WednesAY, APRIL 24
Emily Reo’s newest album Only You Can See It is dropping in April. Her quirky sound falls somewhere between synth-pop and alternative, indie rock. Tunes like “Strawberry” and “Ghosting” from her new project have already created buzz, addressing the very topical issues of “ghosting” – the new-age term for suddenly ignoring someone – and toxic masculinity. Doors at 9 p.m., tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com
SUNDAY, APRIL 28
Grammy nominated producer and artist Cisco Adler is best known for his collaborations with rapper Shwayze. Their song “Corona and Lime” peaked at number #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 as one of the anthems of that era. After breaking out as a solo artist, Adler’s has settled into a smooth, alternative rock sound with reggae moods. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $17-$20. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club
TUESDAY, APRIL 30
If Joni Mitchell was reborn as a millennial, she would sound something like Julia Jacklin. The Australian native’s delicate, ethereal and distinctive voice is mesmerizing and memorable. Her second studio album released in January explores romantic relationships and self-reflection. The singer-songwriter said, “This album came from spending two years touring and being in a relationship and feeling like I never had any space of my own.” Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com
Music lovers everywhere know that the second weekend of April is nothing short of a national holiday. Since 2007, musicians have banded together for Record Store Day (RSD) to release exclusive vinyl pressings that can only be purchased on that day, leading hardcore fans to queue up in the early morning hours to hunt the stacks for these new and exclusive editions. With no shortage of record stores in the area, we chose some of our favorite spots in the DMV worthy of a visit on Saturday, April 13. Read on for the juicy details, including when each spot opens on RSD and what’s up for grabs.
Hill & Dale
This Georgetown record store is a bit of a hidden gem, solely due to its location in Canal Square just off the beaten path of bustling M Street. The interior is just as stunning as their genre-spanning record collection, with bright white walls and industrial ceilings flanked by posters and photos, which the store also sells. This tucked-away oasis of sound and visuals is a must-visit on RSD. Opens at 10 a.m. 1054 31st St. NW, DC; www.hillanddalerecords.com
While adding to your vinyl collection is obviously the point of RSD, you can still take the opportunity to shop small in other ways. U Street’s Joint Custody is the perfect stop for that. In addition to vinyl, catch the store’s collection of vintage T-shirts, outerwear, hats and accessories. You can browse their site now for an idea of the kind of retro finds available, with everything from Indigo Girls to Public Image Ltd. Opens at noon. 1530 U St. NW, DC; www.jointcustodydc.com
This Fairfax City spot is known for its robust collection of new and used records in addition to hosting in-store shows with local bands. RSD is no exception, as the store will host DC ska band The Pietasters in honor of the reissue of their album Willis. As motivation to queue up early and grab your faves from the RSD list, enjoy a collaborative beer produced with Capitol Riverfront-based brewery Bluejacket and hotdogs served up by Red Apron Chef Nathan Anda. Opens at 9 a.m. Food at noon and music at 1 p.m. 10409 Main St. Suite D, Fairfax, VA; www.mobiusrecordshop.com
Purple Narwhal Music & Manga
This Rockville-based gem was created to celebrate a combined love of manga and music into one convenient location. They’re opening an hour early in celebration of RSD, so come grab your picks early and stick around to peruse their collection of anime, magna, graphic novels and more. Opens at 11 a.m. 822G Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD; www.purplenarwhal.com
Record Exchange Silver Spring
This downtown Silver Spring spot is located right next to The Fillmore, making it the perfect place to swing by before catching a show. Their floors are lined with old records and provide a perfect photo op, and don’t miss the bins of $1 records in the back to rifle through for a true treasure hunt. Opens 11 a.m. 8642 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fb.com/recordexchangesilverspring
Records & Rarities
Not all RSD celebrations have to start as the sun rises. The relatively new pair of record stores (with locations in Tysons Corner and Springfield) will team up with Union Stage for a late-night celebration featuring the likes of Masta Ace & Marco Polo, Diamond D and more. Keep the celebration of music going into the night after you visit the Records & Rarities location of your choice. Tickets start at $25. Show at 10 p.m.
Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com
R&R locations: 6769 Springfield Mall Dr. Springfield, VA; 1961 Chain Bridge Rd. Tysons, VA
This spot has been around since 1984 and continues to supply the District with punk and alternative records from its current storefront in Adams Morgan. Alongside those selections, you can find original and vintage clothes, music merch, and other outside-the-box goodies. Opens 11 a.m. 2314 18th St. (second floor) NW, DC; www.smashrecords.com
Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House
If you also balk at the idea of getting up early, even in the name of new records, you can make the a.m. better by stopping by the multiuse music haven in AdMo for coffee, tea, breakfast sandwiches and more treats. Plus, they’ll be announcing onsite activities closer to the date, so keep an eye on their website. Opens 8 a.m. 2475-2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com
For more on RSD 2019 and lists of releases, visit www.recordstoreday.com. RSD selections vary by location; visit individual websites beginning the first week of April to see what the store of your choice is stocking.
Full disclosure: I’m a total sucker for a retro-inspired sound. Add crooning vocals, soulful instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics to the mix, and I’m sold.
A girlfriend introduced me to soul singer Eli “Paperboy” Reed about a decade ago (fun fact: she went to the same high school as Reed in a Boston suburb and was super proud of this fact) and I was immediately smitten with his modern-day take on the genre. Since then, I’ve seen him play DC venues multiple times – most memorably with a full brass band at Rock & Roll Hotel – and listened to his records incorporate everything from blues and gospel to R&B and pop sensibilities. But soul always remains the foundation of his signature sound.
With a new album, 99 Cent Dreams, out on April 12 – produced in Memphis by Matt Ross-Spang with Ken Coomer (Wilco) on drums – and a tour that includes a stop at The Hamilton Live on May 4, I finally had the opportunity to pick the artist’s brain about reinventing what has come before and making it his own. We chatted on the phone recently when he was at home in Brooklyn doing some spring cleaning about life as the father of a two-year-old, how DC has the best Ethiopian food (duh) and what soul music means to him.
On Tap: I want to start with a question that sometimes mildly offends musicians when I ask it, although I’m not completely sure why.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed: [Laughs] I’m very excited to hear what the question is now.
OT: I find that so much of the music I love is a reinvention of older sounds. With soul being the backbone of yours, and as a musician on the soul scene for more than a decade now, how do you reinvent that sound with each new album and keep it fresh and true to you?
EPR: I think it’s a good question. I think if you had asked me 10 years ago when I started out, I might’ve been one of the ones who was offended. I think that I’ve come around to the idea that I don’t mind wearing my influences on my sleeve. I hope at this point in my career that I’ve been able to make records that people can identify [with] sounding like me. Everybody takes from something. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to deny it or be upset about being called a revivalist or whatever. I guess just at the heart of it, the point is that people want to put your records on and listen to them, you know? I think that my goal has always been to make music that I want to listen to and love.
OT: I would for sure say you have a signature sound that’s all your own. Your music feels like something I can dance to, and Top 40 isn’t that for me, do you know what I mean?
EPR: Sure, well that’s great. I think that’s also part of the goal for people like myself or any of the other artists that are clearly very influenced by 60s soul music is to provide their listeners with something they can enjoy that they might not otherwise be able to find on the radio or at a show. The fact that you can come out and see me play live and enjoy yourself and dance is something you can’t do with a record that’s 50 years old.
OT: Very true. So tell me about 99 Cent Dreams. How long was this record in the making?
EPR: I have a daughter now who’s two-and-a-half and I had this idea that I was going to write a lot of this record while I was home on paternity leave and that didn’t really happen [laughs]. Once she started daycare, I buckled down in earnest to write the songs. Thankfully, there’s a really amazing community of musicians and singers and songwriters here in Brooklyn, and a lot of people were able to just come over to the house and sit down with guitars or on the piano and write. It was a nice chunk of time that I was able to set aside at home with my family and also work with a lot of people who I really respect. It was a very productive time period for me.
OT: Did you draw on home life – being a parent and a husband – at all during the songwriting process?
EPR: Absolutely. I think these are songs that are really representative of my current situation and how I feel about my wife and my family. I feel like it’s a more settled record, that’s for sure. But in a good way. And I don’t think that makes it any less soulful or any less emotional. I think it’s just a different kind of feeling that I’m drawing on.
OT: I have a two-and-a-half-year-old as well, and I grew up playing classical piano. I’ve been wondering when to start teaching him how to read and play music. As a professional musician, have you already started thinking about teaching your daughter how to play an instrument?
