DC Bluegrass Festival (7)

DC Bluegrass Festival

Locals enjoyed the 6th DC BluegrassFestival held at the beautiful Sheraton Tysons Hotel, Vienna, VA. Performers included The Steep Canyon Rangers, Band of Ruhks, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Flatt Lonesome, Love Canon, Charm City Junction and Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike. Photos: Nhu Duong

Photo: Michael Coleman
Photo: Michael Coleman

Delta Blues Meets Country Rock: Paul Thorn at The Hamilton

Anyone who was looking to shake off the workweek doldrums last Friday night should have been at The Hamilton to witness Paul Thorn’s feel-good musical revival, delivered in equal parts Delta blues and country rock.

A former professional boxer who grew up as the son of a Pentecostal preacher in Tupelo, Miss., Thorn has an evangelist’s way of captivating a crowd and an attention to detail that makes him a natural storyteller. He also has a sizzling, rockin’ band that kept many in the near-capacity Hamilton crowd grooving and waving their hands in the air for most of the night.

Thorn’s songs, delivered with his honeyed Southern drawl, are populated with lovable hard-luck losers. But as he explained, their stories aim to make us realize “everything’s going to be alright.”

“Crutches,” a cautionary tale about the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse, becomes a story of hope in Thorn’s telling. As a slinky blues guitar shuffled behind him, Thorn asserted that a “backbone is better than a wishbone,” and vowed to “walk without my crutches someday.”

In “Old Stray Dogs and Jesus,” Thorn’s sideman, Bill Hinds, laid down wicked slide guitar runs as Thorn lamented, “Why’s everybody judging me when the good book says judge not/Old stray dogs and Jesus are all the friends I’ve got.”

“Fabio and Liberace,” is an affectionate tale of a male cousin of Thorn’s who “really liked to play beauty pageant” when they were kids. The song unspools a warm recollection of a wild road trip the singer took to New Orleans with his flamboyant relative, as the backing band repeatedly crooned “oooh sha-sha” behind him. The effect was endearing and hilarious.

Thorn’s signature song, the autobiographical “Pimps and Preachers,” explains how he learned much of what he knows about life from his preacher father and his uncle, who was a pimp. It’s an epic tale that that steadily gathered steam as Thorn’s band veered from a low-key blues dirge to ferocious electric rock.

“One drug me through the darkness, one led me to the light, one showed me how to love, one taught me how to fight,” Thorn growled. “I guess you could say I’m overachiever, and I owe a debt of gratitude to pimps and preachers.”

At times, the Tupelo native’s storytelling is reminiscent of the great Randy Newman, if Newman had been raised by a fire-and-brimstone preacher in the Deep South.

Thorn’s show had one or two misfires, “I Backslide on Friday,” veered into hokey territory, and a couple of songs seemed nearly identical. But those were small transgressions during a captivating and life-affirming two hours of accomplished music and storytelling.

Learn more about Thorn at www.paulthorn.com, and check out The Hamilton’s website for information about upcoming shows: www.thehamiltondc.com.

Photo: Jarrad Sang
Photo: Jarrad Sang

A Perfect Pair: Passenger and The Paper Kites at 9:30 Club

Before even hitting the stage at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night, up-and-coming indie rock-folk band The Paper Kites, who hail from Australia, sort of expected they were rather unknown in the nation’s capital.

As the audience was waiting to enter the venue, several people were handing out flyers giving a bit of background about the band, and most concertgoers who were on-hand to see Passenger perform seemed ready to give the Australians a shot.

Kites lead singer Sam Bentley and the band hit the stage with “Revelator Eyes,” a song from their newest album, twelvefour, which immediately drew a number of people closer to the stage who joined the fans clearly there to see them.

After ripping it up with harder-than-expected versions of “Renegade” and “A Maker of My Time,” the band introduced itself and drew cheers from the crowd as they wished everyone a happy International Women’s Day.

The band launched into “Bloom,” their most popular song on Spotify, and you could see that even those drifting in the corners started to gather more of an interest in the young Aussie quintet. The cheers only grew louder as their set went on.

After their final tune, the band members headed to the merchandise table, posing for photos and signing autographs. No one was rushed, and they took time to answer questions and personalize every signature if that’s what people wanted. I spoke with them about Passenger and how they’ve enjoyed being part of the tour.

That was almost a perfect cue for the appearance of Passenger (a.k.a. Michael David Rosenberg), who deked in a denim shirt and dark khakis, had the crowd exploding with energy. Fans were entranced, and why shouldn’t they be? He has that dreamy British accent, strums a guitar like a pro and has a rare, unmistakable voice.

He started his set with one of his more upbeat songs, “Somebody’s Love,” and it was clear that most in the crowd were familiar with it, despite it coming off his latest album, Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea.

Rosenberg followed that up with “Life’s for the Living” to ease the crowd into his slower, more emotional music. Along the way, he shared a lot of personal anecdotes with the crowd, like how less than five years ago, he was singing on street corners or at any pub that would let him perform there.

Some of Rosenberg’s songs draw from personal experiences with people he’s met on his journey, hearing about loves they’ve lost or the struggles that they’ve endured. The tune “Traveling Alone,” he explained, is a story about two different people that Rosenberg met on a tour in Copenhagen.

The singer showed he had quite a sense of humor as well, and connected perfectly with his crowd. He also performed a popular show song of his called “I Hate” with a very simple chorus that he taught to the audience beforehand, resulting in a very fun and satirical sing-along.

