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The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour // Photo: credit Amy Boyle 2019.

RENT Brings Memorable Music, Moments to National Theatre This Week

“How do you leave the past behind / When it keeps finding ways to get to your heart?”

This lyric from the titular song seems fitting when talking about the 20th-anniversary tour of RENT. Since its opening in 1996, RENT has found its way into people’s hearts with  themes of love and acceptance. A pioneer for contemporary musicals, the show continues to resonate with theatre audiences more than two decades later.

RENT‘s narrative follows a group of struggling artists living in New York City under the 1990s AIDS epidemic. The show deals with social issues such as addiction and homophobia. Over the course of one year the character Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, records his friends as they experience fear, loss, hope and love.

Adapted from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème, Jonathan Larson’s rock musical has undergone countless adaptions over the years. Amid the show’s 12-year Broadway run, even a feature film starring several members of the original cast was released. After closing in 2008, the show eventually returned to Broadway in 2011. Currently, RENT is enjoying another national tour including this week’s run at DC’s National Theatre from November 12-17.

One of the actors touring with the production is Samantha Mbolekwa who plays the role of Joanne Jefferson. Joanne is a high strung lawyer who struggles with the flirtatious behavior of her performance artist girlfriend, Maureen.

“What I love about Joanne is what she really wants to be able to do is show on the outside what she can’t necessarily [show] because of her job and the way she was brought up, she can through hanging out with these really great artistic people,” Mbolekwa says of her character.

Mboleskwa’s favorite song to perform is “Take Me or Leave Me.” The flippant track comes at a pivotal point in Joanne and Maureen’s relationship.

“It’s iconic,” she says. “Me and Kelsey [Sweigard], who is my Maureen, have so much fun doing it together. I think we both keep each other on our toes. Every time that song rolls around, I just really look forward to it.”

It’s difficult to take note of RENT‘s tracklist without mentioning “Seasons of Love.” The tune has gone on to create a legacy of its own outside of the musical. The song asks “How do you measure a year?” and ultimately decide that life should be measured in love. On the song’s popularity, Mboleskwa believes it’s due to the big question the song is asking.

“How do you measure a year? In the song, you’re offered so many ways. I think that’s a question that sometimes people don’t even think about and then to hear it – it kinda puts you in your spot and makes you think. It has such a positive message.”

“Seasons of Love” also serves as a tribute song to RENT’s creator Jonathan Larson, who unexpectedly passed away the morning of the show’s first preview performance. The story of his life was chronicled in a documentary entitled No Day But Today: The Story of RENT. His work lives on in The Jonathan Larson Collection at The Library of Congress.

In addition to cementing Larson’s legacy as a great playwright, RENT also started the trend of rush tickets. Still used by popular plays and musicals, such as Hamilton, fans known as Rent-heads could receive discounted tickets to see the show.

According to Mboleskwa, this is a tradition the national tour still follows today,

“There are rush tickets for RENT, a lot of people don’t know that if you show up to the theatre two hours before, you can get front row tickets for $25. It all started when it was originally created in the 90s, it was such a hot commodity that people were camping outside of the theatre.”

In RENT’s 20-plus years on the stage, much of it remains true to the show’s original vision. The costumes, set and music are all taken from the original production. Mboleskwa explains that this is because the original creative team behind the show is still working to make it as memorable as ever.

“I think RENT is still relevant 20 years later because there are still reoccurring problems that the story had back then that are still happening,” she says. “People will always want to feel accepted and loved, and the show is all about acceptance and love.”

The 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT is at the National Theatre from November 12- 17. Showtimes vary. Tickets $54-$114. For more information about the run, click here.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com

Jason Moran (left) and The Bandwagon // Photo: courtesy of Jason Moran

Between the Riffs: Catching Up With Jazz Musician Jason Moran

The DC music scene is known for being the home of the go-go, however, it’s also more diverse and alive than ever. This includes its burgeoning jazz. To add to this, in May 2014, the Kennedy Center recognized Jason Moran, an accomplished jazz musician, for his talent and appointed him as the Artistic Director for Jazz. With his help, the Kennedy Center has expanded their jazz programs here in DC. On November 9, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon will celebrate their 20th anniversary, and along with Ingrid Laubrock, they will perform music from Moran’s album, Black Stars at the Kennedy Center. We got the chance to ask Moran a few questions and learn more about him and his thoughts on DC’s jazz atmosphere before his big performance.

On Tap: In 2016, you said you’re still trying to play like Teddy Wilson. Taking a moment to reflect on your musical journey, have you managed to play like him yet?
Jason Moran: If I referred to Teddy Wilson, it was that my teacher Jaki Byard had a father that loved Teddy Wilson. Jaki’s father said to him, “if you’re going to play piano, can you play like Teddy Wilson.” Wilson is a marker for not only technique but also in terms of being one of the “firsts.” To be the African-American musician that symbolized the breaking down of racial codes in the same way Jackie Robinson did for [Major League Baseball]. To answer your question, no, I won’t ever be able to crystallize quite like Teddy Wilson, but I am happy to be on the journey of musical excellence combined with civilian bravery.  

OT: What did it mean for you to be appointed as the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center?
JM: The Kennedy Center continues to define its role as an arts leader and to know that how we cultivate the history of jazz under our roof is very exciting and challenging. I take the role very seriously, and only after a few years have I begun to understand the magnitude of such a position. The creator of the role, Dr. Billy Taylor, was an advocate for the music. His foresight brought much of what I hope to continue to preserve within the Kennedy Center. He continued to nurture the music in each state: past, present and future.  

OT: What has it been like to work with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits for the 20th anniversary? What are some of your fondest memories from when you first formed The Bandwagon?
JM: Tarus and Nasheet are my big brothers. I depend on them to push and pull The Bandwagon to new territories. One of my fondest memories for us is around how we were actually fired as a band. We were the rhythm section for a few bands around the turn of the century (funny phrase). The bandleaders did not like us all together, so they usually fired one of us and kept two. Eventually, we figured out that we were a unit that was better left free to roam. Despite the criticism from the beginning, we remained a unit because we were forming a language as a band that would help define our era. We ruffled the edges, folded them in, then burned them and smeared the ashes along the wall. We tagged the music.  

