Iron Cages // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

With “Present Tense,” Photographer Farrah Skeiky Brings DC’s Vibrant Music Scene To The Front

If you’ve been to a punk, DIY, or house show recently, you might have been in the midst of local creative and photographer Farrah Skeiky. Her list of accomplishments runs long, and the common thread between them all is a devotion and dedication to DC’s famed music scene as it currently exists. Born of a desire to share that this city is as vibrant as ever when it comes to music and creativity, Skeiky’s first solo exhibition, Present Tense, opens at Transformer on January 18. To get to the heart of her work, which is at once a celebration and a call to action, On Tap spoke to Skeiky about her process and the progress she hopes drawing attention to live music in the District will bring.

On Tap: Present Tense is your first solo exhibition, and on your site it said the exhibition aims to “fight… the notion that this section of DC counterculture exists solely in the past.” As a music photographer, when did you first catch wind that there was an idea that counterculture was a thing of the past?
Farrah Skeiky: I love shooting all kinds of music. One of my favorite shows I shot this year was Lizzo. In 2018 I shot Blood Orange – obviously there’s a lot of national acts that I really, really love. But people kind of know and herald DC as a very important place to when it comes to music, but people really talk about it in the past tense, right? They talked about Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Brains – all important bands. I’m never going to disagree about that.

And their contribution to music is obviously great, especially in punk music and the culture around it. Conversations about straight edge, veganism, benefit shows – all that stuff is really important, but it’s still going and it never really stopped. So for me, highlighting the bands and the people that are part of the present tense, where it gets its name from – this concept of people talking about DC as a place that used to have really cool bands and used to have really cool shows. And I was standing there talking to people who are saying these things, and I’m thinking, “But I was just at a great show last night, where three out of the four bands were local bands that are currently active or are in all these big bands currently playing reunions.”

I hate when people talk about this place in the past tense, when I’m in the middle of it and it’s active and it’s vibrant and people from all over the city bring all sorts of different stuff to the table. 

OT: What proved, to you personally, that it was alive and well? Was it a specific moment or a culmination of your experiences?
FS: [It] as kind of just a culmination [of everything]. I moved from Seattle to the Maryland suburbs [when] I was 15 and that’s not a fun move, to go from a very cool city to the suburbs. You’re kind of just getting into who you are and how you can use the world around you at that age. [So I] moved across the country, from one Washington to another. I really was not excited, but knowing that DC had this rich history that was still very much active, with really great independent music shows, all ages [and] culture, which is not common in a lot of cities – that was really important to me.

I feel like I watched it from afar, just like a lot of other people do in this country who are excited about punk music, but you don’t always realize it when you get there and [can] be part of it. So it wasn’t one specific [moment]. I think it was just, I realized I was going to more and more local shows and I was really excited about all of these local bands and what they were doing and I’m like, “well these are the bands I want to be taking more photos of.”

OT: Did you get exposed to photography and the local scene as a teenager in the suburbs of Maryland or was that something that happened as your career progressed?
FS: I never really thought that photography would play such a large part in my life. I got a camera when I was 16. I got my Canon Rebel XS. I was already engaged with art in school and playing music. I’ve played in jazz band and orchestra, and I thought that that was going to be how I engaged with music, by playing it in that class. It wasn’t really until my friends’ bands were playing something like the rec center or in a battle the bands [where] I was like, “I’ll bring my camera,” and or my friends said, “It would be cool if you brought your camera.” Live photos were always more interesting to me than any still one. I can capture people in that emotion and kind of show you how it felt to be there, rather than just tell you – I’m not good at words. I would rather show you how it felt to be there than tell you. That’s what I got really excited about. So it was probably 17 or 18 when I really started becoming excited about music photography.

OT: I’m guessing you had a rather large amount of photos to sift through for inclusion in this exhibition what criteria did you apply to capture this goal?
FS: It’s really hard because there’s a Present Tense book that’s coming out in February and that’s a couple photos of…almost every DC the band I’ve captured over the last five or six years. And that’s that book. The show was really hard, because it’s 16 pieces, I didn’t want to repeat bands and I wanted to get kind of a wide range. There are some from 2015 and 2017, and the most recent photo is from about three months ago. 

I didn’t want it to just be hardcore bands, and didn’t want it to just be photos of singers, because it’s very easy to catch [them] because they’re moving around the most. I tried to shoot photos of every member of the band when I’m shooting a show, so everybody has a photo of themselves. There’s also like, not just straight forward hardcore punk bands in there, but also bands that are more DIY or indie rock as well.

I wanted a little bit of genre diversity and having a kind of range. This isn’t just photos from 2019, there are photos from like 2015, when I really started shooting punk in DC more seriously. Before I was doing that, I was on and off the house photographer rotation for IMP for a long time and I kind of consciously made the decision to say, “Okay, I’m going to step back from that a little bit and focus more on local bands.” 

OT: Any particular favorites that are part of the exhibition you’d like to share?
FS: There’s kind of a lead photo that I have as part of this show. I think it was at Damaged City Fest, of this band called Sem Hastro. So in the photo, the one guy is choking the other guy. I love that photo because I feel like it’s a great little encapsulation of what DC punk and DIY has been in the past few years. Both of those people in the photo came to DC from other countries and participated in the punk culture here. 

Sem Hastro // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

So [in the photo,] the one doing the choking came from Japan was studying art at the Corcoran for four years. His band is still active, on and off, where he still lives in Japan, but he comes back to DC when they tour the States. The person singing came to DC because DC punk bands were playing in Brazil, and kind of made this super group of some of the Brazilian punks and some of the DC punks. The transient nature of DC is sometimes not the worst thing in the world. All these bands still have an impact here, these people still have an impact here. They’re still part of it, even though they’ve gone back to Brazil to Japan. They still made their mark and their contribution to it, so that’s one of my favorites. 

There’s also one crowd photo in there that I really love. My roommate is in it, and everybody’s expressions were just very sincere. Some of them are a little bit goofy. We’ve all had photos where we’re like,  “Damn, that’s what I looked like at that show? That’s the face I was making?” and there’s humor in it. Like you can’t take yourself super seriously in that moment when you look ridiculous.

OT: What do you hope those who view your exhibition gain from it?
FS: I want people to know that this is something happening right now. When people have this idea that punk and DIY is something that used to happen here, [and] when people were making important decisions about development and changing neighborhoods and changing venues and people access spaces and content, what your barrier of entry is, they’re not considering [music] because they’ve got it in their heads that it used to happen here. If it doesn’t happen anymore, they’re not making room for it. The reason that scenes and communities – two different things – can struggle in a city like DC is because they’re not getting enough support because they’re not being taken seriously.

That’s a big part of it. Smaller venues close, bigger developers come in, and the nature of it changes who’s controlling the booking of bands in the city. A lot of stuff is happening. Even smaller venues will book through Live Nation, which is so trippy to me. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of this, that means that a lot of local folks who have been here and are actively doing this thing [and] are left out of the conversation, because people are not doing their homework and realizing these people exist.

It’s hard, and we kind of need to shout our existence a little bit more so that we can maybe be part of this conversation, so we’re not constantly looking for a space and not having space to make things happen. We’re also like resilient folks. So if the show needs to happen in a house, our show needs to happen in a house. We’ll figure it out. We’re not gonna stop doing what we’re doing just because the new development and new DC isn’t making way for us. We’ll find a way. But wouldn’t it be cool if people knew we were here and supported our existence?

Present Tense runs through February 29 at Transformer, Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6 p.m. and by appointment. Skeiky’s work featured in the show is also up for sale. Her book Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now will be released on February 22. For more on the exhibition and its programming, visit here.

Transformer: 1404 P St. NW, DC;

DJ Nativesun // Photo by Jamie Jazelle

The Melodic Archivist: DC’s DJ Nativesun Bridges Cultural Gaps

It’s easy to imagine what the life of a DJ might look like to the outside world: at a different party every night, playing sets in glamorous locales and constantly having fun with friends. But the reality is often much different.

“DJing for me is a back-and-forth,” says Chris Harris, known as DJ Nativesun. “It’s not a pretty picture like everyone thinks.”