EPR: We play music together in the house all the time. I’m not really trying to do the lessons thing. For me, the idea is just to have [music] be around, and I want her to pick up on things that she likes to do. I want to let her figure it out for herself. As long as we can listen to music together, that’s enough for me.
OT: Are there any songs on the record that are particularly close to your heart or that you think listeners will really connect with?
EPR: I like “Tryin’” a lot. It’s a song that I wrote from my wife’s perspective. She’s the one in the family with the 9 to 5 job, and sometimes it’s a tough life to have a 9 to 5 gig and try to come home and be a parent, or a husband or a wife.
OT: When did you have that moment of, “Okay, I’m all in, I’m doing this” about soul? Why was it the genre that you connected with the most?
EPR: Soul music is kind of the quintessence of all the things that I love – blues and R&B and jazz and gospel and country music – put through the lens of a pop format. That’s something I could wrap my head around as a performer: how to do that and do it in a way that I felt was original and that people would be interested in hearing.
OT: Do you feel like your sound has changed a lot over the past decade in terms of sticking to soul, or even your live performances?
EPR: I had a period where I made a pop record that came out on Warner Bros. and for one reason or another, it didn’t really connect. Then I kind of went the opposite direction and made the My Way Home album, which is more [of a] gospel record. I felt like I had to do something that was just for me. I’m incredibly proud of that record. It felt cathartic and necessary. When it came time to make this album, I wanted to do it in a little bit more of a controlled and thoughtful way. I feel like it became what I wanted it to be, for sure.
OT: Are there any sounds or genres you’d like to explore or pursue in the next few years? What’s next for you?
EPR: I’m still buying gospel records all the time. I love gospel music. It’s an endlessly deep well of inspiration for me. Man, there’s so much, you know? But for the most part, I come back to the same things because I think there’s so much to discover in the genres that I love. There’s still records that knock me out. I’m finding new music every day and it’s still amazing how much good stuff there is that is undiscovered.
OT: Who would be your dream co-bill for a future tour?
EPR: Probably Beyoncé [laughs]. I think Beyoncé pretty much takes the cake for all of it.
OT: What’s your favorite part of playing shows in DC?
EPR: Ethiopian food, man. Ethiopian food in DC is the best. There’s a particular place and I’m forgetting the name, but every time we play in DC, I stop in Alexandria at this tiny Ethiopian place in a strip mall that’s open until 2 o’clock in the morning. We go there after every show. It’s SO good.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed plays The Hamilton Live on Saturday, May 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$20. For more information about the performance, visit www.live.thehamiltondc.com. Learn more about Reed at www.elipaperboyreed.com and follow him @elipaperboyreed.
The Hamilton Live: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-769-0122; www.live.thehamiltondc.com
May 4 marks DC’s 10th annual Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival, one of the city’s most iconic music showcases. However, this particular happening wasn’t formed with a singular effort to deliver more music to the District; instead, the organizers intended to draw attention to one of the city’s most unique features: Kingman Island. Nestled between the banks of the Anacostia River, the Kingman and Heritage Islands are home to wildlife and natural resources unlike any other in the city.
This year’s festival is slated to bring another talented lineup to DC, featuring prominent performers like The Dustbowl Revival, Ballroom Thieves, Hackensaw Boys, Odetta Hartman and more. As always, proceeds from the event go toward supporting stewardship of the islands, as well as educational programming.
“We wanted to drive people to the island because at the time, it seemed like no one knew it existed,” says Lee Cain, the director of Kingman and Heritage Islands for local nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation, of the festival’s beginnings. “Over the years, it’s helped us gain momentum and enhance opportunities for our hands-on education programs.”
Cain says the festival, brainchild of DC’s Ward 6 and Living Classrooms, saw only several hundred attendees its first year. Now, Kingman draws crowds up to 8,000 each spring.
“The first one was like 300 people, a band and a keg of beer,” Cain says with a chuckle. “Then a few hundred more, and a few hundred more. In 2015, it went from 1,200 people to 6,000 people. It was amazing because all these people were coming to Kingman and the Anacostia River. People discover this amazing wildlife in our backyard. [The festival] really lives up to its purpose.”