OT: You performed with Sam Rivers on the sax for Black Stars. What was it like working with him?
JM: Sam Rivers was a revolutionary. He was free thinking in his playing and composing. He was also the band mate of two of my teachers, Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill. So, to create Black Stars with him was thrilling because it was as if he was my uncle. He took The Bandwagon on a ride that we are forever thankful, because it was the first sign that we were looking for history to tell us the future.  

OT: You believe in cross-genre collaboration. In Facing Left, you covered Björk’s electro-pop/avant-garde song “Joga” and paired your music with comedy. Is combining genres a personal preference, or does it serve a bigger purpose for your sound?
JM: I believe my compositions sound better when set against another composer. Björk is one, Albert King [is] another, Rachmaninoff, etc. Also, I think I look for themes in the music to find meaning. Sometimes the next best thing to playing a song you wrote is to play a song you love.  

OT: You reshaped and refocused the Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead professional development program. You helped create a curriculum to work with other DC art organizations. Can you share the results of collaboration?
JM: You would have to ask the students because the students continue to tell us about the value of Betty Carter’s program. Many of the students have gone on to create quite a stir. In recent years, Jazzmeia Horn has set quite an example as a student of Jazz Ahead and then striking out on world tours. I think awakening the students’ sensibilities toward the arts is important to keeping the music healthy.  

OT: What do you think of the jazz scene in DC? Do you think your work with the Kennedy Center has helped jazz connect with a younger audience? What more could be done?
JM: The DC jazz scene is profound. Watching musicians lead sessions nearly every night of the week, open new venues, create new jazz festivals, document the music with different online resources, historians abound and at all of the clubs listening. [Plus] DJs on the radio with all the history one would ever need, institutions preserving and continuing to employ the musicians, the universities pushing out great musicians. The scene in DC has always been vast, and at the Kennedy Center, we continue to promote the music, and the (hopefully young) audiences know they have space here to live and grow with the music. 

OT: What can jazz fans and people who frequent the Kennedy Center for events expect from the November 9th show?
JM: Openness!!!  

Moran is set to hit the Kennedy Center stage on November 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $29-$49. For more information about the show or Moran’s work at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: courtesy of The Arctic Refuge Experience

A Story of Beauty and Hope: The Arctic Refuge Experience Comes to DC

Adventurers, explorers and friends of the outdoors, pull out your maps and point to where the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is. If you are not sure where to find it, your GPS should steer you toward Northeastern Alaska.

However, hold off from strapping your hiking boots, because for a limited time you won’t have to leave DC for a chance to experience the refuge. From November 8-11, The Arctic Refuge Experience. Step in. Step Up. is taking over the AutoShop near Union Market to provide a 4-D sensory art installation, with a look and feel that mirrors a walk through the Alaskan wildlife safe-haven. The exhibit is presented by The Wilderness Society and the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in conjunction with the Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition. 

This opportunity is something you do not want to miss out on because the ANWR, naturally, is difficult to visit. Every year only 5,000 people manage to make the trek, making this exhibit a can’t miss opportunity for both art lovers, people invested in environmental issues and even people who work on projects directly related to the refuge. 

“It is incredibly difficult to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” says Edit Ruano, the director of regional communications strategy for The Wilderness Society. “So difficult that I, who, have worked on protecting the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, actually have never been.”

Upon entry, explorers will reach a threshold where the ground beneath you will suddenly change from the DC streets to the arctic tundra. Thanks to dozens of filmmakers and visitor testimony, you will see the region teeming with life through video and artistic recreations. Ruano and other team members wanted make the experience feel authentic, including the Gwich’in community.

“The Gwich’in are an indigenous community who rely on the Arctic Refuge for their way of life,” she says. “We had the head of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Bernadette Demientieff, in New York, [where] we got to share the video of the experience with her and the council members, and they told us that it felt like being home. We teleported them home [from] New York. For us, that was the biggest compliment we could have received.” 

This 4D experience allows you to feel the arctic wind brush against you and even provides smells of the land. One of Ruano’s favorite experiences was when the wildlife surrounded her. Its artistic qualities not withstanding, the Arctic Refuge Experience also has a deeper purpose as this exhibit demonstrates how this beautiful land is in danger because of oil and gas drilling. 

While the Arctic Refuge Experience is designed to warn and inspire everyone, Ruano and her team spent a year designing it because of the urgency regarding the situation.

“Oil and gas companies and the administration have been trying to fast-track, and expedite sales of the Arctic Refuge ever since the 2017 Tax Act, which included a hidden provision opening up the refuge to oil and gas drilling,” she says. “Since then, they have been expediting the scientific review process, and not doing the due diligence and listening to the voices of people who know about the refuge.”

The experience is a story that shows the beautiful land, the villains, but also the heroes working to save it. This is a tale full of hope and serves as evidence of people working collectively to take action. By attending, you can help take action too, as there are physical phones on location that will empower you to call key individuals and leave voicemails wherein you can express your opinions. During the exhibit’s stop in New York, they managed to get 1100 voicemails declaring that the ANWR is too precious to drill.

Visitors will also become “shareholders” in the No Waaay Corp., the first-ever collective action corporation created with the intention of stopping “ big oil” from harming public lands.

Hopefully, The Arctic Refuge Experience will bring out your inner activist. With climate change constantly in the news, this exhibit hopes to truly connect and engage. This immersive experience is on the first leg of its tour, and Ruano wants to expand and reach other areas so the young people can make their voices heard. “We’re hoping that this that activism happens across the US: In red, blue and purple states alike.”

Though you do not need to be politically active to enjoy this one of a kind experience, the exhibit serves as an opportunity to see the beauty of a difficult place to physically explore, with grander designs to inspire you to protect it. All net proceeds will go to the Gwich’in Steering Committee and Gwich’in Youth Council. 

For more information about the exhibit, visit here.

AutoShop: 416 Morse St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com/retailer/autoshop

Drew Valins on the right // Photo: Michael Yeshion Photography

Iconic Character Vaněk Unleashed In The Havel Project

When I think of underground theatre, I think of gritty, non-glamorous shows waiting to be found. However, Alliance for New Music-Theatre is set to take ‘underground’ to the next level with their upcoming performances of Václav Havel’s Protest and Susan Galbraith’s Vaněk Unleashed. Their venue of choice – Dupont Underground, an abandoned streetcar station beneath Dupont Circle.