As the set came closer to an end, the hundreds on hand were almost in a frenzy when the first notes of “Let Her Go” began.

Throughout the night, Rosenberg was crisp and true to his recordings, and it’s easy to see why Passenger has been kicking it on the charts. The pairing of the two bands was strong, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see The Paper Kites taking the same ride on the charts sometime soon.

Learn more about the bands at www.passengermusic.com and www.thepaperkites.com.au, and check out 9:30 Club’s website for information about upcoming shows: www.930.com.

Photo: Courtesy of GMU’s CFA
Photo: Courtesy of GMU’s CFA

Danú to Perform at GMU for St. Patrick’s Day

Exciting. Emotional. Fun. That’s how Benny McCarthy, founding member of the UK-based Irish band Danú, describes the band.

The group’s got an authentic and earthly sound, shaped with traditional Irish instruments such as the fiddle, flute, cittern and guitar. Their compositions – some ancient tunes, some newly written – alternate between Irish jigs and quietly emotive songs, offering an immersive Irish music experience.

“Our performances are a journey to Ireland and back,” McCarthy says.

Danú, currently on their 2017 St. Patrick’s Celebration Tour across the United States, is headed to DC just in time for the holiday. George Mason University’s (GMU) Center for the Arts will host Danú the evening of March 17 – the perfect way to spend a St. Patrick’s Day evening.

“The Foggy Dew” is especially indicative of their style. Originally written in 1919 about the Easter Uprising, the piece is a historical narrative that is warm in tone and mournful in sentiment. The piece interweaves guitar and vocals with lush string harmonies, providing listeners with a powerfully intimate experience.

“It’s got a real sense of deepness about it,” McCarthy says. “It’s a special piece for me.”

What makes the group truly unforgettable, though, isn’t their emotive style. It’s their genuine connection with their audiences.

McCarthy describes Danú’s music as “social music,” not unlike what’s encountered at a pub in Ireland. The group engages attendees in a personal and energetic way, encouraging them to clap, shout and sing to their heart’s content. For Danú, their audience is just as part of the show as they are.

“It’s about community and connection,” McCarthy says. “That’s what makes it good. It’s the music of the people.”

So, what should attendees expect at next Friday’s concert?

“Some good ol’ fashioned gigs and reels, and some songs in the Irish language. They’ll also hear some people talking with Irish accents telling funny stories,” McCarthy laughs.

But, most of all, “people should expect to have fun,” he says.

Don’t miss the chance to celebrate your St. Patrick’s Day with this spirited Irish group. Danú will perform on March 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-$50. Learn more about Danú at www.danu.net.

GMU’s Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; 888-945-2468; www.cfa.gmu.edu

Magnetic Fields
Photo: Marcelo Krasilcic

Up Close and Personal with The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt

Stephin Merritt is no stranger to writing about some of life’s most uncomfortable, even painful, moments. But on 50 Song Memoir, the prolific singer-songwriter and Magnetic Fields frontman’s 25th album, he takes a look directly inward with purely autobiographical material. Each song on The Magnetic Fields’ new album, out on March 10, represents a year in Merritt’s life (almost, he turns 52 this year). On March 18 and 19, The Magnetic Fields come to Lincoln Theatre for a two-night performance of 50 Song Memoir, with a seven-person lineup and an intricate stage set including an eclectic assortment of instruments (nearly 80 were used to record the album) and music video projections. I had the chance to catch up with Merritt on the phone last week, and did my best to keep my cool (I’m a diehard MF fan) as I chatted with the very direct, always witty musician about his latest project.

On Tap: How did you come up with the idea for your stage set for this tour?
Stephin Merritt: I have several Marx tin dollhouses from the late 40s/early 50s, so the stage set is a gigantic version of that with windows through which you can see the musicians behind me. And I’m surrounded by, as well as drum machines and such, things that I have had for a long time.

OT: Your set is generally pretty minimalist. Why the change for 50 Song Memoir?
SM: I felt that with only one lead singer for 50 songs in a row, it would be a good idea to have something else to look at. As with the usual Magnetic Fields show, I will stare at my music stand and won’t do anything but sing. So there’s not ordinarily very much to look at, which is fine with me. But for 50 songs in a row, it requires a little more diversion, so we decided to have a stage set and projections.

OT: How would you characterize your collaborative process for the set with award-winning director Jose Zayas?
SM: The stage set felt like an extension of the autobiographical quality of the songs. For the projections, I think [Jose] had more of a free hand. I’m exactly the last person to ask questions about the projections. I’m the only person who can’t see them. Everyone in the band can see them backwards, from the back of the screen, but it’s absolutely right above my head so I can’t see a thing. If the screen falls, I will be killed. [Laughs]

OT: Do you feel pushed outside of your comfort zone with the stage set and projections?
SM: I don’t really know what people mean by comfort zone. I don’t think I have a comfort zone.

OT: 50 Song Memoir is a deeply personal set of songs. Is this the first time you’ve crafted such an extensive collection of autobiographical material?
SM: I think of everything as being not particularly autobiographical. But this album is pointedly autobiographical all the time for 50 songs, so it was harder to write than my other records. But once it’s written, I don’t think about the lyrics all the time. I think about the execution all the time. So from the audience’s perspective, it’s an autobiographical album. From my perspective, it’s 50 songs I have to sing well and what the lyrics are is not the point.

OT: Was it harder to draw from recent years?
SM: Yeah, I’ve had a long time to digest and forget most of my childhood whereas the last few years, I’m still kind of digesting and forgetting. So, the last few years are still being edited in my memory.