It’s hard work, he continues, and has been a struggle at times. To Harris, it’s much more than a cool hobby or aesthetic for social media – it’s a way of life.

“You’re providing people with a place to come be free, let go and forget about shit. It’s serious work to me because I take pride in making people dance and giving them a place to really let go.”

You can find Harris making people dance at a myriad of venues across the District, where the DJ grew up and got his musical start. Raised in a musical home, his parents would often play funk, soul or house music. His mom could often be heard listening to gospel records in one room while his sister played piano down the hall.

Harris and his friends would spend almost every weekend at go-go shows, where they would dance and listen to covers and remixes of some of their favorite songs on the radio.

“Going to see [local go-go bands] on the regular growing up was a huge influence for me, because go-go music was a place where I could dance and let go with my friends and be inspired by the music.”

The DJ’s biggest influences growing up included Frankie Knuckles and The Isley Brothers, but at the top of the list were Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix.

“Jimi was a talented guy, but his musical career was a struggle,” he says. “That always brought me back to reality – even now.”

Although music was always around him, Harris didn’t begin to DJ until he was in his 20s. What started as messing around with records in his room ultimately led to the chance to play a house party.

Soon after, he came up with the name Nativesun: a combination of being a District native and bringing the energy of the sun to his sets. Since then, Harris has played across the world for broadcasting platform Boiler Room and at festivals like Afropunk, Bonnaroo and South by Southwest.

“[DJing] is something I love because I really love music. It’s always been there for me. It’s always been something that I could turn to and dive deep into.”

Always looking for ways to bridge the cultural gap between more popular music and the underground, his sets consist of sounds across a wide variety of genres like afrobeat, house, trap and R&B, to name a few. Harris is known as a melodic archivist: in his words, someone who combines musical influences from the past and present and across numerous genres.

“I like to take on the challenge of not only playing the stuff people know but [also] playing the stuff they don’t know, and opening people’s minds up to different sounds and genres.”

Harris also cofounded and is a producer for The Future R&Bass Collective with collaborator DJ Underdog. The collective, which began as a movement in the form of a party bringing new sounds and artists to DC, has hosted a variety of artists from around the world like Sango, DJ Lag (co-presented with L.E.N.G), Full Crate, Abdu Ali and SassyBlack.

Harris hopes to host more women of color in 2020 but beyond the collective, he wants to keep producing and become more involved in the festival circuit, with potential stops in Europe and Africa. He’s also focused on building up more projects like Future R&Bass locally – projects that feel different.

“I want to have more raves in DC focused on people of color, for the LGBTQ [community and] people that feel like they don’t have these spaces. I want to provide a space where people can dance all night and not have to worry about a curfew – where we can just go until the morning.”

Stay up-to-date on all things DJ Nativesun on Facebook and Twitter @djnativesun and on Instagram @dj_nativesun.

Stream his music at

Christine Lilyea, Alyssa Bell and Jack Inslee // Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.

Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.

The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.


On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.

OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?

Jack: Oh!
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.


Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
[All laugh]
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.


OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
[All laugh]
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.

OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.


OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.

OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.

Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC

Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC;

Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC;

Photo: courtesy of James June Schneider

Deep Cuts: New Documentary Delves into DC’s Punk History

You always hear how difficult touring is for bands. I’m not talking about large-scale tour buses rivaling the comforts of first-class flights you read about in Rolling Stone profiles. I’m thinking of the little guy: the DIY band making their first sojourn through the Midwest or a five-piece indie outfit huddled together in a minivan with a shaky air conditioner on an adventure through the South.

Over the past two months, DC filmmaker James June Schneider experienced a similar cross-country trip while showcasing his documentary Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement.

Following the film’s world premiere at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center this summer, the documentarian packed up his car with film in tow and drove across the country, hitting spots along the East Coast before venturing through the Midwest to California.

He wrapped up his road tour last month, looping through the Southwest on his way back to the District. In a sense, he mimicked his very subjects by touring art on a shoestring budget. Though he’s not in a band or a traveling musician, his mission to showcase the spirit of DC’s punk scene has taken him on somewhat of a journey.

“A film about DC punk done the way we do it really celebrates an American subculture that is a great chapter in American history,” Schneider says. “One that is still being discovered – an active history. This is a chance to celebrate a thread of American history.”

The film is set to return to the AFI in Silver Spring, Maryland for a three-night screening from November 9-11, including Q&A’s with Schneider, his co-directors Paul Bishow and Sam Lavine, and special guests like the Slickee Boys, Boyd Farrell, Anne Bonafede and others.

“I do think that people will be moved, whether they’re new to DC or grew up here,” he says. “They’ll get where it came from and hopefully be inspired by what’s happened. The great thing about DC punk is when you learn the ideas behind the scenes and the approaches to creativity, it can be applied not only to DC musicians but musicians anywhere.”

The film focuses on the early days of the capital’s punk scene, specifically from 1976 to 1983, and took more than a decade to produce. In the early development stages, the trio archived countless hours of interviews and gathered materials ranging from memorabilia to videos to photos. Combined with Bishow’s already extensive collection, the materials were so plentiful in volume that the team decided to narrow its focus to DC punk’s humble beginnings.

“It’s definitely an origin story,” he says. “As we were making the film, we discovered that there was a real need to investigate the earlier time period. It hadn’t been discussed in any great degree, the pre-hardcore scene. The history means a lot to a lot of people – not just in DC, but to people around the world.”

For a local like Schneider, the subject matter of the genre’s historic rise in the late 70s and early 80s hits extremely close to home. Ever since purchasing a Minor Threat album at 12 years old, the music has served as a soundtrack to his life, helping him remember a community that has remained important to him through adulthood.

“This is the music I grew up with. I had been in a bunch of bands and started making films in the 90s. When I discovered my friend Paul had all this great [footage] from the late 70s, it became evident that we should team up and do a film about it.”

Because of the uncharted territory and mostly forgotten material, Schneider says 95 percent of the people they approached about the film were enthusiastic about participation. Most interviews proved long and fruitful, which made editing the film down to its 88-minute runtime a difficult task. Like any labor of love, the filmmakers logged long hours piecing the documentary together, and watched various cuts several times before finally deeming it ready for public consumption.

“All three of us watched the film every few weeks, usually with other people in Paul’s apartment,” Schneider says. “Those were amazing screenings with hours-long discussions afterwards about the film and the community.”

Whether in their living rooms, at small-scale showings or at the bigger tentpole events like the three coming up at AFI, the resounding impact on viewers has been palpable.

“It is a music scene, so we have to say first and foremost that the music for the size of the scene is amazing,” Schneider continues. “What’s given it more longevity is the ideas behind it. The lyrics are fairly timeless. People weren’t just singing about [President] Reagan and current events. They were singing about their own trials and tribulations.”

The sentiment behind punk music will forever remain relevant to DC’s larger culture, as much as go-go and any other musical genre thrown into the mix. With the federal government sitting on most corners of the city, there will always be a need to protest – and no music has a reputation for antagonizing Big Brother quite like DC punk.

“It’s definitely continuing to this day,” Schneider adds. “There are a lot of great bands that have carried on from back then, and even musicians from back then that are playing today. It’s continued, but it’s transformed. Other people are just continuing to make music great music like they’ve been doing for 40 years.”

Don’t miss screenings of Punk the Capital from November 9-11 at AFI Silver. Showtimes and tickets are available at Learn more about the documentary at

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; 301-495-6700;

Down in the Reeds artwork by Noah Friedman Studios

Down in the Reeds Organizers, Performers and more Talk DC’s New Fall Festival

Leading up to Down in the Reeds’ first year as a beacon for music, healing and hope in DC, On Tap spoke to four individuals involved in the festival about their roles, contributions and what healing through music means to them.


Aaron Abernathy, Musician

On Tap: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started as a musician and your experience in the DC music community?

Aaron Abernathy: I got started as a musician in Cleveland, Ohio. I learned how to play the piano by ear and my mom caught wind and threw me into some piano lessons. I started singing around seventh grade. My choir teacher, Mrs. Patrick, was really adamant about pushing me into singing. I didn’t think that I could, but she pushed me that way and it ended up working out. She helped me discover that I had a voice. From there I started singing in choir in middle school and high school [then] I started singing in an acapella choir, which was our top choir at our high school. And it really started to help me develop my ear as far as harmonies and arrangements were concerned.