The first play of this double bill criticizes the communist regime that blanketed Czechoslovakia in 1948. Vaněk Unleashed then further develops Vaněk, a character from Protest, by giving him a voice in this spin-off, “absurdist musical fantasy.”
Drew Valins will portray Vaněk, as he transforms from a silent presence in Protest to a fully formed being in Vaněk Unleashed.

“[He] barely speaks. He’s very shy, so he doesn’t really step on toes,” Valins says. “[Galbraith] created a way to unleash Vaněk.”

Both plays concern themselves with communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, but Valins believes these shows are relevant to American audiences.

“When we started back in 2013, we felt like we kind of had to stretch to understand what it might be like to live in a totalitarian regime because that’s what these plays deal with,” he says. Over time, though, Valins realized that Havel’s plays continue to relate to America’s political climate.

Valins thinks of America as a country of division.

“People are suspicious of one another,” he continues. “No one really knows where to go for answers and that’s exactly the kind of world that Havel was writing about.”

From talking to Valins, I imagine the DC audience might see glimpses of themselves in these performances that will resonate in unexpected ways.

These performances will stand side by side, but their cultural influences seem entirely different. Valins describes Vaněk Unleashed as an “American response” to Czech theatre. For instance, in Protest Vaněk is a more emotionally reserved character, but in the spin-off it mirrors American theatre’s ability to dig underneath the silent character’s reserved exterior.

Havel’s plays were originally performed as “apartment performances” to deflect attention from his communist-ruled country, and the Alliance for New Music-Theater will attempt to mimic those hideaway performances in the Dupont Underground.

“We love the fact that its underground because Havel’s plays had to go underground or under the radar,” Valins says.

By meshing two cultures and honoring the original stagings, the Alliance for New Music-Theater has committed to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and politically significant artists like Havel. Audiences will also witness a plethora of emotions onstage, in addition to various cultural influences, which is Valins’ favorite aspect of the production.

“I’m really excited about that fact that I get to sing. This character, Vaněk— the last thing you would expect him to do is sing. In Vaněk Unleashed, I get to go through every single human emotion. I get to go through joy, fear, anger. I break out in song. I dance. So it’s just a lot of joy. Ironically, that all happens while I’m in prison,” Valins says.

These performances deal with heavy issues, but as pieces of absurdist theatre, audience members are sure to be stunned by unexpected nuances.

If Valins could speak with Havel, he has a few things he would mention to the playwright. His message is poetic, meaningful, and quite fun, which I imagine is a precursor to his performance as Vaněk.

“Mr. Havel, you’re a terrible dancer, but thank you so much for your spirit. You’re a real inspiration in the way you hold yourself and enjoy life under pressure. And you’re just a cool person that I wish I could’ve known and rolled a cigarette with and had a smoke with. I wish you could see our stuff, and I think you would dig it.”

Valins’ passion for the upcoming performances makes me want to dive into the world of Havel that these actors will prepare for their audience – regardless of the playwright’s inability to dance.

“Havel wasn’t as concerned with artificial professionalism. He was concerned with enjoying the work, so [the cast and crew] puts in that spirit.”

New Music Theater will host performances of Protest and Vaněk Unleashed through November 17. All shows are presented by Alliance for New Music-Theatre in partnership with the Embassy of the Czech Republic. For more information on showtimes or ticket prices, visit here.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir. NW, DC; www.dupontunderground.org

Photo: Trent Johnson

DC’s Director of Nightlife and Culture Reflects on First Year

To embark on any new endeavor – creative, personal or professional – can be a daunting hill to climb for anyone, and DC government is no exception. Even with the support of Mayor Muriel Bowser and others, Shawn Townsend, who became the first-ever director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture (MONC) early this year, has a lot on his plate.

His energy and excitement to be first in this role is apparent as is his mission: to make nightlife accessible to everyone. In addition to helping shape the position for the first time in the District’s history, Townsend’s tenure has been greeted with skepticism of which he’s well-aware.

After a four-year stint at DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (also known as ABRA), he knew he could offer a unique perspective and wealth of experience to the city, but worried constituents would see him as another enforcer of the law. However, some of the public’s concerns were born from a simple misunderstanding of Townsend’s role.

“Critics will say, ‘He comes from enforcement, so he’s going to be looking to write folks up and get people in trouble,’” he says. “But we don’t have any regulatory authority or enforcement authority. We’re simply here to connect the dots between stakeholders, businesses, residents and agencies. All of that helps make nightlife better.”

Townsend’s role involves more listening and creative conflict resolution than anything else. He says his team hit the ground running on a wide array of issues since Mayor Bowser appointed him to the new position in November 2018, and they’ve resolved 98 percent of the 63 issues under their purview.

He notes that one of his proudest moments so far involved helping a local music venue apply for a grant to receive funds for better noise abatement technology after receiving constant complaints. With a MONC letter of support and a grant application through the DC Department of Small & Local Business Development, the venue was able to make the necessary improvements to mitigate the noise and continue business. According to Townsend, it’s evidence that slowly but surely, he and his team are seeing the fruits of their labor.

“The idea is to have someone on the government side serve as a liaison to the nightlife economy – to really put an emphasis on changing the dialogue from the city government thinking about life in the daytime to thinking about [and] allocating more resources to our life at night, because the cities have generated so much revenue from [it]. It’s a catalyst for revenue and a catalyst for jobs, [and] for social inclusion [and] cultural diversity.”

While this misunderstood territory is uncharted for DC, it’s not for other cities. They look to, and follow, the best practices of other locations with similar roles. Still, the District’s unique music history – Black Broadway, renowned venues, and iconic genres like go-go and hardcore, to name a few standouts – makes it a different beast to tackle altogether from a bureaucratic standpoint.

With the added elements of nightlife safety and respecting the city’s creative legacies, Townsend must take into account the many intersections that exist within what happens on DC streets when the sun goes down.

“When it comes to the culture piece, we’ve sat down with festival organizers,” he continues. “We’ve discussed the #Don’tMuteDC movement with artists and creatives. We have some artists and folks in the performing arts and creative industries on our nightlife and culture commission. So [we are] really having those conversations to figure out what the agenda is of the creatives, and how we can help push that agenda forward to other agencies and to the Mayor and say, ‘This is what we’re hearing on the ground.’”

And while Townsend is quick to say he’s a fan of all nightlife in DC, he’s certainly taken office during a time both challenging and exciting to be at the helm of such a project. When asked about any standout moments that reflect how DC nightlife is changing, he mentions the poignancy of watching the Washington Mystics take home the WNBA championship trophy last month.