OT: Are there any songs on the album that are particularly dear to you, or just really came together the way you hoped they would?
I wish. No. Everything is difficult and I feel under-rehearsed at all times. I am several shows away from being able to relax and enjoy at all. So I think the song that gives me the least anxiety is probably “The Day I Finally,” which is a song that I perform alone on the one-man band because when I perform that, if I do it wrong, I won’t be humiliating anyone else in the band. I may be walking a tightrope, but if I fall off, I won’t fall onto someone else.

OT: Was anyone in your life displeased with any of the songs?
SM: My mother is in several songs, and I played her those songs before releasing the album just to make sure that she wasn’t going to sue me or anything like that. And the only factual error that she pointed out was when I say that she has no proof that the physical universe is a hologram. She said she had plenty of proof. I can’t make this stuff up.

OT: Has she seen you perform live on this tour?
SM: Yes, she has. I think night one is funny and night two is moving. But she thinks that night one is grueling and night two is a blast.

OT: What instruments used on the album do you most enjoy playing on tour? I know you have a lot to choose from. [Laughs]
SM: [Laughs] What I play onstage is the ukulele on one song, a one-man band on one song and the rest is rhythm units, except for the Dewanatron, which I play just by turning it on and off because it makes its own squiggly sounds without my input. I love the Dewanatron. It looks like it’s a prop from Plan 9 from Outer Space. But actually, it was invented within the last 10 years.

OT: I feel like The Magnetic Fields can’t really be described by a particular sound, or genre. 
SM: I say variety show.

OT: Variety show, yeah! But really, you experiment with so many different styles of music. How do you respond to pointed questions about your genre?
SM: In the 60s, there was a slogan: “Don’t label me.” And I’ve always liked that. “Don’t label me” is an excellent thing to say. Up there with “Don’t tread on me.” In the 80s, we used to say, “My gender is none of your business” along with “My race is none of your business,” [and] “My ethnicity is none of your business.” We used to have a much more fluid approach to identity. And genre in music is almost entirely about identity. Music with genre fluidity points toward an identity fluidity that I would like to see tried.

OT: Switching gears here. Any chance your song “Washington, DC” [on 1999’s 69 Love Songs] is autobiographical?
SM: It was actually, in a way, totally autobiographical because I wrote it in response to my boyfriend at the time saying that his work might transfer him to Washington, DC. I wrote it sort of pretending that I was in Washington in the spring, writing about the Cherry Blossoms and all.

OT: Do you have a favorite DC memory?
SM: [Laughs] The first thing that pops into my mind is, I guest-starred in a Yo La Tengo song at the 9:30 Club years ago, probably 20 years ago now, and I don’t remember what song it was, but part of my role was to whip the audience with the mic cord. We must have been doing a Velvet Underground song in order for me to justify whipping the audience in the Velvet Underground style.

Merritt and The Magnetic Fields will perform 50 Song Memoir at Lincoln Theatre on March 18 and 19; songs 1-25 on night one, songs 26-50 on night two. Doors at 6:30 p.m. both nights. Tickets to each show are $40-$55.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Luca Venter and Kelia Anne

Tennis Sails into DC on Heels of ‘Yours Conditionally’

“The thing about sailing is, you don’t know what day it is.”

Alaina Moore tells me this over the phone during our interview. The sentiment of losing yourself to time, and breaking away from the rigid structure of a calendar, wasn’t an unfamiliar one. Nearly all of my retired grandparents echoed what the singer-songwriter confided. Days flow into one another, like the ocean the band Tennis happened to be floating across when writing their newest album, Yours Conditionally.

The differences between retired folks and a band arguably in their prime aren’t easily identifiable. But for Moore to say this meant that she and Patrick Riley, her husband and bandmate, were truly lost in their work, much like an oldie in retirement. And you can pick up this calm easiness on the album.

“I think the real reason for that is that we had already decided that we would self-release and record it alone,” Moore says about the album. “Deciding in advance that it would all be for us, it took so much pressure off of us.”

Their sound is extremely relaxed, nearly subdued in its delivery. Although the topics of love, other emotions and even feminism carry colossal weight in the songs, the meat of them is delivered in a more than digestible manner, which manifested itself rather organically.

“We had no vision when we started making the record,” Moore says. “I usually just tackle it in terms of one song at a time, and as I go, I see a narrative arc emerge. There’s a few songs we really liked that we had to cut because they didn’t fit. It all started with the first choice to free ourselves from the expectations and suggestions of other people.”

This attitude plays like a throwback to decades past, with a smooth, easygoing feel, and some retro-pop sensibilities. Moore says, like most things on Yours Conditionally, this vintage style emerged subconsciously.

“Patrick is our engineer, and we really like the production of songs from the 60s and 70s,” Moore says. “We’ve jumped all over the map of what we’re interested in. Another element for the kind of retro feel is I really like to emulate that kind of songwriting. It’s very different from contemporary music; the intervals used in the 70s were radically different than now.”

Songwriting for the couple is typically divided, with either being able to point at particular songs, saying, “That one is mine.” Moore writes all the lyrics, whereas Riley writes music with production and sounds in mind.

“I’ll play him what I’ve made or recorded, and if we don’t impress each other, we know it’s out,” Moore says. “I’ll then hand it over to Pat and he’ll add some instrumentation so I can write new melodies, or he’ll give me a piece of music and I’ll add a chorus and lyrics.”