I went on to Howard University to major in music business and jazz piano. I created a demo because I wanted to be a songwriter, and my roommate started selling it on campus one day and gave me some money, and said “Hey, I’m selling a demo.” And so that lead to me doing a lot of shows. My band that was formed at Howard, we started to see if we could perform on U Street. And it was actually a Hurricane Katrina benefit that allowed me to perform with local artists at the time. That’s when I really got my start locally and I just started working from there. DC is where I started my professional music career and I was thankful that, being from outside the city, I was embraced.

OT: There’s a huge emphasis and with this festival on the healing power of music and what a powerful tool it can be in that regard. What does the healing power of music aspect mean to you personally as a musician?

AA: I have an album out now that talks literally about healing after a breakup, and I think all of my albums have to do with healing. On my first album I speak about how family and purpose helps you heal. And on my second album I speak about how the community needs to come together and heal. And, and on this latest album, again, I speak about finding restoration after heartbreak – you know, all of us go through heartbreak. So we have to find a way to heal and be better.

OT: That’s a really beautiful connection. So tell me a little bit more about, the inspirations and influences that you take into account when you’re writing and recording. especially on your most recent album.

AA: Inspiration, for me, comes from everywhere. Especially when it comes to songwriting. I love reading…and writing is important to me because I feel like we are supposed to speak for the community…I’m supposed to be a voice. It’s my mission. I’m responsible for the words that come out of my mouth, and the music and vibrations that I put out into the world.I can like name artist and books I’ve read for days now, but even with being a Christian man, like I know how important words are, you know? The heart speaks out of your mouth. And even when you’re writing music, like I said, like there’s a vibration in even the music that goes out. So I’m very cognizant of like how music makes people feel and how it can [create] a mood.

OT: hat do you think that you contribute to the lineup of a festival? Why are you looking forward to being a part of it?

AA: When I get on stage, I really pride myself and my band in bringing good energy and uplifting people through music. I’m into that vibration and making people want to get up and dance and smile and see our energy and I know that our energy will rub off on there. So it’s always good to come back and give back to the community who gave me a start.

OT: As someone who grew up in a different city and then came here and was fully embraced by DC, what do you think makes the local music scene special?

AA: I think DC is special because number one is the nation’s Capital. People are always coming in and out of the nation’s Capital, but there’s a certain energy in the music. I mean, DC has his own music, and Gogo already has like this culturally rich like music that is progressive. So I think, just to speak to the scene, it’s always had this youthful energy that I loved that…has an identity, musically, unlike anywhere else. To have that right here in the city that makes it super special thing, you know? Because most cities don’t have their own musical music culture.

OT: Other than down in the reeds? Are you working on anything else? Do you have any other upcoming, uh, tour dates or?

AA: I am headed to Europe in November to do a tour. And I’m playing in the city, at Sotto. I’m doing an intimate show with my band on November 2nd.

Aaron Abernathy will perform at the festival at 4:30 p.m. on the Parks at Walter Reed Main Stage.


Artis Moon Amarché, The Boundless Eclectic

On Tap: Can you start by telling me about yourself, your background and your work as The Boundless Eclectic?

Artis Moon Amarché: As a DC Native, I was raised on Jazz & Justice, and I’ve been into all the arts as long as I can remember. I’ve had an unconventional life by most people’s standards. My dad was close friends with the owners of one of DC’s oldest jazz venues, The One Step Down (closed in 2000), and my mom was a waitress there for a bit. From birth in the Fall of ’73 until I was 4, we lived in an apartment directly upstairs from the club, and I spent a lot of time in there growing up, especially those early years. It felt like home to me, throughout my childhood. I soaked in jazz like osmosis, and as I reflect back now, I see how it has influenced almost everything about my life.

Growing up, I was always involved in music, dance, theater, and visual arts. After three years in Indiana (seeing my father’s parents transition out of this world), when we returned to the DC area, in a converted school bus mobile home, we wound up in Arlington, where we remained for the rest of my childhood. I was fortunate that the Arlington public school system, from my experience, truly valued the arts and provided a lot of (free) opportunity for exploration there. I consumed them voraciously, they gave me life, helped me to make sense and order of what felt in some ways like a very chaotic world. We were pretty poor, but my life was rich with arts & culture. My dad was a single father, and DC cab driver until I was about 12, and funds were limited, but he was always very supportive of whatever I wanted to do and somehow always followed through on my initiatives, whether it was dance lessons, private piano & voice instruction, community theater, art workshops, you name it. He was always an arts aficionado, so he took me to shows at the Kennedy Center, and art openings, museums, etc. And then riding around in the cab with him, plus at home, I grew up listening to WPFW – Jazz & Justice Radio. The One Step and WPFW undoubtedly are both a huge influence on the foundation of my life and who I am today, and the conviction that everyone deserves to be free and to express themselves in a fulfilling way which is honored and valued.

I always balked when well-meaning folks would tell me, “You know, Artis, Jack of all trades, master of none…” I loved all of the arts and knew I could not completely give any of them up, so I have made it work for me! They have served me well and influenced one another as I’ve moved between them with an ebb & flow, successfully mastering & building a career around whichever one(s) was/were my focus at the time. This is what gave birth to the idea of ‘Boundless’ for me a long time ago – the idea that we can do anything we want to do. I’ve had a number of businesses under the umbrella of Boundless over the past 20 years.

I’ve lived a rich life as an independent interdisciplinary artist and educator, teaching and performing tap dance & percussion in the U.S. and abroad, producing, directing, & choreographing numerous residencies and performances; doing a bit of visual art exhibitions and mural work; teaching theater, visual & language arts, along with my unique Museum As Classroom series; and working as a photographer, writer, & editor, both for news organizations and the community at large (my photo site is

During my entire adult life, I have also worked with a range of mindfulness, meditation disciplines and contemplative practices, and I became a Reiki Master 9 years ago. There was an organic progression, for me personally, drawing me to shift my focus from healing through entertainment to more personal engagement in the arts & healing, and more intimate interactions, diving deeper with folks, supporting individuals and groups in exploration of Path & Purpose. I am thrilled to be forging my way in the healing arts and honored to integrate my roles as healer, artist, musician, dancer, mother, and yogi. I love to combine various traditional practices with innovation.

As the Boundless Eclectic, my passion is guiding people to set themselves free, sharing tools & practices for Deep Restoration & Transformation. I am all about helping people to empower themselves in their growth and healing. My healing arts offerings include a variety of meditation classes such as Yoga Nidra, sound healing & sound baths; corporate engagements, special events, workshops, including monthly Moon Circles & Reiki trainings; retreats; talks on holistic approaches to wellbeing; and unique 1:1 sessions drawing on meditation, Holistic Life Coaching, sound healing, Reiki, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mind-body skills, and arts processes. This work is heart medicine, providing the opportunity for you to actively dive deeper in your personal journey.

In addition to my healing arts business, I am a single mother of three amazing kids, ages 8 to 17, and primary caregiver for my 89-yo father, and my 34-yo disabled brother who recently moved in with us, so that all keeps me busy! I am grateful for a supportive community.

OT: Down in the Reeds is placing an emphasis on the healing power of music. I noticed on your website you use music, sound and creativity in your work. Can you tell me more about what music means as a healing tool to you and how you use it?

AMA: Music is everything. It has been part of the fabric of societies I’m sure since early human existence. Music has the power to heal people, both on the physical and metaphysical level, on the micro and macro level. It’s so deep. At the root of it all is Love.

There is the community component of the way music performance brings groups of people together, all united toward something, perhaps love of a particular style of music, or a particular artist. There is the community/cultural component in societies where coming together to make music, sing, dance, tell stories, is a natural, integral part of life, and a part of how they express their love for one another. You find this all across the world, through space and time. I feel that’s part of what American society is missing, is that for the population at-large, outside of churches, communities don’t generally have a regular opportunity to come together in that way. There is the power of music to bridge cultural divides and remind people of our oneness, of our humanity. There is the power of music to calm and soothe the mind, body, and nervous system, both by being relaxing to listen to, as well as because of the vibration of the sounds, quite literally. And there is the enormous healing power of expressing your soul by playing music, finding your voice, whatever that is. Music improvisation in particular is so empowering and liberating.