“[At the] Entertainment and Sports Arena, standing there and seeing the clock wind down to a sold-out crowd and [the Mystics] bringing a championship trophy to Southeast was an experience for me,” he recalls. “I’ve been in the region since the early 90s, and I remember what that area used to be.”

He says it touched him to see Monumental Sports and the Leonsis Family collaborate with local government and Events DC to help boost the economy in that quadrant of the nation’s capital.

“It’s an example of us investing in parts of the city that don’t necessarily have nightlife amenities, including sports. I look forward to the expansion of the St. Elizabeths campus to have more nightlife.”

The office has made great strides, and Townsend and his team hope to continue bridging creative and commercial gaps for years to come.

For more on MONC, visit www.moca.dc.gov and follow the office on social media @DCMONC.

Evoken // Photo: Melissa Suarez-Skinner

Atlas Brew Works: DC’s Long-Needed Metal Venue

DC is home to some of the best concert venues in the country, hosting musicians from a variety of genres who play to crowds big and small. Even still, the city’s metal community has often struggled to find a locale that regularly books metal shows – that is, until a few years ago when Ivy City’s Atlas Brew Works expanded beyond beer to support the genre.

“There was no venue where you could just go hang out, have a beer and listen to metal,” explains Will Cook, brewer emeritus and director of heavy metal operations at Atlas, which opened its doors in 2013.

Hasan Ali, who books shows for Atlas and runs Ripping Headache Promotions, agrees with Cook.

“People would either have to go to Baltimore or Richmond to see a [metal] band,” he says.

But soon after Ali began booking for the brewery, “Atlas became recognizable as a legit venue [and] DC [became] a notable spot for metal on the East Coast.”

It all began in 2016 when Atlas – which has several metalheads on staff – agreed to host the holiday party for local blog DC Heavy Metal. When the event proved successful, the brewery began hosting more and more metal shows until eventually, it became a permanent fixture on the scene.

Since then, Ali says Atlas has hosted more than 100 shows with people coming from as far as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and even L.A. to catch the bands. But this isn’t to say that the Atlas team ever expected to host this many shows when they started.

The brewery had no stage or music equipment to speak of, according to Cook, so artists brought in their own PA systems and light fixtures. But when the shows kept coming, Cook and his team bought the supplies necessary to become a more viable music venue.

Now, the stage is set up in the beer production area and taken down post-show so brewing operations can resume the next day. While balancing operations as both a music venue and a brewery has proven challenging at times, the Atlas team agrees that it’s helped give the brewery an edge – and brought people to their space who might not have stopped by otherwise.

“The fact that we have live music here definitely adds a lot to the atmosphere of the brewery and gives us some amount of identity that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Blake Peterson, tap room general manager and singer/guitarist for extreme metal band Lyceum. “It’s something that sets us apart from other breweries in the area.”

It’s also fun to have the chance to hang around the brewery after work and catch a show, adds head brewer Dan Vilarrubi. Plus, Cook says they’ve had the opportunity to meet some of their favorite bands.

The team agrees that putting on shows has been a great experience for Atlas, but just as rewarding is the feedback they get from the bands who come through.

“I’ve heard when other venues host metal shows, attendance will be poor,” Ali says. “Or I’ll hear bands say the staff isn’t really pleasant or accommodating. And they’ll tell me, ‘I really wish you did the show and we played at Atlas instead.’”

Cook has also heard stories of bands who’ve had bad experiences at other DC venues.

“We didn’t want that here at Atlas,” he says. “We wanted to be as friendly to bands as possible.”

That includes not taking a cut of the ticket sales or taking money from the band in any way. Musicians are also offered beer and food on the house.

And the brewery’s noteworthy reputation isn’t just recognized in the States. Bands from across the world have looked to play at Atlas, including Conan from the U.K., Pseudogod from Russia and Sinmara from Iceland, to name a few. Notable DC bands like Genocide Pact and Ilsa and Richmond’s Inter Arma round out the brewery’s sterling reputation in the world of metal.

“Pretty much every band is so stoked to play here, and they love the beer – including bands from other countries,” Peterson says. “I never knew how special this place was until I heard bands from outside the country say this is the coolest venue they’ve ever seen.”

Some of the bands who’ve played Atlas have even had beer brewed specifically for their show. Ali mentions they had Batch 666 on tap for Chicago-based instrumental doom band Bongripper. Other beers, like Temple of Void and Evoken, have been named after some of the team’s favorite bands. When it comes to their individual go-to brews during metal shows, Peterson goes for NSFW, Cook enjoys Silent Neighbor or Ponzi, Ali likes Ponzi, and Vilarrubi drinks Batch 666.

As for the future of Atlas as a music venue, the team just hopes to keep improving the quality of shows and continue booking great bands to play the brewery.

“It’s kind of selfish because we get to have all these bands play at our brewery and we get to meet them,” Cook says. “I’m talking about the underground bands that you just love and want to meet. It’s cool to hang out with them, but also to hear they really enjoyed their time playing here.”

Catch metal shows at Atlas on November 2, 7, 14, 22, 23 and 29. For the full lineup and more info, visit www.atlasbrewworks.com. Follow Atlas on social media @atlasbrewworks.

Atlas Brew Works: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; 202-832-0420; www.atlasbrewworks.com

O-Ku Martini // Photo: courtesy of O-Ku

Behind the Bar: Inside Union Market’s Thriving Cocktail Scene

Neighborhoods grow, dynamics shift, and restaurants and bars find their groove among these transitions. For Union Market, a neighborhood that’s recently seen dramatic change, there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy a drink. Whether a dive bar or a sophisticated sushi spot, the message is clear: all guests are welcome to take part in the conviviality that only comes from a shared drinking experience.

Last Call

Gina Chersevani’s Union Market footprint continues to grow this fall with her love letter to dive bars, Last Call, which opened in late October. The proprietor of bagel, soda shop classics, and cocktail-themed Buffalo & Bergen and nostalgic, cocktail-slinging airstream Suburbia is setting up shop just steps from Union Market.

This new spot pays homage to watering holes from a bygone era when quality drinks and affordable price tags were the standard.

Amid the new high-rises and shiny eateries, Chersevani identifies a missing Union Market element: a corner bar, a neighborhood pub, a local gathering spot – all things that once dominated the scene. Chersevani’s vision for bringing back that culture and creating a space where “you can be in and out of there for $15 bucks” comes to life at Last Call.