Along with the bulk of work being done on the open seas, the new album has a tremendous amount in common with the pair’s first album, Cape Dory.

“We made that record with the purpose of itself,” Moore says. “No expectations or consequences, and after that we began recording albums to make a living, and live up to something. The songs couldn’t exist on their own. I love the records we made, but we needed to cut ourselves out of that way of thinking, or we would lose our connection to songwriting as a personal expression.”

To do this, Tennis had to allow themselves wiggle room. With the only goal being to express themselves freely, they had to taper their own expectations in term of financial gain, and critical acclaim.

“We basically gave ourselves permission to fail,” Moore says. “As you get successful, you see what makes that happen and you internalize those observations, and they become hard to break away from. We made a concentrated effort to get away from that line of thinking.”

Luckily, the band hasn’t failed. The album marks a step forward in the band’s maturation process, while also reaching back and grabbing some of the magic responsible for their popularity.

Moore says this will be the new status quo, as the group plans to mimic this free-flowing creation process for future works. Like all other things Tennis, this sort of clicked, and when you get to one-up your previous works while also sailing on a boat, you kind of have to, right?

“We try to take a step forward with every record,” Moore says. “If we don’t feel like we’re moving forward, we wouldn’t want to make another record. In that sense, I think this is the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Yours Conditionally will be released on March 10. The duo will perform at 9:30 Club on March 19. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $20. Learn more about the band at www.tennis-music.com.

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

SHIFT Festival
Photo: Courtesy of Boulder Philharmonic

Interdisciplinary Inspiration: SHIFT Festival’s Guided Musical Hikes Explore Music and Nature

Boulder-based naturalist David Sutherland’s guided musical hikes aren’t just an experience. They’re an inspiration. The hikes, designed as nature walks set to classical music, are an interdisciplinary event rich in creative possibilities.

“When you pair two unrelated things together and find the commonalities, it creates a space to explore new perspectives,” Sutherland says. “Combining music and nature inspires people to think in new, creative ways.”

DC residents can experience this firsthand during two hour-long hikes in Rock Creek Park on March 27. Organized as part of the SHIFT Festival, a weeklong celebration of American orchestras co-presented by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, Sutherland’s hikes promise a distinctive experience for musicians and naturalists alike.

He’s got a traditional, yet exploratory, program planned. Both hikes, which center on the park’s birds, will challenge attendees to find different species while listening to Dvořák’s “American String Quartet,” Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” and other bird-reminiscent pieces.

He warns that the hike may pose a few surprises, though. Each program depends somewhat on the trail, weather and wildlife found along the way.

“I want all my hikes to be organic, rather than following a script or an outline,” he says. “I decide on a theme or concept, then illustrate it with what nature provides.”

The festival will also present two concerts performed by the Boulder Philharmonic, this year’s orchestral partner. Both performances, one a full orchestral concert at the Kennedy Center and the other a chamber recital at the Jefferson Memorial, also center on nature and music.

“Our natural environment has always been a source of inspiration for artists and musicians,” says Kevin Shuck, executive director of the Boulder Philharmonic. “We wanted to connect people to our natural world through classical music, and in turn use our natural surroundings to connect people to the power of music.”

The concerts and the guided hikes support the festival’s greater mission of reigniting people’s passion for classical music. Exploring the intersection of nature and music offers a new, creative way to experience the genre; a way that also helps it become more relevant to people’s lives.

“It’s about bringing classical music out into the community, finding new creative partners and better integrating it into society,” Sutherland explains.

He hopes this exchange will continue to motivate and inspire his hikers.

“Bridging nature and classical music helps people understand each other’s passions,” he says. “It encourages a deeper appreciation of classical music, and of each other.”

The guided musical hikes run on March 27 at 3:30 and 5 p.m. in Rock Creek Park. Tickets are free, and reservations are required.

The SHIFT Festival runs March 27 to April 1. Participating orchestras include Boulder Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and The Knights. For more information about SHIFT Festival concerts and community activities, visit www.kennedy-center.org/festivals/shift

march music dc

Music Picks: March 2017

All Them Witches
What does it mean that out of All Them Witches, none are actually women? Not sure, but regardless, they are beguiling. Their music has the effect of being both sinister and totally disaffected at the same time, and perhaps this is what is enticing. It’s heavy on instrumentation and there is some definite droning, chanting and spell-casting, along with voodoo vibe vocals. Listening is an exercise in musical mental prowess, trying to peel back the layers of mystique to see what it is exactly that is drawing you in. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $15. DC9 Nightclub: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

Enter The Haggis & We Banjo 3
In March, it’s festive to head out to a show headlined by Irish-inspired music, mostly because of the impending St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re into this line of thought, you can’t do much better than the combo of Enter The Haggis and We Banjo 3. While the former is one of the most noted Celtic bands around, the latter infuses various string instruments to deliver a show that will have you downing pints of Guinness with shots of whiskey. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $16.75-$25.25. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