In reflecting how I got to where I am today, with the theme of the healing power of music as the backdrop, and hearing the experiences, stories, and ideas of some of the other Stakeholders, it has inspired an understanding of my life path in a new context, how certain dots have connected…. and how my process and flow in everything I do is heavily influenced by Jazz, tap dancing (both uniquely American art forms), and dissent, all a huge part of my roots.

In my work now, I play with music and sound in an intuitive way. My sound baths are sort of like a concert you listen to laying down, with your eyes closed. But there is more at work. Deep Restoration and Transformation takes place during these sessions. I have had people tell me they gone through more productive inner work in one of my sound baths than in years of therapy. Part of what I’m providing is a safe, held space for people to Be with themselves, sometimes guided in specific reflection and contemplation.

I typically begin with guiding folks in some mindfulness and breathwork, helping them drop into themselves, into their bodies, feel that shift, that sigh of relief. I progress through an improvised soundscape on various instruments. Because I am also a Reiki Master, that Divine Life Force is also flowing through me and my music, and I do my best to give some individual attention to each person in the space. The music journey I provide has two purposes. One – to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, letting your body know it’s safe to turn off the fight-or-flight response that is usually on the ready, and surrender to total relaxation; feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are released in the brain, and the brain waves slow down to the Theta state, which is the slowest vibration before deep sleep, and the same place as dream state. Two – to move energy; some of the instruments are very powerful for clearing out trauma, energy blockages, and even physical ailments. In particular, instruments that are made with metal or crystal interact with the body and the biofield on a cellular level, they actually can repair your DNA. This is not just woo-woo, it has been scientifically proven.

In my 1:1 work, I incorporate sound healing sometimes as guided by intuition, say with crystal bowls or frame drum, and sometimes I also will engage my clients in arts processes such as visual art, writing, singing/chanting, dancing, drumming. There are a number of reasons for this – self-expression is healing, sometimes we discover things through the arts by exploring in that nonverbal place in ourselves, uncovering things hiding in the subconscious that we didn’t even know were there, helping us to get to the heart of the matter and gain clarity on what it is that we are growing through.

Now, with my music partner Donne Lewis aka the Wychdokta back in DC, I am excited to explore the combination of more performative music combined with healing energy, which is what you will experience with us at Down in the Reeds.

OT: What drew you to Down in the Reeds and made you want to be part of it?

AMA: I was thrilled when I was invited by Chris Naoum, on recommendation from a couple of friends, to be a sponsoring partner of this festival and member of the programming committee. I love everything about the concept, including the fact that rather than focusing on one particular music style, we are showcasing the rich, diverse heritage of DC’s music scene. I was excited by the eclectic group of folks invited to be Stakeholders for this project, and the opportunity to be a part of something like this from the inaugural year. Also, I have produced and directed a number of shows over the years, but have never been involved in putting on a festival, so I was excited to learn from being involved in the more of the logistical aspects of something like this as well. And I loved the idea of sharing the universality of music healing and meditation with those who may have never experienced it.

OT: What will you be offering at the festival?

AMA: Boundless Eclectic is opening the main stage at noon with a performance that fuses music with ceremony. I’m excited to be working with two women who are powerful solo performers in their own rights – my dear sister, sand dancer Donne Lewis, aka the Wychdokta, and producer/singer/songwriter Tamara Wellons, both artists who, like myself, are deeply rooted in the American tradition of Jazz & improvisation with an eclectic mix of other influences. There is a synergy between us that feels like reaching into infinity.

I’ll be bringing meditative vibes with wooden flute, metallophone, crystal bowls, drums, and more. You will experience the magic of the Wychdokta with percussive sand dance and movement, energy healing (Reiki), and Tamara’s scintillating vocals. Together we will be blessing the performance area and the festival grounds, imparting a unique experience that will intrigue your eyes, ears, and soul.

We will also have a tent next to the Healing Partners Tent representing my business ( where my daughter Adobe ( will be vending art & jewelry made by the two of us. there will also be 15-minute Reiki & massage sessions offered during portions of the day, a friend will vend all-organic and ethically sourced textiles, and people can learn more about meditation, Reiki, sound healing, holistic life coaching, and more.

In addition, I will be collaborating with Jeneen Piccuirro – Creatrix, of Soul Voyage – to activate the Healing Partners’ tent where we will have more intimate offerings of extended improvised soundscapes, and some activations for families with music and visual art.

OT: What do you think a festival like Down in the Reeds brings to the DC music and creative community overall?

AMA: I really feel that in some ways this is more than a music festival, it is a consciousness-expanding festival, providing our audience the opportunity to be exposed to music, people, and practices that they might not otherwise find in their lives, and likewise, providing the artists an opportunity to reach new patrons. Providing everyone with the opportunity to connect – with one another, with our Unity, and with love through music, which is so healing for ourselves individually, as a community, and as a city. That collective love also helps to heal all the hurt in the world.

And again, part of what makes this festival unique is that we are celebrating the diversity and heritage of DC’s music scene. We have made attending the festival accessible for all, and we also are providing an opportunity for vendors to join us at no cost, plus taking conscious actions to engage the local community.

OT: What do you hope participants gain from your specific offerings at the festival, and from the festival overall?

AMA: The work I’m doing with Sound Healing, meditation, and Reiki is really more Universal than one might presume, a melting pot (thus ‘Eclectic’) that I have organically and intuitively added different ingredients to over the years – which is metaphoric of what’s really great about the U.S. of A., all of the influences that have come together here over time. I hope people who come to Down in the Reeds will enjoy experiencing something new and feel inspired, empowered, centered, balanced, and renewed.

At our first Stakeholder meeting, as we were distilling down what this is really about, Dom Flemons and some of us were speaking about the universal healing nature of music. We can chant Sanskrit mantras, we can sing Spirituals, play the Blues, we can spit poetry, play a drum, play banjo, bass, piano, or simply let healing sounds and vibrations of different instruments wash over & through us as we have time to just Be with ourselves… ultimately, it is all different expressions of the same energy: We do it because it feels good! It’s healing, it’s cathartic. It allows a release, a transmutation of energy, an alchemy of the soul. It brings us closer to ourselves, and closer to one another. And I love it. I love bringing different elements together, building bridges, opening minds, shifting perspectives, and witnessing transformation.

OT: What kind of dialogue do you hope your work opens with those who see and work with you?

AMA: Ultimately, I hope my work opens an honest and compassionate inner dialogue that helps people reduce stress in their lives, get centered on their life path, and undergo life-changing transformation. I am here to hold space for that. A lot of people have never even heard of sound baths or sound healing. Some people think of meditation and Reiki as too woo-woo, or inaccessible, or sometimes even that it is in contradiction to their religion, which is not the case. I always like to let people know that this is nothing new, people have been healing themselves and one another with music, touch, vibrations, meditation and contemplative practices, and other arts, in one way or another since the beginning of time. I have never had someone leave a session more stressed than when they arrived, and I have witnessed transformation and miracles again and again. The arts are such a valuable tool of self-discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, just do it because it feels good! I don’t expect anyone to just take my word for it, the best thing is for them to experience it themselves!

My work with people, whether in groups or 1:1, transcends religious orientation and really has so much to do with helping people liberate themselves, helping them find what really resonates with them, what brings them joy, fulfillment, and purpose, helping them to manifest their dream life, while also helping them to find peace in the present moment.

Alongside Wychdokta and Tamara Wellons, Artis Moon Amarché will be at the Parks at Walter Reed Main Stage at 12 p.m. You can also find Amarché at the Music Healing Tent alongside Studio in the Woods. 


Chris Naoum, Listen Local First

On Tap: How did Down in the Reeds originate? Why did you want to start this festival?