“I want to refresh what your vision of your local watering hole is,” she says. “I want to refresh what a dive really is. A dive is a place to hang out, have great conversation [and] chill with your friends.”

Photo: Rey Lopez

Upon entry, guests are greeted by a long bar. The bones of the space haven’t seen much change from the building’s past life as a retro cafeteria, other than the removal of decades worth of grime and buildup. Blue, green and white-colored facades were revealed after weeks of scrubbing the walls, and the team decided to keep them as a nod to the past.
Another design quirk is the alley door painted green – perhaps a vestige from the days of Prohibition marking the spot as a booze-friendly locale, with stories from neighbors strengthening the myth. From the history to the innate charm, everything about the space seemed to be the “right fit for me,” according to Chersevani.

“It spoke to my soul,” she says of the space.

Cocktails are inspired by old-school favorites, travels and drinks from past haunts. A frozen Irish coffee comes by way of Chersevani’s penchant for the version served up at New Orleans’ bar Erin Rose, a must-stop for her when visiting the Big Easy. Another drink dubbed the 169 Bar, a carbonated old fashioned, gives a nod to the historic New York City bar of the same name. And there’s even a divey take on the Aperol spritz: an Aperol Schlitz.

The food menu is influenced by staff favorites, featuring “a rotation of sandwiches inspired by dive bars we love from across the country.”

Whether you’re a local or someone stopping in for the first time, Chersevani wants all guests to feel at home. A visit to Last Call “should be fun, and you should want to be a little dancy.”

When Queen comes on and the familiar sounds of “Another One Bites the Dust” signal the end of the night at Last Call, what will you find Chersevani drinking? Miller High Life.

“Ice-cold beer [and the] ‘dun dun dun’ of Queen always remind me of pure fun.”

1301-A Fourth St. NE, DC

Photo: Rey Lopez

Last Call’s Aperol Schlitz
1.5 oz. Aperol
5 oz. Schlitz beer
Orange slice to garnish

O-Ku

As one of the first standalone restaurants to open outside of Union Market, this DC offshoot of the Southern-based Japanese eatery focuses heavily on fresh ingredients and elevating customer experiences.

O-Ku Beverage Director Alvaro Umaña weaves seasonal flavors into his cocktail menu, playing off of what the kitchen works on to “enhance the experience and the food.” For example, a carpaccio dish featuring green apples is hitting the menu soon, an apt pairing for a highball Umaña is finalizing that will include a green apple shrub.

“We switch the menu at the same time the kitchen does,” he says. “I want to put items on the menu that really go with the food we’re serving and really enhance it.”

What makes the Union Market locale stand out from other O-Ku locations? With the exception of a few staples on the menu that remain constant across all locations, the spot offers a larger variety of products.

Photo: courtesy of O-Ku

“Other than [a] couple of items, we really run free,” Umaña continues. “We’re empowered to do what we feel is best, and I think that’s really been one of the keys to [our] success.”

The O-Ku team has seen their fair share of locals come through the doors, in addition to out-of-towners who recognize the brand from its Southern counterparts. With an eclectic customer base, it can be challenging to curate a drink list that appeals to regulars and newcomers alike.

“One thing we like to do is change our menu regularly,” Umaña notes. “But if there are select seasonal items, let’s not shy away from them because they’re not on the menu. The flexibility to add and build [upon] the menu is what helps keep everyone excited.”

Boasting a lineup of stellar whisky and gin, O-Ku’s cocktail offerings are also impressive.

“We have a lot of great cocktails,” the beverage director adds. “The one that O-Ku is known the most for is the Sugar and Spice.”

The mix of habanero-infused vodka with passion fruit is “wildly popular” among guests, but the most impactful drink on the menu for Umaña is a simple martini. Guests choose a base of Japanese rice vodka or Japanese botanical gin, which gets mixed with one part sake for an effervescent take on the classic cocktail. As a gateway sake drink for a lot of his guests, he notes that the soft introduction to the spirit is appealing to those who may have preconceived notions about it.

It’s rewarding for Umaña to see the genuine experience when guests opt in for trying something out of their comfort zone and are pleasantly surprised.

“It’s nice to see someone veer away from what they traditionally have. It changes their perspective when people are willing to give it a chance.”

Umaña’s martini is the embodiment of the restaurant’s aesthetic: “simple yet flavorful, which is what we strive to do at O-Ku.”

1274 5th St. NE, DC; www.sushirestaurantwashington.com

O-Ku Martini (pictured above)
1 1/2 oz. Roku Gin or Haku Vodka
3/4 oz. Spring Snow Sake
Stir cocktail + garnish with lemon twist

The Garden // Photos: Chelsea Bailey

Outer Space and The Outdoors Meet Two of the DMV’s Newest Beer Spots

Lately, it seems like there is a new beer hall or garden opening up every day in the DMV. But what makes these new locations different from all the rest? How does each plan to stand apart when consumers have so many options? The people behind Astro Beer Hall downtown and The Garden in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood have each found creative ways to answer those questions. From crafting an out-of-this-world food and beverage menu to constructing a beer garden dedicated to community, each location brings personality and passion to an already burgeoning scene.

Astro Beer Hall
Co-partners Elliot Spaisman and Peter Bayne

Astro Beer Hall opened in early October in the former Mackey’s Public House location. The new space-themed spot is the brainchild of the teams behind Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, with locations downtown and in Falls Church, and bar and restaurant development group Tin Shop, known for Penn Social in Penn Quarter, Georgetown’s Church Hall and Ivy City’s Big Chief, among others. We sat down with Elliot Spaisman of Astro and Peter Bayne of Tin Shop to chat about how they came up with the concept for their beer hall, their selection of brews and what plans they have for the future.

On Tap: What was the inspiration for Astro Beer Hall’s concept?
Peter Bayne: We had all met about six years ago and kept in touch. When this spot became available, everything fell into place. They had doughnuts and we had beer. Beer pairs so well with fried chicken. It felt like the perfect fit.

OT: Was the plan always to make the beer hall space-themed?
PB: We wanted to make sure that the design was in line with Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken’s branding. We wanted something that was warm, vibrant and captured the Astro brand.

OT: What makes Astro unique to other beer halls?
PB: No one else is doing a full coffee shop that then converts to a bar in the evening and is making fresh fried chicken and doughnuts.