For a band with just three members, Slothrust sure makes a lot of noise – both on the stage and, lately, in the rock music press. The New York natives, who met in the jazz/blues program at Sarah Lawrence College, wear their traditional and grunge rock influences proudly. But the band also infuses its dense, heavy sound with contemporary flourishes. Lead singer Leah Wellbaum wails with bluesy misery one moment and shifts to seductive purrs the next, as guitars and drums roar behind her. It’s the sound of a band that’s going places. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $13-$15. The Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Electric Guest
“It’s time to get funky” is a term used in various movies referencing the disco sounds of the 60s and 70s. Though Electric Guest is rather contemporary in comparison to groups hailing from that era, the duo is assuredly worthy of the often-quoted phrase. Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton have a penchant for easing digestible electronic sounds into your earholes, while dishing out soothing lyrics. With a mix of soul, soft rock and even disco-inspired music, you can’t not invite this Electric Guest into your house, right? Too corny? Okay fine, but you should seriously make yourself a guest at U Street Music Hall for their performance. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Infinity Crush
Caroline White, who records and performs as Infinity Crush, is a classically-trained musician, a poet and a synth-lullaby siren. Her first full-length album, released in September, is a lo-fi hazy daydream dedicated to the memory of her late father. The Maryland native’s music will both haunt and seduce you, so make sure you arrive early enough to catch her in the opening set. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

The Kennedys
Folk music is typically positive, featuring easy strums of the guitar and pleasant vocals. The Kennedys take this a step further, singing about the tranquility of a river flowing and the calming effects of the word “namaste.” The duo has been around since the mid-90s, and list artists like Bob Dylan and Nancy Griffith as influences. So if you can’t take another night of drunken debauchery, perhaps do musical meditating and give The Kennedys a chance; plus, the show is a album release celebration. Doors at 5 p.m., show at 6 p.m. Tickets $22. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Priests: Record Release Party
After two years in and out of the studio, DC’s rising punk band – Priests – dropped its first full-length album in January. What better way to celebrate than a show at the Black Cat, where the band honed its ferocious live act? Priests’ new record, Nothing Feels Natural, retains the quartet’s explosive, raucous sound, but the tunes also hit the ear with a nuance, musicianship – and dare we say polish – that reveals an ongoing sonic maturation. Priests drummer Daniele D, a transplant to DC from New York, told On Tap last year she loved the nation’s capital because “there’s a sense that you can grow and experiment as an artist in a supportive community.” Don’t miss your chance to return the love this month at the Black Cat. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $16. The Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Railroad Earth
A classic bluegrass/Americana jam band from, New Jersey? That’s right. These Jersey natives who started playing in bars and Elks clubs have made a name and a career making music in the tradition of The Band. And even if you’re not super-into the idea of jam bands, don’t let it dissuade you. These guys put on a hell of a show and watching them improvise live is sonic treat every time. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $28. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
“World music” seems like such an obtuse genre – isn’t all music “world music”? LBM have been producing rhythm and harmony in their native South African musical tradition since the early 1960s, with their first album release in 1973. They gained international fame when Paul Simon featured the group in Graceland. A year later, he produced their Grammy-winning first worldwide release. Harmony and an international perspective from the folks who know it best? We could all use a little of that. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $49.50. The Birchmere Music Hall: 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.birchmere.com

Regina Spektor
Salve Regina! If you don’t know her (what rock do you live under?!), Regina Spektor is one of the original – and quintessential – women of indie pop. A Soviet Union ex-pat, Spektor began training at piano even before her family emigrated when she was nine. Her skill at and quirky manipulation of the keys, paired with her wide variety of vocal techniques, quickly became her calling cards. Spektor released seven albums between 2001 and 2016, each with its own eccentricities. For above all she is a storyteller, and her songs can take you from a Russian fairytale to a basement in Brooklyn in a matter of minutes. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Ticket prices starting at $63. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org/constitution-hall

Hippie Sabotage
In a blend of indie vocals and hip hop beats, Hippie Sabotage is definitely an interesting listen. The bass thumps, electric sounds fill the dance floors and the raspy voice provides a peaceful touch to what otherwise could be described as purely dance music. The songs vary from ferociously fast such as their hit “Your Soul” and the unbearably patient “Devil Eyes.” The booming bass and instrumentation makes sense when you realize the Sacramento duo began their music careers as producers working with local rappers. However, these brothers are ready to wow you themselves on the 9:30 Club stage. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Consider the Source
…and then reconsider it. This music has influences rooted in everything from trip-hop to prog rock, sci-fi sound effect to deep-physics shoegaze, jazz to metal – and you might even catch some salsa or Asian dance blends mixed in for good measure. The trio hails from NYC and are masters at instrumentation –clean dirt that you can zone out or rock out to, depending on the track and your mood. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $12-$14. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

Young Dubliners
Described as “Celtic rock’s hardest working band,” the Young Dubliners play hundreds of shows per year, and have made guest spots on television a few times in recent the memory. The group was birthed in Los Angeles, even though the two founding members are both from Dublin, Ireland, and from there the group ventured to adapt Irish ballads into consumable music for the masses. With various instruments, the occasional violin, and their undeniable charm, it’s hard to pass up a legit Dublin experience on St. Patrick’s Day. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $19.75-$29.75. The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

Chris Knight and Will Hoge
Chris Knight might not get the media adoration that his Americana contemporaries Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton enjoy, but make no mistake – he’s one of America’s finest songwriters. The Kentucky native’s gritty, evocative tales of down-and-out drifters, rural revenge and life on the margins are shot through with empathy and understanding. Meanwhile, Will Hoge – another underrated songwriter – is an accomplished heartland rocker in the John Mellencamp mold. Both Knight and Hoge are songwriters extraordinaire, but their respective bands both come out blazing live, giving each man’s sound a ragged, rocking edge. Show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $29.50. Birchmere: 701 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.birchmere.com