Chris Naoum: The festival was the fortuitous collision of a couple different ideas that I had been incubating with a couple different partners. First, Daniel Buchner and I who have been working on Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival for over seven years have been talking about starting up a new event and after working on a special headlining showcase with Grammy Award Winning Musician Dom Flemons in 2018 we were interested in working with Dom on a new event as a partner.

Independently about 2 years ago Cultural DC invited the arts community to come check out The Parks at Walter Reed. The second I saw the amphitheater, I knew it was going to be an awesome place to have a festival. The natural amphitheatre is a gorgeous outdoor space but I also had a feeling that the sound was going to be amazing (I found out later that it definitely was) I originally connected them with other festival folks in the city but since the space is designed to be an open public space, those employing the standard ticketed model of events did not find it as ideal.

The third part of how the festival came together involved another local music group and their story. Those of you who don’t know of the War and Treaty, you should check them out. We have had them at festivals and events for a couple of years. They are an amazing band fronted by Michael and Tanya Trotter. Michael and Tanya have told their story in many different places including this recent CBS interview. Their story kind of begins around the old Walter Reed Army Hospital and also revolves around the power of music to heal. Dan and I had been speaking with Michael and Tanya and they encouraged us that this was the message we needed to carry forward if we were to organize a music festival at the old Walter Reed Army Hospital.

So the short version is we shared the story with Dom and Vania and then reached out to Cultural DC and the developers to see if they wanted to host a fall music festival celebrating the power of music to heal across culture and community. The rest is history.

OT: Why did you choose this specific location?

CN: I think that location is incredibly important when it comes to festivals and events. The location is a huge part of the story, it sets the atmosphere and the feel. The space needs to complement the music and the theme. The bucolic historic campus of the old Walter Reed Army Hospital is the ideal location to spend a fall day outdoors listening to music and embracing the history of the space and the healing power of the art itself.

OT: Can you speak more to the festival’s emphasis on the healing power of music? How are you working to educate and promote this?

CN: I had been thinking about what healing through music means for over a year. Every time I found myself talking with someone about it I would get different examples of how it related to that individual’s experience or that of their family. Whether it was friends who grew up in a family of army veterans and blues musicians or friends who’s family used to host pickin jams in rural West Virginia the idea of coming together through music to heal seemed to cross all genres and cultures. I would hear about use of music in eastern meditative practices, music through through religion and church, and the roll drumming plays in healing and communion in African and Native American traditions.

Furthermore the deeper you look into healing and music the more you learn about the actual science and real therapeutic benefits of music and sounds.

I have been a huge believer in the healing power of music from my own personal experiences but I also felt that embracing the topic of healing through music involved too much of a focus on spirituality. From speaking to folks I realized that healing through music is as much spiritual as communal and all experiences are unique to ones self. That understanding really helped push the theme of this festival out into the open.

On the 19th we are bringing in musicians, presenters and speakers who embrace the power of music the heal through their own music, presentations or stories. One stage will be all music performances and the workshop stage will be performance, presentation, jam and demos from creatives of all cultures and backgrounds from across the DMV.

OT: What do you hope attendees gain from this event?

CN: There is a little bit for everyone. If you just want to come and enjoy a full day of amazing music outdoors with delicious food and drink you can just do that. If you want to check out some workshops or go talk to some of the music healing partners and take part in some of the demos, you can do that. If you want to go all in and spend time learning and listening to the presenters, working with the music healers and joining in the participatory jams then you can do that too.

OT: As it’s the first year of Down in the Reeds, what is your vision for the festival and for your involvement in it going forward?

CN: I hope that this is just us scratching the surface of something that goes much deeper. With more time and resources there are so many ways this event can grow.

I hope that with more time and planning we can partner with folks doing very interesting work in this space including the NIH and the Kennedy Center as well as organizations like the American Music Therapy Association. We also know so many folks who have done some amazing films on these issues and would love to bring in those film makers to present their work.

More artist, more stages and more ways to engage with different communities and the public is what we hope to accomplish.

OT: Why would you encourage someone to spend the day at Down in the Reeds?

CN: This is DC’s newest outdoor fall festival. You are going to love it. Come for the music, come to learn and embrace the healing power of music, come for the food, the art, the vendors the outdoor activities for the whole family or the beer garden!

Bring a blanket or some folding chairs come by yourself or bring the family!

Chris Naoum is a co-organizer of the festival and founder of DC music initiative Listen Local First.


Dom Flemons, musician

On Tap: Can you start by telling me a little bit more about your personal involvement, kind of how you became involved with Down in the Reeds and what your role in the festival looks like?  I understand you’re not performing but have been heavily involved with getting this off the ground.

Dom Flemons: Absolutely. I first met Chris and Dan at Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk several years back when I performed there. Earlier this year Chris had reached out to me and he told me that he wanted to do this festival over at the historic Walter Reed hospital site, which is near where I live in Silver Spring. So I’m just down the street and I’ve seen the way they’ve been rebuilding that site and that they’re wanting to re-fashion the site and the hospital so that it can cater to, as well as help develop, different parts of the community: the arts community, the schools and education. There’s an array of amazing programming that I think the neighborhood could use and it would be a wonderful way to commemorate the history.

It was unfortunate that I was not able to get the date free to perform at the festival. That happens, you know, but we’d like to continue to cultivate and develop the relationship with the Walter Reed hospital side. The main things to let people know that this site’s open. And then as we’re moving forward, we’ll start putting on some bigger programming and really try to bring in the community in a wonderful and holistic way.

OT: Outside of just raising that awareness, what else has your role encompassed so far?

DM: Chris and Dan called me right from the very beginning. So I’ve been here through the whole conceptual part of the festival. I’ve met with the board. I’m part of the advisers and as well as on the committee that decides  how we’re doing stuff. So I’ve been involved in the day to day in that regard, my wife and myself. So we were putting our American Songster stamp on the Down in the Reeds festival so that people can know that this is something that they can really get behind. Because for me, healing was the key thing that Chris explained to me as being the goal for the festival, which was something a little bit different than I was used to. Most of the time, you know, music festivals are for a good time and a party and for everyone to just enjoy themselves over the weekend. But with this festival, they’re really trying to make an effort to put out some positive energy and create a positive space that will hopefully reverberate through the community. 

OT: That seems like a really powerful message to have just in the greater DC area too. Can you tell me a little bit more about what music as a healing power means to you and how you hope to communicate that through this festival and just through your work as a musician in general?

DF: One of the big parts of my work as a musician is awakening cultural memory. And I do this through the original songs as well as traditional songs where I tried to think about the underlying messages that connect people through song. And that’s a big part of my work. And so for example, if I were to play a certain type of banjo song and someone remembers that their grandparents, maybe a grandfather, played the banjo when they were growing up, it takes them to a specific time and place in their lives where remembering those positive memories through music. And again, we don’t even have to be talking about the same song, but the feeling that creates this sort of positive inward message that almost awakens cultural memories. Sometimes the deeper implications are there. But other times when I’m presenting my material, I’m trying to awaken those deeper perceptions of strength and empowerment, of being able to uplift oneself.

Just knowing that your culture is strong enough to lift you up in that way. That’s a big part of my music as an individual. And so for the festival, that’s a big part of the whole conceptual idea. There are so many different artisans, artists as well as musicians, poets, politicians, activists, speakers, writers that are all within the DC area that, if we can just pull them all into one space, that since they’re local people can respect that their local talent. We’re trying to put them on to a higher plane with the local community. A lot of times people live here but they do their work elsewhere. And so we’re able to put a hyperfocus on local talent in whatever form it might manifest itself within the community and focus it on this historic site.

OT: What do you hope that attendees gain from this event, and why would you encourage someone to spend the day at Down in the Reeds?

DF: We want people to come in and have a great time. It’s a beautiful space. There’s some wonderful open lawns. There are also these beautiful different parts of the amphitheaters and these amazing benches and a wonderful fountain. In a world where there’s so much concrete, especially in DC, to be able to go into a place that is a beautiful, a national landmark as well as being a wonderful nature…gives them a little space. They get to be able to breathe and take in the open air. There’s nothing better than that. And then you have great music as well.