OT: If you could turn any of your doughnuts into a beer, which would it be?
Elliot Spaisman: Crème brûlée for sure, or maybe the maple bacon. Both would make a delicious stout.

OT: How many taps do you have?
PB: We have 19 taps upstairs and 20 downstairs, including a nitro cold brew coffee tap.

OT: How many local beers are on tap?
PB: We have six lines that are dedicated to local beers. We have tourists and a lot of people coming through looking for local products, so we wanted to make sure that we were celebrating the local beers on our draft list.

OT: Will you be doing beer and doughnut pairings in the future?
PB: We want to figure it out. It’s too much fun not to do. Right now, we are focused on getting started, but [we] intend to have fun with the food Astro offers.

Astro Beer Hall is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sundays 12-8 p.m. Stop by 4-7 p.m. on Monday through Friday for happy hour specials. For more info, visit www.astrobeerhall.com and follow the beer hall on social media @astrobeerhall.

Astro Beer Hall: 1306 G St. NW, DC; www.astrobeerhall.com

The Garden
Owners Jeremy Barber and Justus Frank

On the other side of the river in Alexandria, Justus Frank and Jeremy Barber – who own Del Ray staples Live Oak and Charlie’s on the Avenue – are settling into their latest venture, The Garden. Formerly a garden center, the full-blown beer garden opened in Del Ray this summer next door to Charlie’s. We caught up with the owners about their newest addition to Alexandria’s food and drink scene.

On Tap: What is unique about The Garden?
Justus Frank: Each of our locations has a different focus. Live Oak is more of a craft cocktail and wine-centric restaurant. Charlie’s is a sports bar, so it has a fair amount of beer. But we wanted The Garden to be different. We wanted to create something that was beer-centric but not German beer-focused – an American beer garden, if you will. The majority of our beer is locally sourced. We try to support local craft beer places such as Ocelot, Aslin and Port City.

OT: Who curates The Garden’s beer list?
JF: Will Witherow is our beverage director. He’s the essential ingredient for making this all happen. He has ties with local breweries and has built great relationships that have helped him curate our drink list. We currently have 16 draft beers and three cocktails on tap.

OT: What is your most popular beer right now?
Jeremy Barber: Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat is selling like crazy. We also have two Oktoberfest beers on draft that are popular.

OT: As the weather gets colder, do you have any beer alternatives for guests?
JF: We are offering hot liquor drinks, spiked ciders, spiked Manhattans [and] hot cocoa, which can become a Belle Isle coffee moonshine drink.

OT: What has been the best beer moment for you since opening?
JF: The best beer moment for us was looking at how many spent barrels were in the “keg graveyard” after week one. We had like 31 empty kegs. We couldn’t have imagined that that much beer could’ve been consumed over a week.

The Garden is open Monday through Sunday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. The spot opens at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and will also be open throughout the fall. Follow The Garden on social media @thegardendelray.

The Garden: 1503 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.thegardendelray.com

Photo: courtesy of Sunday Morning Bakehouse

New and Notable: Corner Office, Hatoba, PLNT Burger and Sunday Morning Bakehouse

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

NEW

Corner Office
Open: September 17
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: The W Hotel’s $50 million renovation brought with it brand new dining concepts, including a convivial pizza and beer garden. Corner Office, so named for its prime location on the corner of 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue, has a spacious outdoor patio with large communal tables and a trendy underground bar indoors. The menu is overseen by chef de cuisine William Morris, who sweats the details of his pies – like the perfect dough recipe and the highest quality ingredients. There are eight different pizzas, each charred in wood-fired ovens. The combinations range from the classic artisan pepperoni to the luxe truffle hunter with buffalo mozzarella, black truffle puree and shaved truffles. The pies are the perfect companion for the extensive beer selection of nearly 50 drafts. In the warmer months, the garden is home to bocce courts and umbrellas. As the temperatures drop, the courts will turn into curling rinks and heat lamps will keep things nice and toasty. A nod to the hotel’s motto of “crossing the party line,” the patio features a mural of an elephant and a donkey enjoying pizzas and beer with their critter friends. 515 15th St. NW, DC; www.cornerofficedc.com

Hatoba
Open: October 11
Location: Navy Yard
Lowdown: When the Daikaya Group plans a new concept, they begin with a narrative. At Hatoba, their third Sapporo-style ramen shop, that narrative is one inspired by Kappabashi, a street in Tokyo overflowing with specialty restaurant supply stores. Picture a ship arriving from Japan and setting up a restaurant supply showroom inside the old navy boilermaker building – that’s Hatoba. (The owner is also an avid baseball fan, of both the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and of course, the neighboring Nationals.) Soup bowls, bento boxes, sake carafes and paper lanterns line the walls and front windows, and the bathrooms broadcast the audio from Japanese baseball games. The menu is depicted in shokuhin sampuru – Japanese food models – and it’s distinct from both Daikaya and Haikan. After an intensive R&D trip in Sapporo, where there are more than 1,000 ramen shops, the team decided they wanted to showcase the breadth of the regional cuisine, while remaining true to tradition and carrying on their characteristic obsession with details. Befitting the location and the restaurant’s name (meaning dock or wharf), there are two seafood-forward bowls: the red miso clam and the spicy red miso. Along with the more common shio (with a hint of yuzu) and garlic shoyu, there is a unique vegan offering: the tomato curry. The can-centric beverage program is a playful nod to the nearby baseball stadium, offering local and Japanese beers, sake, cocktails, wine, coffees, teas and sodas. 300 Tingey St. #170, SE, DC; www.hatobadc.com

PLNT Burger
Open: September 12
Location: Silver Spring
Lowdown: “Eat the change you wish to see in the world” is printed on signs, food wrappers and menus in the Whole Foods restaurant kiosk that houses PLNT Burger. This phrase embodies the ethos of the plant-based fast casual concept by celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn and his partners, Julie Farkas and Benjamin Kaplan. They’re endeavoring to democratize the plant-based movement by making meatless burgers available to diners from any background. The food is kosher and the prices start at $6.95 for a burger. The team is passionate about plants because of their potential to feed people in an energy-efficient manner that’s better for people and the environment. But beyond that, their goal is to make indulgent, craveable satisfying burgers – without meat, and without sacrificing flavor. The menu is succinct, with four burgers starring hand-formed patties made from Beyond Meat. One of the most popular selections is a mushroom bacon BBQ burger, stacked with vegan cheddar, mushroom “bacon,” bloomies and house BBQ sauce. The bloomies are one of the side options – incredibly addictive miniature fried onion blooms – along with herbed fries and sweet potato crinkle fries. A burger and fries isn’t complete without ice cream, so don’t skip the oat milk soft serve made exclusively for PLNT Burger by Dolcezza Gelato. 833 Wayne Ave. Silver Spring, MD; www.plntburger.com