Volunteer participation has also risen steadily as more people get acquainted with the festival and its mission, says Living Classrooms Director of Communications Michelle Subbiondo. With more people helping and enjoying the annual shindig, resources have gone toward improving the island.
“The island has grown and changed along with the festival as it morphed from a dumping ground to a lush animal and plant oasis thanks to our students and volunteers,” Subbiondo says. “Now, we’re among the top festivals in DC. It’s been quite a ride, that’s for sure.”
Despite the foot traffic and vendors providing goodies for patrons, Kingman doesn’t stop maintaining its eco-friendly zero waste initiatives during the party. The campaign began in 2016 with help from the city and organizations like the Sierra Club, which helps manage waste during festivities.
“I’ve been working in this field my entire career, and trash is the one thing that people don’t like,” Cain says. “That’s one of the things that is exciting because it’s not a polarizing issue. That’s a lot of waste not going to the landfill and there’s literally no trash on the island the day after. That’s an exciting blueprint.”
With 10 years in the rearview mirror, the organizers have no plans of slowing the momentum. However, with a finite amount of space, more people may be a tough ask; but that doesn’t mean it can’t continue to thrive in other ways.
“We have a few things on the table for future years,” Subbiondo says. “Perhaps bringing in some big-name talent or introducing new genres of music, expanding the event to two days, [and] including more educational opportunities to get people really immersed in the island. Time will tell how this all unfolds, but one thing we can guarantee is that the island and community are always our first priority.”
As for this year, with the festival enjoying a pivotal anniversary, there’s no plans to deviate from the successful formula of lots of music, beer and food trucks. With that being said, Cain does expect some costumes of a very specific variety.
“It does fall on May 4, so I’m wondering if people will show up in Star Wars gear.”
Join Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders at the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival on May 4 from 12-8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$100. For more information about the festival, visit www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info. For details about Living Classrooms and its mission, visit www.livingclassrooms.org.
Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC; 205-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info
No one really died. When Oh He Dead singers Cynthia “C.J.” Johnson and Andrew Valenti first formed the band in 2014, Johnson wrote a ballad about a boy she’d fallen in love with. In the song, she walks in on him cheating, pulls out a gun and shoots him.
“About a week later, we had practice,” Valenti says. “It dawned on me to ask, ‘Whatever happened to that guy in that song that you wrote?’ She responded, ‘Oh, he dead!’ We all died laughing.”
After collecting themselves, the then duo decided to immortalize the phrase, resolving to begin their journey into the music business together. Their first big break came at the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival in 2016, and it was all the confirmation they needed to keep going.
“I think it was a very pivotal show in our trajectory where we looked at each other afterward and felt like, ‘Okay, we can do something with this,’” Valenti says.
Oh He Dead will be playing this year’s Kingman Island Festival on May 4, but fans may be surprised by what they hear. The once strictly country folk band has transformed into what is perhaps best described as indie soul. Their new sound is much groovier, with an R&B base.
“Someone in the crowd [recently] told me that people were grinding at one of our shows and I just started laughing,” Valenti says. “I never thought I would be in a band where people would be grinding to our music.”
They cite the addition of new band members as the primary cause of their evolution. Guitarist Alex Salser brings his jazz background to the group while bassist John Daise offers an R&B influence.
“I think everyone has a unique skill and knows what their role is,” Salser says. “It’s been really special to utilize each other’s different talents. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s fighting for the spotlight like in a lot of other bands I’ve played for.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Johnson’s strikingly smoky, textured voice that lingers long after she’s stopped singing. It’s no surprise to learn who she idolizes and emulates most as a vocalist.
“My inspiration was definitely Fleetwood Mac,” Johnson says of her influences during her formative years. “I listened to them a lot in high school. I love Stevie. Her voice is just something, that raspy voice. I was like, ‘I want to be like Stevie!’”
Though difficult to categorize, Oh He Dead’s unique sound has earned them a growing fanbase in the DC area.
“I think the reception we’ve gotten from our crowd [in DC] has been super encouraging,” Valenti says. “We played Union Stage last week. There were over 300 people in the crowd, and I don’t think any of us have had that kind response with original music.”
Oh He Dead seems to have finally hit their stride, finetuning their sound and discovering their own audience. The band is currently working on their debut album, which they plan to release this year. As far as their hopes for the future, Johnson puts it best.
“I want to win a f–kig Grammy!”
Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC 205-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info