Dom Flemons, also known as “The American Songster,” is a co-organizer of Down in the Reeds in addition to being a Grammy-award winning musician.  


Don’t miss Down in the Reeds on Saturday, October 19 from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Parks at Walter Reed, located at 1010 Butternut St. NW, DC. While admission is free, a donation of $10 is suggested to ensure all participants are compensated and the festival can continue its mission in the future. For the full lineup and more information, visit

Interviews with participants and co-organizers were edited for length and clarity. To read the full interviews, check out For more on each interviewee, see below.

Aaron Abernathy:
Artis Moon Amarché // The Boundless Eclectic:
Chris Naoum // Listen Local First:
Dom Flemons // The American Songster:

Photo: Klaus Burkhart

Kayleigh Goldsworthy Talks Touring and Inspirations

When Kayleigh Goldsworthy takes the stage at Pearl Street Warehouse Saturday night, opening for Americana singer-songwriter Austin Plaine, it will be the third time she’s performed in DC this year.

In fact, by the end of the month, after opening for punk-turned-Springteenian bandleader Frank Turner at the Warner Theater October 14, she’ll have made four separate treks to the nation’s capital. Those trips include stints playing in Bayside at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and Frank Iero & The Future Violents at Union Stage.

But that’s still only a fraction of the shows she’s played in the last 12-month period, in which she’s been on tour with one of four bands (or performing her own material) every month.

On top of beloved alt rockers Bayside and the wailing punk of Iero & The Violents, Goldsworthy – who plays guitar, keyboards and violin – hit the road this year with Dave Hause & The Mermaid, Philadelphia’s answer to Tom Petty – and Irish outfit Kenny O’Brien and the O’Douls.

“[It’s] something that I strive to take on,” the 33-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter says. “It keeps things very interesting. …I feel like I always need to keep getting better…playing with different bands and different instrumentation and different people raises the bar.” 

That’s quite the musical resume, and Goldsworthy is an adept musical chameleon. She moves fluidly between all these groups and providing the instrumentation that fits exactly with their respective sounds. “To me,” says Goldsworthy, “What makes a great musician is being able to understand your instrument so well, you can slide through genres and put your fingerprints all over something but still make it what is it.”

Those different musical streams also feed into her own sound, which has morphed over the last six years from a more June Carter Cash-esque, traditional folk and country to fit alongside the kind of electrified Nashville sound exemplified by artists like Maren Morris.

Goldsworthy attributes that desire for a diversity of sound and perspective to one of her earliest musical influences: “I think that whatever makes my music uniquely me is some weird, subconscious thing steaming from listening to too much Peter Gabriel.”

The pioneering prog rocker was a fixture at the Goldsworthy’s Syracuse home while she was growing up. Her parents are both musicians who made their living playing in a cover band while also tinkering with original works. Watching Papa Goldsworthy shred guitar solos prompted her first real interest in playing an instrument. The seeds for becoming a musical polyglot came from Mama Goldsworthy, a singer who wanted to always experiment with new instruments. “One week my dad brought home bongos [for her], so we had bongos in the living room!” 

Photo: Matthew Lyons

Her first real plunge into being a professional, gigging musician came in high school, when Kayleigh and her twin sister Kaleena formed their indie-pop group The Scarlet Ending. The group started as a duo in 2002 before expanding to a sextet in 2008, becoming something of a local darling; the band won two SAMMYS – Syracuse Area Music Awards – over its 10-year lifespan.

The Scarlet Ending stood out in a solidly punk town due to their musical ambitions, whether that was inserting “a waltz with a violin in a bridge” or trying to “combine metal with acoustic guitars,” Goldsworthy says, highlighting examples of how the band sought to widen its sound. 

Goldsworthy put out her first solo album Burrower in 2013, a little after The Scarlet Ending went on hiatus. She had not put out recorded music under her own name until last year, when she released the EP All These Miles. Between those two records, she had moved to four different cities (New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Philadelphia) and hit the road with Hause, punk-turned-folkie Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour and electro-R&B group Young & Sick.

There’s a reason behind the title of the EP. Goldsworthy sees it as an expression of the sum total of experiences she’s had from those five years on the road. In fact, she thinks of it as her first real solo release, since many of the songs on Burrower could have fit the sweeping sound of The Scarlet Ending.

“I like the place where I’m at,” Goldsworthy says of her new, more amplified sound, “Where I’m trying to maybe not be totally on acoustic guitar, not totally folk but try to drive it a little heavier…just a step louder.”

That step will help her in venues like the Warner, where her deeply personal and sometimes heartbreaking songs will have to push to the back of 2,000 seat rooms.

“I know I write sad songs,” says Goldsworthy, “Even with an electric guitar I’m a quiet performer. I try to be goofy. I try to be a little funny. At the end I feel like we’re all friends because I’ve just told a bunch of strangers intimate details about my life.” 

She sees her songs as naturally aiding that push for intimacy.

“There are specific themes that run through everyone’s lives…dealing with all sorts things going on in the world that make us uncomfortable and we’re not sure how to handle.” 

Goldsworthy handles it through songwriting, but there is no denying that kind of therapy can also come from experiencing those songs live; it’s like her process becomes a tether for the audience. In fact, she saw how one can create those kinds of ties between performer and people from watching tour mate Frank Turner play with The Scarlet Ending earlier this decade. “He incorporates the crowd size so no matter how big or how small you feel a part of something.”

In some ways, that ties back to how Goldsworthy first fell in love with music: watching her parents and playing in the family living room. She thinks there an incredible power in recreating that kind of space. “When you go to see superstars like Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga, there’s a lot of distance,” she says, “But in huge-er venues I like the idea that we’re still in a living room playing music.” 

Kayleigh Goldsworthy opens for Austin Plaine at Pearl Street Warehouse Saturday, October 5. The show is free; doors at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. She also opens for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at the Warner Theater, Monday October 14. Tickets are still available. For more on Kayleigh Goldsworthy, check out her website, Facebook page or Instagram.

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

Cha Wa's J’Wan Boudreaux and Joe Gelini // Photo: Erika Goldring

Cha Wa is Comin’ For Ya

It starts with a needle and thread.

“You have to want to sew to be an Indian – that’s the key rule,” says J’Wan Boudreaux, lead singer of Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian brass band from New Orleans.

To truly join a tribe, one has to sew his own suit adorned with colorful feathers, beads and patches. Each suit represents the soul of its creator, its wearer. That’s why Boudreaux stitched images of dream catchers, Native Americans and the tools with which they hunt on to his own.

“Everybody has their own personal connection to their suit,” he says. “My connection is more spiritual because of all of my patches. We all pick our own patches, and I’m feeling this way.”

Cha Wa, translating to “We’re comin’ for ya” in Indian dialect, digs deep to honor its ancestral roots in their latest album Spyboy, which earned the group a 2018 Grammy nomination in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. The six-piece jazz group is taking the stage at the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on September 7 to bring a little Mardi Gras magic to the District.

Boudreaux shares that the concept for the Grammy-nominated album came from his own personal growth as a vocalist, but the title of Spyboy itself represents the position he holds in his tribe the Golden Eagles.

“Spyboy is the eyes of the tribe,” he says. “I lead the way along the parades, and I’m the one that makes sure we’re going where we’re supposed to go. At one point throughout this album, I stepped up – it was now or never. Everybody had a hand in the album, but it’s about my personal experience.”

Boudreaux says his grandfather Monk Boudreaux, who is the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles, has been a source of inspiration and guidance to him since he was about two years old. Monk is a musician himself and was once a vocalist and conga player for the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe that heavily influenced Cha Wa.

Joe Gelini, Cha Wa’s drummer and founder, used to play percussion with Big Chief Monk in the Wild Magnolias. But in 2014, he officially decided to break off and create his own group. He pulled J’Wan into the project and Cha Wa was born.

“I was fascinated with the music and the culture and art of Mardi Gras Indians,” Gelini says. “As a drummer, I was particularly intrigued because the rhythms are prominent force in New Orleans music. I was hooked.”

The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians stems back to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when black men first dressed as Native Americans during the Mardi Gras parade to pay homage to the natives who helped so many slaves escape to freedom.