Sunday Morning Bakehouse
Open: October 1
Location: North Bethesda
Lowdown: Though she loved to bake from a young age, Caroline Yi had always written off the idea of owning a bakery as a pipe dream. She never expected to be baking around the clock to keep up with demand at her first business. Sunday Morning Bakehouse is truly a family operation, owned by Yi and her sister Alex, with help from their parents and other relatives. Yi recalls learning to bake with her aunt, and says it feels like things have come full circle for her family, as her grandfather owned a bakery where her aunt and uncle worked long before she was born. She’s named her bakery after her favorite day of the week growing up – the day when her father, a business owner, was home for breakfast and her family would spend time together. Now it’s her busiest workday. Her journey in baking has been primarily self-taught, though she also did stints at A Baked Joint and bakeries in New York before opening a farmers market stall that would routinely sell out of fan favorites like croissants with the perfect honeycomb structure. She seems to have found a recipe for success with her warm and minimalist storefront, filled with natural light, neutral hues and light wood. The menu offers breakfast all day, with sandwiches, toasts and assorted pastries paired with Ceremony Coffee. In the coming weeks, Yi plans to keep the shop open later and transition into a wine bar in the evenings, with pizzas and baguettes to accompany cheese and charcuterie boards. 11869 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; www.sundaymorningbakehouse.com

NOTABLE

DMV Black Restaurant Week
Dates: November 3-10
Location: Restaurants in DC, MD and VA
Lowdown: The second annual DMV Black Restaurant Week spotlights and supports black-owned hospitality businesses while creating pathways for future restaurant and bar entrepreneurs. Co-founders Dr. Erinn Tucker, chef Furard Tate and Andra “AJ” Johnson curate the event with more than 30 participating restaurants around the region. Diners can enjoy deals on prix-fixe menus or receive discounts on purchases at various hot spots, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, Calabash, DCity Smokehouse, Halfsmoke, Wicked Bloom and more. Throughout the week, there will also be signature events like a cocktail competition, a business conference and an awards and scholarship gala. Various locations around the DMV; www.dmvbrw.com

The New Trummer’s
Open: October 1
Location: Clifton
Lowdown: In just a month, Trummer’s On Main got a facelift, revamped the menu and reopened as just Trummer’s. Without erasing the restaurant’s small town charm meets fine dining fare appeal, the makeover has enhanced the welcoming atmosphere and brought new fire to the kitchen – literally, with an imported French rotisserie oven. Victoria and Stefan Trummer have owned the Austrian-influenced American bistro on Main Street for 10 years, and this renovation is the first since the opening. The simplified menu now stars spit-roasted meats, seafood and vegetables, as well as a few familiar favorites and of course, the signature Titanic cocktail. 7134 Main St. Clifton, VA; www.trummersrestaurant.com

Nah. Photo - www.nah.band

15 Local Acts You Need to Know

Looking to hyper-localize your playlist? The talented members of DC’s music scene have been hard at work creating and connecting through their music this year, and we rounded up some standouts to add to your Spotify queue, catch on tour and share with your friends.

Photo: Laura Dearden

Child Ivory
On Child Ivory’s Facebook page, there are only two influences listed: Beach House and Fleetwood Mac. While I’m sure other musicians have influenced them (and they do disclaim they rarely use the social media platform), it’s easy to hear the way both bands have inspired the DC outfit. Their witchy, dreamy instrumentation is sleek and electronic, while vocalist Caleb Darger’s clear tone is evocative of their 60s and 70s pop forbearers. The band, made up of Darger and Pica Nagano, released their Underwater EP at the end of August, a beautiful collection of five songs perfect to soundtrack the changing of the seasons. Follow @child.ivory on Instagram.

Photo: CJ Harvey

Clones of Clones
Clones of Clones have been making appearances on the DC music circuit for the better part of the decade. Three of their four members are DMV natives and have kept busy this year with no plans of slowing down. They kicked off a campaign to release a new single each month leading up to a new record, starting with the single “Mine,” which even landed on Spotify’s “All New Indie” playlist, exposing it to over 900,000 people who subscribe to that playlist. Since then, they’ve gifted listeners new tracks at the beginning of each month – and while the world eagerly awaits the album dropping in full, looking forward to monthly releases is a sure glimpse into another record full of indie rock gems from this beloved DC band. Visit www.clonesofclones.com for more, and follow @clonesofclones on Instagram for updates on new releases.

Photo: James Anderson

The Colonies
It’s been a big year for The Colonies. The band formed at George Washington University and started off playing shows in the basement of their dorm. They recently graduated (literally and figuratively) to bigger and better things – namely, opening for fellow alt rockers Judah and the Lion on the notably larger stage of The Anthem. Even while navigating post-grad life and a change in their lineup, the four-piece has been steadily releasing gems like “Potomac” and “Do Nothing With Me” while gracing stages large and small throughout the District. Follow @thecoloniesdc on Instagram for more.

Photo: Cina Nguyen

Color Palette
This five-piece band led by DC native Jay Nemeyer is rounding out the year with a celebration – they’ll be headlining Pie Shop for an album release show on Friday, November 8, marking the synth-pop outfit’s second record being gifted to the world. One fifth of the group, Maryjo Mattea, is also performing as the opener, for an EP release set around her solo work, before rejoining the group for even more new jams. If you’re a fan of pop in the vein of the synth heavy 80s greats and chill wavers of today, you won’t want to miss this show or new album. Follow @colorpalettedc on Twitter for updates and visit www.pieshopdc.com for tickets to the release show at Pie Shop on November 8.

Photo: courtesy of Company Calls

Company Calls
Loud and screechy but melodic: this DC punk-pop outfit combines several genres with tremendous success, but most notably is their affinity for old fashioned fast rock. Their latest release Diabólica is a blend of all their greatest strengths, especially their affinity for a quick pace, as most songs don’t top two minutes. Longer lyrics don’t necessarily make the music more profound or meaningful, however. I think we can all agree on one thing, if all company calls were less than two minutes, society would probably be a better place, so maybe this band is on to something. For more Company Calls, visit www.companycalls.bandcamp.com.