Mike Love
Hawaiian-born Mike Love’s eclectic brand of reggae has a lot going on. The rising star borrows from funk, electronica, soul and rock – hell, even yacht rock. He also deploys an arsenal of technical components on stage, including live looping, effects pedals and a hybrid acoustic/electronic drum kit. The end result: Wholly original tunes that don’t forsake – or ape – reggae’s roots. Love’s music also stays true to the genre’s protest tradition, with titles like “Time to Wake Up” and “No More War.” Consider it smooth music for rocky times. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $14. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

People’s Blues of Richmond
The blues is moody. By definition, the music is supposed to cover a whirlwind of emotions including sadness and despair, but also the oddity of reveling in sorrow. So yeah, you have to bring a certain edge to the stage in order to pull off the genre. The People’s Blues of Richmond bring all that and more with quick tempo changes and bellowing chants that are both emotionally charged and extremely fun to yell in a crowd. The music perpetually vacillates from quick intrepidness to a sloughing trudge. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12-$15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

The Magnetic Fields
For more than 25 years, master songwriter Stephin Merritt has been composing musical epics. For those familiar with the work of Merritt and his longtime project The Magnetic Fields, you know what an emotional journeys those epics can take you on. Merritt’s latest undertaking is the album 50 Song Memoir, in which he has written a song for each year of his life – this time inviting us along for the story of his own journey. The Magnetic Fields will perform all 50 songs from the release over two nights’ of shows at the Lincoln. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $40-$55. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

Aaron Lee Tasjan
After stints as a guitarist for glam-rock legends The New York Dolls, British roots band Alberta Cross and southern rock warhorses Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Aaron Lee Tasjan is stepping out on his own to decidedly good effect. The East Nashville-based musician’s second album, Silver Tears, has him both singing and slinging guitar, and Tasjan proves quite adept at both. He can peel off jangly, Byrds-inflected rockers one minute and emotive steel guitar weepers the next. Tasjan said his off-kilter, folk-inflected songs are the result of all the gigs that came before his move to the spotlight as a frontman. “A lot of the stuff I did previously was never the main focal point,” he says. “It’s all just been pieces along the way.” Doors open 8:30 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

For a while there, it didn’t look like this band would make it through the fire, perhaps suffocating from the trials of being in a band. However, that seemed to change with Hang, as the band finally rounded into form delivering an indie album its fans and admirers knew it were capable of producing. Picking up scraps from classic rock, and adding eccentric twists throughout, Foxygen has proven they know music, and can create tunes bathed in influences that still powerful enough to stand alone. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Though the Cosmonauts call their sound “drug punk,” you don’t have to be totally inebriated to jive about while listening to the psychedelic music. Obviously taking notes from bands like Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground, the songs are thick and heavy, even the lighter ones, because of the weight of the guitar-vocals. The most noted feature of the group is the dedication to their amps, often driving the tunes to be as loud as possible. We’re all for good loud music, but maybe bring some ear buds for this one. Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10-$12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

Minus the Bear
Voids dropped March 3 – the sixth full-length for indie rockers Minus the Bear. Beside their Seattle street cred, what makes these guys stand out among others on the scene is that they are they are approachable in a nostalgic way. They’d probably hate that I said that, but what I mean is, while they’ve got killer talent with electronic timing and composition, they also kind of embody the spirit of what 90s “alt pop” bands – think Third Eye Blind – could have progressed to if they’d dug a little deeper, and paid more attention to the technical. Again, the band probably wouldn’t take this as a compliment, but I mean it as one. Their sound is familiar enough to be engaging, but original enough to be worth listening to. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com 

Tahj Chandler, better known as Saba, is a 20-year-old rapper hailing from Chicago’s West Side, one of the nation’s most potent hotbeds of hip-hop. Wielding an aggressive yet smooth flow and seamless sampling of late R&B, Saba’s sound is mature beyond his years. Schooled in piano starting at seven-years-old, Saba boasts a traditional musicality that some contemporary hip-hop lacks. It’s a smart niche, one that should draw a crowd ranging from the staunchest old-school hip-hop heads to a new generation of rap fans. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$17. Songbyrd: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Chicano Batman
“Holy smooth-sounding, music Chicano Batman!” Okay, okay, that’s not a real quote from the old Adam West led Batman series, but if Robin had uttered he would have not only been on the cutting edge of time travel, but he would be correct. With Latin flare, the group takes after the psychedelic sounds of 70s soul, creating a potent listening experience that makes you want to put them on playlists built around Jimi Hendrix and The Doors tunes. So what if they don’t belong to that era? When the music fits, it fits! Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$18. Rock and Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Garage rock? Surf rock? California babe? Gidget, where you at girl? Kind of, but more today and less 50s – in a good way. Oh, the Allah-Las have got some catchy groovin’ tunes. Give me the tambourine and let me play with you. Sure, maybe it’s ridiculous that three of the bandmates met while working together at Amoeba, but ridiculous in all the right ways. Smart lyrics and clean rhythms make them better-than-your-average Cali dream band and I can’t imagine anyone not being able to enjoy one of their shows. How can you hate the “perfect mixture of the sands, the seas, the streets and cities of the Golden State”? Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Chrissie Hynde spent the past couple of years writing a controversial autobiography then touring arenas with Stevie Nicks. Now, the rock legend and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is bringing her Pretenders back to the kinds of clubs the band played before they got famous, including a date at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Expect to hear the 80s-era monster hits – “Back on the Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road,” “My City Was Gone” and others – as well as newer Pretenders tunes, all delivered with Hynde’s sardonic wit and trademark too-cool-for-school snarl. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $45. The Fillmore at Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