Today, Mardi Gras Indian tribes continue the tradition of honoring both their Native American and enslaved African American ancestors by parading down the streets of New Orleans and performing the music that is unique to this region and group of people.

“It’s [about] informing people about the culture and not just the music,” Boudreaux says. “We talk about slaves trying to escape with the Native American Indians, and from them showing us their ways, that’s where we get our singing, dancing and music. We’re saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Gelini says he’s excited to share the Mardi Gras Indians’ music and culture with the District this fall because of the city’s own unique go-go music scene, which the drummer compares to New Orleans brass bands.

“We’re going to bring the New Orleans street parade to the stage,” he says. “We’re performing songs from Spyboy and some new stuff including a new single, ‘Wild Man,’ which will be released before we perform at Rosslyn Jazz Fest.”

Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, says she’s looking forward to the “diverse and powerful acts” featured at the festival this year – including Cha Wa.

“Year after year, we’ve seen an increasing enthusiasm for New Orleans bands and the great energy they bring, and we believe Cha Wa will continue to build on this tradition,” Burick says. “They’re extraordinary artists who really reflect the spirit of the festival by performing social music that sparks excitement and interactions amongst festival goers.”

On his last words considering Mardi Gras Indians, sewing elaborate suits and performing at the Rosslyn Jazz Fest, Boudreaux had this to say: “Cha Wa means we’re comin’ for ya.”

Don’t miss the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on Saturday, September 7 from 1-7 p.m. Go to for more information on the festival, and to to learn more about Cha Wa.

Rosslyn Jazz Fest at Gateway Park: 1300 Lee Hwy. Arlington, VA;

Lavender's Matt Wright, Emily Carlson, Alli Vega and Trent Burns // Photo: Zoe Hannah

Lavender Talks New Music, Friendship and the Best Show They’ve Ever Played

Two original songs, a Black Keys cover and a Battle of the Bands competition make up the beginnings of Lavender. Formed originally as a one-time thing between friends and ardent music lovers at American University, their intention was not to get to the level of notoriety they currently possess on the local music circuit. Nevertheless, the band is well-loved for their anthemic indie-pop sound and the affinity they possess for one another, both creatively and personally, that translates beautifully into their music.

The four-piece band, made up of Emily Carlson (bass/vocals), Alli Vega (guitar/backup vocals), Matt Wright (drums) and Trent Burns (guitar), has come a long way since their supposedly one-night-only gig. They caught up with On Tap about their influences, new music, the support the city has given to them and more.  

On Tap: At the beginning, you were all living in a house together. How did that help or hinder your musical process?
Matt Wright: Band practice was super easy [all laugh]. One of us would just go into the extra room that we converted into a practice room and yell for the others, or I would just play the drums. Everyone would come down. It was a different kind of way to experience music, with us all living together.
OT: It seems that your incredible closeness to one another is a hallmark of your band. How do you work to translate this to your music?
MW: I think it has helped the songwriting process a little bit because it’s gotten to the point where we can read each other super easily. And so when one of us has an idea, it just takes a look from Alli to know, “We’re not gonna do that.”
Alli Vega: [Laughs] I literally knew you were going to say that. I’m the one who can’t hide feelings, ever. So if I like or don’t like an idea, it’s very apparent. 

OT: You list a ton of influences on your social media. With four band members and diverse tastes, how do you incorporate everything that inspires you into Lavender’s music?
Trent Burns: Something that I really appreciate about the band is that I think we all also have various genres or artists that we’re into that are outside of each other’s wheelhouses. I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for indie pop through Alli and Emily’s tastes.
AV: I am constantly surprised by what Matt listens to. Matt, you have such eclectic taste in music. Who is that guy from YouTube who is kind of a joke but really talented at piano?
MW: Oh, Lewis Cole. He’s a hilarious multi-instrumentalist but he’s also just a bizarre person. I sort of pride myself on my ability to send Alli strange things and say, “Hey, we should do something like this.” 

OT: You’ve played alongside some incredible local and national acts in a ton of different area venues. Any favorite experiences?
All in unison: Opening for Wolf Alice.
AV: It was so random. I think that was Trent’s second show with us. We got a phone call that was like, “Hey, Wolf Alice wants you to open!” And Wolf Alice is one of my favorite bands. So going into the venue and it being sold out and for one of my favorite bands – and they were so nice to us – like all of that. I was like, “This is what I want. I want this forever.”
Emily Carlson: There’s a small moment that stuck with me. I think it was a Songbyrd show where a father came up to me and he had a little girl with him who was maybe 9 or 10, and she looked so shy and he was like, “This is her first concert ever and she’s just amazed.” I was like, “Wait a minute, I can do that for someone?” That was such a cool moment of like, “Oh yeah, we do music for us. But we do music because it’s impactful.”

OT: I noticed your Instagram bio is “We swear there’s new music coming.” Was that in response to people asking about new music?
AV: The song we’ve been working on, we’ve been working on for well over a year now. We had all these songs we’ve been playing live that were originally recorded last fall to help our friend’s capstone project. I work at a music venue and fall is a busy time of year and Emily’s a teacher, so things kept getting pushed back. All these songs that were new at the time are like a year old and still not out. People who come to our shows are like, “So do you have a recording?” And we’re like, “Yes.” Now we actually do. We have a release date. There’s a single coming out September 6. It’s going to be great. We’re finally there. [The Instagram bio] is mostly for [us] to be honest. We’re holding ourselves accountable.

Lavender’s new single “Head in the Clouds” will be released on September 6 with an EP to follow. Celebrate its release at Pie Shop with the band on October 20. Tickets are $12, doors are at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. For more on Lavender, visit

Pie Shop: 1339 H St. NE, DC; 202-398-7437;

Wylder // Photo: Courtesy of Mark Story

Golden Age Thinking: Wylder’s Sophomore Album Reflects on Nostalgia and Loss

With a name like Golden Age Thinking, it would be fair to think Wylder’s new album is an ode to a past time when life was easier, care-free and creative. But the indie-folk quartet – based out of Fredericksburg, VA – reject the idea that such a golden age ever existed.

Released on July 12 with a performance at The Hamilton, Golden Age Thinking is the follow-up to Wylder’s first album Rain and Laura (2016) with returning members Will McCarry (singer/guitarist), Lonnie Southall (guitar/mandolin), Mike Pingley (drums) and Jackson Wright (bass/piano).

Golden Age Thinking was initially for me about the idea of rejecting nostalgia or trying to sift through the idea that there was once a time that was better,” McCarry explains.

But Golden Age Thinking is more than just a reflection on history and nostalgia, as it also explores loss, sometimes up close and personal and other times as a distant observer. Perhaps the biggest,  most personal loss explored by the band was the passing of McCarry’s grandfather.

“The songs are often about painful loss, some of it personal, a lot of it just narratives that have come to me over the last year,” McCarry says. “It was that idea that became even more pressing for me when my grandfather passed away.” 

The idea McCarry mentions here was one to place his grandfather in the album artwork. While the frontman already had the idea of including his grandfather in this capacity, McCarry knew when he passed that the artwork – and the album itself – would be his way of paying tribute to his grandfather. The final result is a black and white photo of his grandfather wearing sunglasses and a hat and grandmother in Pamplona, Spain with none other than Ernest Hemingway standing behind McCarry’s grandfather’s left shoulder.

Despite strong elements of pain and loss running throughout the album, melancholic songs like “Ghosts” are balanced with feel-good jams like “The Lake” and “Ready to Break,” tunes reminiscent of the band’s first album. In fact, many elements that are present in their new album can be traced back to their original work, including the inclusion of nature metaphors.

Incorporating nature is “intentional in really specific ways and generally it’s also sort of indicative of who I am,” McCarry says. “I grew up on a farm, in the midst of being outdoors a lot. Animals and nature are my greatest passion outside of music.”

Another feature found in both albums is the tendency for songs to flow into one another. McCarry mentions that the first three songs off the new album – “Oh, Love,” “Fear” and “The Lake” – are connected and could be thought of as one long song.

“I have this obsession with making all the songs fit together, not only sonically but thematically, and when you listen through most of the songs bleed into one another and it becomes this tapestry,” McCarry says. 