Photo: @heartcastmedia

Dior Ashley Brown
Dior Ashley Brown has been enmeshed in the DC music scene since long before her career took off. A native of the city, Brown got her start making creative waves at the famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Now an advocate for local music, emcee, musician and poet, Brown graces the DMV with her powerful pipes and intense love for our city’s fellow musicians, making the erudite musician a threat of more than just three talents. Visit www.diorashleybrown.com for more.

Photo: @itstheexp

The Experience
I’m not going to lie or pretend I plucked The Experience’s All For You EP out of a local music bin at some version of a DC big box store. Instead, this smooth rapper found me, and through this serendipitous act, I was able to hit play, sit back and get some experience. The only way to describe his flow is easy-going and playful, and whether he’s tinkering with the volume or inflection of his voice, he’s always got a witty line and a dynamic hook. A lot of his All For You tracks stem from a stint recording in California, and that style of hip-hop (which I can only describe as sounding like palm trees look) suited the DC local’s sensibilities extremely well. So, while The Experience is early in his career, with only a few official releases under his belt, his sound is refreshing. Follow The Experience on Twitter @ItsTheEXP.

Artwork: courtesy of Glue Factory

Glue Factory
From the garage to the basement, Glue Factory (a nod to The Black Keys’ Rubber Factory perhaps?) provides a DIY sound reminiscent of those early days of DC rock. Though the band doesn’t have a punk pace, it’s imagery and lyrics aren’t much dissimilar from that very aesthetic. In their two EPs from 2019, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Lose Control, the group seems to be drawing influence from some 1980s rock vibes. Unafraid to tinker with their sound and to release it to the masses, I’d expect a ton more product from Glue Factory in the coming years. For more Glue Factory, visit www.gluefactory.bandcamp.com.

Photo: Mystery Friends

Mystery Friends
Mystery Friend’s debut record Past & Future Self came out this past May. The four-piece band uses the album as a vehicle to explore relationships with themselves and with others, and to get listeners off their feet and dancing. They’re on a self-described “mission to bring analog dance rock into the digital age,” and are doing a damn good job of it. If you want to see it in action, mark your calendars now – they’ll be in flesh waiting to play their new jams for you as they take the stage at Songbyrd on Friday, December 6. Visit www.mysteryfriendsmusic.com for more, and www.songbyrddc.com for tickets to their December 6 show.

Nah. Photo – www.nah.band

Nah.
My editor probably thinks I’m being a petulant child typing Nah. where a band’s name is supposed to go, but it is, in fact, a DC band. The five-person indie group with the most millennial name actually began with probably the most noble mission a band has ever had: to use music as a mechanism for people to be open about the variety of complications that come with mental health, and the discussions necessary for healing. While the subject matter is serious, it can also be silly and petty. Most importantly, the band has provided an open outlet, whether it be for themselves or their followers, and it all sounds pretty good. So, while you’re chanting, “Nah, nah, nah” at their next local show, what you really mean is “Yah, yah, yah.” For more Nah., visit www.nah.band.

Photo: Farrah Skieky

The OSYX
If you’re ever feeling discouraged about the representation of women, nonbinary and transgender people in the music world, The OSYX will give you hope for better things to come. The local five-piece established This Could Go Boom!, a label to showcase those voices and give them access to resources that may not otherwise be as easily accessible to them. Outside of their own advocacy and support, the band’s own brand of indie rock is celebratory itself. The five women who make up the band are musical forces separately, and altogether make up an indelible powerhouse. Listen on www.theosyx.bandcamp.com and learn more at www.thiscouldgoboom.com.

Photo: Sami Cola

Saturday Night
Who the hell doesn’t enjoy a Saturday night? It’s not a stretch to say that this might be the single most likeable band name in the history of music, perhaps only rivaled by something like Yawning Kittens (I have no idea if this an actual band, if so, congrats on your random name drop). DC’s Saturday Night is an indie rock band with a hint of power pop. However, the true beauty in this band is their use of vocals, as guitarist Cash Langdon and keyboardist Nora Button provide a melodic banter in perfect harmony. Also, I really like them because they use the word “alien” in their bio on Bandcamp. For more Saturday Night, visit www.saturdaynight.bandcamp.com.

Photo: Yusuf Kazmi

The Shmoods
More of a collective than a band or group, The Shmoods, formerly known as the DMV Hip-Hop Orchestra, are a large collection of musicians playing everything from string instruments to wind and brass. With a focus on hip-hop culture and how that sound is conveyed through traditional orchestral instrumentation it’s possible seeing this group live is one of the more authentic musical experiences one can encounter in the capital. The orchestra has already played venues like the Kennedy Center and been mentioned in The Washington Post, so they’re on the fast track to accomplishing local celebrity. The only catch with The Shmoods is there isn’t a ton of their music online, which means you’ll have to pay close attention to their calendar in order to hear the hip-hop magic. For more on The Shmoods, visit www.dmvhho.com.

Photo: Christopher Grady

Sneaks
Sneaks’ music sounds like abstract art looks, which is not to say that it isn’t a pleasurable listening experience. Never one to lack energy, Sneaks can seamlessly bounce from singing to talking to chanting to singing to rapping, all at once and within the same song. Her latest album Highway Hypnosis provides a fast track to her soul at about 80 miles per hour, and on the rare moments it slows down and allows you to catch your breath, the halt can be abrupt. Though you can add her to your Spotify playlists and listen to her on a Metro commute, the true allure of her work is in the live show. For more on Sneaks, visit www.sneaks.bandcamp.com.

 

Teen Mortgage

Photo: Mauricio Castro

With a sound that seems equal parts informed by the spirit of DC punk and the scuzzy garage rock sensibilities of West Coast garage, Teen Mortgage has an uncanny ability to produce powerful, danceable rock with just two members at the helm. With a new EP released earlier this year, they’ve kept schedules booked this year with an east coast tour circuit and frequently pop up alongside likeminded national acts stopping through the District like Bass Drum of Death and Surf Curse, winning over new listeners with their high-energy sound and impressive musical ability. Follow @teen_mortgage on Instagram for more.