These relative newcomers (loosely formed in 2013 when composing a score for a friend’s film) have got a definite next wave Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre kind of thing going on — really catchy pop rhythms laced with just the right amount of disaffected-ness (but just the right amount). Listening to their tunes alone in the kitchen sucks you into this cross between a trance dance and a Beatles kind of groove. This would be a great show to take your hip date to, and get excited about when you realize you both can’t help but shake off some of the cool and dance a little. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance; $12 at the door. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

Pronounced “Milk Money,” this hip-hop duo has struck gold in a balance of DC’s notable go-go music and hip hop. With only one album to date, 2016’s Zodiac Sines, the pair is still young in their careers, and sometimes it’s exciting to catch a musical act on the come-up. For them, the fire is just being ignited and the energy is palpable every time they set foot on the stage. Support local art, support Milk$, even though milk is low key bad for you. Show at 7 p.m. Free to attend. Anacostia Arts Center: 1231 Good Hope Road SE, DC; www.anacostiaartscenter.com

Sarah Potenza
We all know that a strong showing on the The Voice does not guarantee a successful music career, but take that and a rave review in Rolling Stone and an indomitable spirit, and you just might go pretty far in the business. Potenza, a self-described “badass fatass” who wowed viewers of The Voice late last year, is about to see just how far. Channeling Janis Joplin, Susan Tedeschi, Aretha Franklin and other powerhouse vocalists, Potenza is on the road showcasing her polished blues/rock/soul hybrid sound. Backed by a rocking band, Potenza’s big voice should sound fabulous in Hill Country’s intimate concert space. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. Free to attend. Hill Country: 410 7th St. NW, DC; www.hillcountrywdc.com

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
The King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard sound isn’t for everyone, but it’s also not quite as strange as the name would imply. Despite the wacky moniker, this seven-piece Australian outfit lays down some of this era’s most serious and complex psychedelic rock. Known for energetic live performances and cranking out lots of records, King Gizzard blends 1960s surf music with garage, punk and prog rock into an invigorating psychedelic stew. Unlike some psychedelic rock tunes that lack a rhythmic anchor, King Gizzard keeps the grooves front and center while borderline musical madness unfolds on the margins. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $18. 9:30 Club: 915 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Middle Kids
Rarely does a young rock trio hit the international music scene boasting the self-assuredness of Australia’s Middle Kids. Rarer still is when the band gets a plug from rock legend Elton John, who put Middle Kids’ debut single, “Edge of Town,” on his Apple music playlist. It’s also fairly uncommon for an indie rock trio to so effortlessly straddle the line between street cred and commercial viability. Tight, propulsive rhythms and ambient, dreamy harmonies meld seamlessly in Middle Kids’ music, making them ripe for airplay – but likely only on the coolest stations. Lead singer Hannah Joy’s soaring and captivating voice channels PJ Harvey, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and other alt-rock priestesses with serious vocal chops and attitude to burn. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dcnine.com

Wyclef Jean
In the hip-hop community, the Fugees are legends. Alongside Lauryn Hill and Pras Michel, Wyclef Jean was an integral part to their success. Since the group’s disbandment in 1997, Jean has gone on to carve out a successful solo career. From rhymes to a sorrowful vocal style, Jean has been versatile in his music, which often carry political weight. Though Jean won’t be accompanied by his former bandmates, he’s a musical legend in his own right. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $37. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD: www.fillmoresilversping.com

Mike Coleman, Trent Johnson and Courtney Sexton contributed to this article. 

Photo: Courtesy of Sounds of the City
Photo: Courtesy of Sounds of the City

Open Your Ears and Listen to the Sounds of the City

If you’re plugged into the local DC music scene, it’s likely you’re a frequent visitor of DC Music Download. The site is notable and reliable when it comes to tapping the pulse of the latest and greatest artists from the area.

Every year, the site celebrates its anniversary around this time, and 2017 is no different. However, instead of your typical party with pointed-cone hats and confetti, the site stretched its legs by organizing an all-encompassing music festival, set to benefit both industry folks and avid listeners.

Sounds of the City technically started last night with an industry panel, but the meat of the festival is still to come, including the kickoff showcase tonight at Tropicalia, the first-ever DC record label expo and more.

In the eye of the festival storm, On Tap caught up with DC Music Download founder Stephanie Williams on the struggles in organizing, her role in the industry and whether she saw all this coming.

On Tap: How did the idea to throw a festival come about? Why this time of year?
Stephanie Williams: So around this time last year, we started planning this festival. We usually [have] our biggest show of the year coincide with our anniversary. Before, we did one night only events that were self-contained. This is an opportunity for us to spread our wings out and showcase a different side of the local music scene that we haven’t before. This is a good time, because we’re ready to take on a big event like this, and put on a good show this weekend.

OT: How much of it was DC Music Download’s fifth birthday?
SW: This year, we felt it was a good opportunity to do something different, and it happens to coincide with the five-year anniversary. Obviously, it’s different than our typical birthday party.

OT: What was the first step in planning the events? What did you know you would have first? How long did it take you guys to plan it?
SW: It took at least six months for the planning process. The first thing we did was book the music showcases. There is a pop-up artist poster shop where we’ll showcase the local concert posters at the party. Around those shows, we put the panels, and luckily we had great relationships with the venues. Finally, the last part was that we always knew we wanted to do a DC record label expo, because there are so many doing awesome things. It sort of fit with the festival, covering the DC music landscape in a broad stroke. It’s a lot of work operating so many moving pieces and luckily, we’ve been able to get everyone on board.