That idea of flow and connection could also be said of the progressions between the first and more recent albums. While the last song off Rain and Laura doesn’t literally flow into the first song off Golden Age Thinking, the two albums feel like different books in the same series.

“I generally feel that the songs [off Golden Age Thinking] are a natural outgrowth of what we were doing on the last record,” McCarry says. “They feel like the next logical step for Wylder in the best way possible where they’re a little bit folky, but it’s spoken with a darker, more intimate and hopefully more thoughtful approach.”

More than that, the songs off the new album feel like a more refined, mature version of Wylder. While the band gaining more professional experience as time goes by has surely helped, it could also be the fact that production for the new album ran much more smoothly than it did for their first album.

“We recorded with a producer who treated us very poorly. Essentially, he tried to change what we were doing and it was demoralizing,” McCarry says of their first record. 

The band spent almost a year recording Rain and Laura while producer Ted Comerford dragged his feet, McCarry says, only for the producer to lose all their recordings and tell the band they had to start the process all over again. They managed to re-record the album in just two days, and despite it being a terrible experience, it helped the band grow and informed them how to step into the new album.

As a young band, more growth is surely in Wylder’s future, and as McCarry mentions, the DC community and the city’s numerous music venues have helped them do so.

“DC is a wonderful place to grow as a band and the community has been super supportive of us. I would say the same for Richmond and then Fredericksburg where we got our start,” McCarry says. “In general there are more venues to play at in DC than pretty much anywhere else we’ve ever gone, except for major city centers like LA and New York, which is pretty special. It seems like the music scene here continues to grow and evolve and we’re just happy to be a small part of that.”

See Wylder perform at Steppin’ Out Festival 2019 on Saturday, August 3 in Blacksburg, VA or lead singer Will McCarry performing acoustically at Jammin Java on Wednesday, September 4. Admission is free for Steppin’ Out Festival with Wylder performing at 2:45. Tickets for Jammin Java start at $10 with doors at 6 p.m. Learn more about Wylder at

Steppin’ Out Festival 2019: 318 N. Main Street, Blacksburg, VA;

Jammin Java: 227 Maple Avenue E. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1566; 

Clockwise from left: Vitamin Dee Chrystal, Frankie Goodbye, Mike Beckage, Josette Matoto, Matt Kirkland, Shady Rose // Photo: Kimchi Photography

In Their Own Words: Lightmare

Lightmare doesn’t just make music. They create change. Since their beginnings as a “six-piece soul-punk outfit” touring around DC to recording and releasing their full-length record Dream Glitch last year, the group has always held their individual and group identities close as a way to engage each other and their audiences about their message and their music.

In order to let the band fully express their inner thoughts and inner workings, On Tap facilitated a conversation with the group before their show at the Dew Drop Inn last month where they asked questions specific to each member and their ethos as a band. They asked what they wanted to know of each other, answered honestly, and shared much of their music and themselves in the process.

lyrics and lead vocals

Beck: You once said to me that when you get onstage you “become our music” and the line between where you end and the music begins essentially disappears. What did you mean by that?
Shady: When I’m presenting a performance type of art, especially music to a group of people, the purpose of that action is to disappear my identity and become the object of the music. The music then also becomes the audience, so I become the audience. I feel so connected and insightful into their being, and also deeply aware of the otherness of other people and the otherness of me. It’s a mindf—k. It’s a beautiful moment to me.


Dee: The August 15 show is your last one with us. Years from now, what do you think your lasting impressions or favorite moments from your time with us will be?
Josette: Recording was really great because I got to hang out with y’all over more than just a day, and in a tiny room pretty intensely. The things I already loved about you all were double time. I know I was struggling on some parts of drumming. You were all sweet and super supportive and no one got frustrated. I tell this to my partner Jess all the time that y’all are just the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful group. For better [or] for worse, it makes it harder to leave.


Shady: Have you ever done something really unkind? How did you process that?
Frankie: Sadly, I’m a human despite my robot interior. I am always striving to be a better version of a human, and I definitely mess up. But as a young person, I was not the greatest at times. I wrestled with many, many demons [and] still do. That led me to make poor decisions, usually catching someone in the mix. I feel that I am constantly processing it, even after all these years, and constantly checking in with myself and my actions before I make another poor decision. Working with Girls Rock! DC, giving back to kids and folx in the community, and having music as an outlet are my most productive means of processing.


Frankie: Some of my favorite musicians say they can visually see the music before it comes out of them. The music tells them where to go and they’re just the vehicle for it. How do you muster up those sick riffs?
Beck: You’re really in the zone and doing your job as a musician. You’re just a conduit and a vessel. You get to express to the audience what you’re trying to say musically. I do hear things in my head before I make them happen on the guitar, but it hasn’t always been that way. A big challenge for me musically has been making the guitar do what I want instead of having the guitar dictate what I can do.

saxophone and backing vocals

Dee: In the past, you’ve shied away from solos and have said you just want to “doot doot doot” and jump around, but your parts are actually quite sophisticated. How do you view your role in the group dynamic, both interpersonally and musically?
Matt: As you get older and have life experiences, you learn that other voices need to be heard. You want to lay back a little bit, and if you have something to offer and provide, you do it. And that’s kind of how I see my instrument in Lightmare. When the song calls for it, I offer it. When there’s decisions to be made and they’re tough and we’re having a discussion – and if it’s something that I have experience with – I offer it. But I try not to push it to the front. That’s the beauty of the whole band in general. I feel like everybody is on that page. If only it was like that in real life as well.

keyboard, backing vocals and accordion

Shady: You have a uniquely open heart and I know that onstage, in practice and just in the life of an artist, being so open and raw can be both a gift and a challenge. Can you speak on a time that it was a gift in your life and a time it was a challenge?
Dee: Something that happened to me in adulthood was learning to be publicly vulnerable. I’ve actually found that in expressing vulnerability, it takes away a lot of the pain and the shame that comes with trying to keep it hidden. It started with me talking about some of the mental health challenges I face. I think it’s so important to talk about it, so that more people understand how common it is. My friends had to really be strict about setting boundaries before I was like, “Oh, I do need to go to a therapist.” I’m still learning how to do that, but I’ve come such a long way.

Q for ALL

Matt: Identity and politics seem to be something that typically marginalized folks publicly address and push back against the mainstream narrative in the world. A lot of privileged folx sit out or piggyback off of the work womxn, nonbinary, trans, queer and other nonprivileged folx put out into the world. How does your identity shape your vision for Lightmare, your decision to join, the space you’re creating and your hopes for the future of the group?

Frankie: When I auditioned for the band, I thought, “Well, this is perfect! They need another nonbinary person to make it all even.” Walking in, I got a sense of belonging versus a homogenized group. My identity is more than that. It’s who I am, how I walk around in the world – and that comes with a lot. The good, [the] bad, and at times, [the] dangerous. That shapes my message: what I need other folx to hear or understand through my music and my way of being. I don’t think I could do that in another band. The commonality of thought is not always there. In Lightmare, differences are met with conversation, which leads to understanding. How many spaces can you find that?

Dee: I just want to say, part of why I stick with Lightmare is because the men in the band who are coded as straight white dudes are asking these questions and we’re having these conversations. I mean like, f–k. Thank you for asking. It’s a great question.

Shady: Coming from a background as a black person, as a femme person who is queer [and] grew up pretty poor, [it’s] being a part of a group of people who are really trying to put out a message that is real and engaged with the issues. We’re out here being radically open [and] radically honest with each other where we can. We’re being vulnerable when we’re seeking knowledge. We’re being real with each other and calling each other out when we need to. Creating that mutual respect between us as a group of people is super important to me. It reaffirms my knowledge that it’s possible [on] larger scales to have a really varied group of people come together and accomplish something really big and important together, while centering on the needs and identities of marginalized people.

Lightmare play Rhizome with Strange Froots and Black Folks Don’t Swim? on Thursday, August 15. For more information on the band, visit and follow them on Instagram and Twitter @lightmare.dc.

Rhizome: 6950 Maple St. NW, DC;