OT: The idea of being a resource for local musicians, is that something you feel responsible for in a way?
SW: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning when we started five years ago, we wanted to eventually get to a place where we’re not only providing the entertainment aspect, but also educational resources for the musicians, workshops and panels. It goes deeper than playing the music; we want to help the artists as well. We hope this is a launching pad for more panels, and we hope these become more frequent and raise awareness. We hope this festival serves as a launching pad for us to expand into more than just concerts.

OT: Was it difficult to put the expo together?
SW: Yes, so the thing with that is it’s really unprecedented. For us, we went in blind as far as what it would take to plan, because we’ve never done an expo of that caliber. We sort of knew from the get-go who we wanted to have, but the toughest thing was getting a space.Luckily, Songbyrd was gracious enough to host it in their basement.

OT: Did you reach out to local musicians and artists to gauge interests on some of the panel ideas?
SW: Yeah, those ideas came about through people reaching out to us. One question I constantly get from bands is, “What goes into the marketing aspect of being a musician? What do bloggers look for in curating music and who do they talk about?” That’s something I knew we’d want to talk about in an official way. For the open mic and the record label expo, it came about because there’s nothing like it. There’s so many labels that I’ve seen pop up and emerge, and it was one of those things that I wanted to put those things together in an official way, so people can be discovered and meet. It’s interesting to know how big the local indie record label business is. It’s way bigger than I thought it was.

OT: With this being more of a festival, rather than a party, was it a goal to be even more diverse in your artist selection?
SW: Yes, absolutely. With us, when we did our events in the past, we were only able to showcase maybe four bands at most. It didn’t give us a lot of leg room to expand and ask everyone we wanted to. This gave us an opportunity to reach out to those people. We wanted a chance to showcase these musicians despite their backgrounds or genre; the common thread is their forward thinking about their craft.

OT: What can attendees who aren’t musicians expect at the events other than the concerts?
SW: One thing about these panels is we don’t want to exclude anybody. Even people that aren’t in the panel can come and walk away having learned something. It feels like there’s something to take away, no matter what their background is. Deciphering ways we can rectify the DC music scene is the goal. This has to be an inclusive conversation, and we encourage the public, who might not know a lot about the scene, to come and be a part of it. Anyone from the public who loves music and local arts can come and learn about what’s going on.

OT: Are there tentative plans to do this again?
SW: Yeah. This was sort of an experiment for us to see how it would be; to see how we do in the festival space. In terms of having this happen next year, we want to see how it goes this weekend. I will say that some of the panels we have are definitely things we’ll do going forward. We have so many more labels we want to showcase as well, if not in a festival format, than in a standalone event. I do feel like, for some of these events, we definitely want to continue the momentum.

OT: Does any of this surprise you after five years of DC Music Download?
SW: It feels like it’s been longer than five years. I started it as my own project, something that I wanted to do as a podcast initially. I wanted people to literally download it. It’s crazy to think that it went from a side project to events and a festival. I would have never imagined it would grow into this. We didn’t have a concrete plan on how this would roll out, so it’s definitely surreal to be putting on something like this this weekend. It sounds cliche, but it doesn’t feel real; it seems like a dream. It couldn’t have happened without musicians supporting it.

The Sound of the City’s kickoff showcase is tonight at Tropicalia, and features Ace Cosgrove and BobKillMoe. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. Learn more about the festival here.

Tropicalia: 2001 14th St. NW, DC; 202-629-4535; www.tropicaliadc.com

Photo: Danilo Lewis
Photo: Danilo Lewis

ShamrockFest’s Quest for Best Irish Celebration

For the past 18 years, DC has enjoyed a plethora of celebration opportunities for the greenest holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. For nearly two decades, ShamrockFest has been among the choices, offering an experience blending traditional Irish flare with a music festival, delicious food and a diverse array of options for its attendees.

“We always want to balance having a great time and celebrating the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day while keeping everyone safe and making sure it’s a great experience for all,” organizer Kelly North says. “We have a diverse group of people who come to the event.”

The festival usually promotes Celtic rock, a genre that has become heavily associated with the holiday because of its Irish roots, but lately the festival has sought acts from other genres as well. This year’s festival includes old school hip-hop acts in House of Pain and Coolio, as well as fan favorite Irish music stalwart Dropkick Murphys.

“It was definitely intentional,” North says. “One thing is, obviously, all of the big Celtic bands are in high demand at this time of year. We try to stick to Irish roots for the festival, but we do take into account what people enjoy. This year, we definitely have more diversity than other years. Last year we brought in Vanilla Ice and got great feedback from that performance, so we want to continue to incorporate that kind of nostalgia this year.”

As the festival has grown over the years, the attendance has risen steadily into the thousands. But with the growing population in the DMV, every festival brings new patrons, and North wants them to understand the value of this catchall event. If you’re looking for a little bit of everything in a celebration, ShamrockFest is a safe bet for an enjoyable experience.

“People can expect a big fun party, basically,” North says. “I truly love to see when the headliners come out. It’s really cool to see everyone singing along and throwing their fists in the air. It’s super rewarding for us to see everyone just dance and absolutely enjoy the moment that they’re in.”

ShamrockFest takes place from 2-10 p.m. on March 11. Tickets are $25-$75.

RFK Stadium: 2400 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.shamrockfest.com