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Iza Flo // Photo: Nick Moreland, courtesy of DC Music Rocks

The Epitome of Music Inclusivity: DC Music Rocks Festival

Brian Palmer had a small yet inventive idea that sparked a festival authentically highlighting the DC music scene.

He performed all across the nation’s capital with his band Fellowcraft, meeting many talented artists along the way. He later realized the potential of DC’s music scene and wanted to shed light on what others were overlooking, so he created radio show and podcast DC Music Rocks to highlight the local music community. Alongside this year’s festival coordinator Daniel Roberts, he crafted the idea to produce an event that would incorporate everything he’d witnessed on the road.

“We look at the DC scene and see the amazing amounts of diversity and great artistry, and no one really knows it’s there except for the small groups of people in each scene,” Roberts says. “But it’s not well-known outside of DC.”

This year’s DC Music Rocks Festival will be held at the 9:30 Club on August 17. Participating artists range from reggae to indie pop, showcasing the stylistic variation that epitomizes the local music scene. Not bound by expectations or competition, this festival creates a supportive, inclusive atmosphere. In keeping with the festival’s mission, Palmer and Roberts searched for artists across the DC area that would fit their vision – but this proved challenging due to the fact that most of the participants seemed to be white male guitarists.

“They are a dime a dozen, and I happen to be one of them,” Roberts says. 

Nonetheless, diversity was a huge element of success for the festival, which meant more culture, more women and more music. The festival features six artists that have manifested their careers by developing original sounds, including Sub-Radio and Iza Flow.

Made up of childhood friends, Sub-Radio brings their own flair to indie music. Lead vocalist Adam Bradley describes their sound as “indie pop with a dance atmosphere.” They don’t fit in the usual boundaries of chill, elastic pop; instead, they craft upbeat tempos and psychedelic twists.

Iza Flo, a mesh of different women, ages, backgrounds and cultures, is one of the few bands on the scene that exemplifies an energy the DC community craves. Diora Brown, the group’s MC, describes their sound as “a lot of soul with hip-hop elements [and] a unique nostalgia that reminds you of the 80s.” 

Though they only formed this April, Iza Flow developed an approach to music that is naturally authentic. With such a positive and early beginning, performing at this festival provides them with an accepting outlet to dive into their craft and career as a group.

Even though the festival’s platform is built on diversity, the goal is also to expose artists to a higher platform. Roberts, who has his own record label, discovered that there aren’t enough musical outlets in DC for artists to reach a broader audience. Navigating the steps to reach national recognition can pose an enormous challenge to local artists, and Roberts and his collaborators want to use this festival to create more opportunities.

The DC Music Rocks Festival also pushes the local music scene forward with the support of nonprofit The MusicianShip, which helps at-risk youth through music education. Sub-Radio is a huge advocate for music education, considering it is one of the vital points that led to the creation of the band.

“We love to advocate for music education whenever possible,” says guitarist and vocalist Matt Prodanovich. “Four or five of us took classical guitar lessons in high school, which was one of the big factors on how we met and formed our band.”

This is a festival built on the diversity of its artists and their stylistic expression. Don’t miss the authenticity and vibrancy of DC’s local music scene at the DC Music Rocks Festival on Saturday, August 17 at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.dcmusicrocks.com.

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

Correction: In a previous version of the story, the wrong photographer was credited. This mistake has been amended. 

Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham // Photo: Courtesy of the Rosen Group

Brewing Diversity: Supporting DC’s Black Beer Culture

One way to celebrate Black History Month is with beer. Whether you consider yourself a conscious consumer or not, this vital celebration is also an opportunity to support small businesses. You don’t even have to spend money to follow those raising the bar for black beer culture – you can simply follow them on social media, and answer calls for inclusion.

Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham wears many hats. She’s an academic, a homebrewer and most recently, the first-ever Brewers Association diversity ambassador. She is also the chair of the Communications Studies department at Randolph College in Lynchburg. While she holds many titles, in the beer world, she’s known as “J,” “‘Dr. J” or simply “Doc.”

“I am absolutely an advocate of visibility,” she says. “Shining a light on people who don’t have light shined on them very often is inherently valuable.”

Mike Potter, founder of online magazine Black Brew Culture, estimates that there are 50 black-owned breweries across the nation. Jackson-Beckham agrees with this number, which seems staggeringly low when compared with a Brewers Association’s statistic indicating more than 7,000 craft breweries in the U.S.

She recognizes positive trends and sees craft brewing in general “as a kind of center of small business and entrepreneurship.”

“When we look at trends of brewery locations and where they’re going, there’s opportunity for people of color and black people in particular,” Jackson-Beckham continues.

Port City Brewing Company’s brewer Leon Harris delivers excellence in beer production. Every time you enjoy one of the Alexandria-based brewery’s drafts, there’s a chance he had his hands in the creation of that batch.

Harris got his start as assistant brewer at District ChopHouse downtown and Shirlington’s now-shuttered Capital City Brewing Company before opening – and literally building – Heroic Aleworks in Woodbridge. He was cutting concrete and installing fermenters that held 465 gallons of liquid, and jokes that his blood, sweat and tears were in the place. Next, he became brewer at Caboose Brewing Company’s flagship location in Vienna before joining the Port City production team.

“I would love to see more black people in the [beer] industry,” he says. “I think it’s a thriving industry. It’s a welcoming and accepting industry in every sense of the word.”

He’d also love to see “more black-owned businesses that cater to the community, cater to veterans like myself or cater to trying to better those around them.”

Service Bar in Shaw is another black-owned establishment improving beer culture in the DC area. A few months ago, the cocktail bar partnered with Capitol Riverfront brewery Bluejacket to create Hurricane Alley – a sour ale with passion fruit and sweet cherries. The brew mimics the flavor of fruity cocktails like the Hurricane but is imminently more drinkable at 4 percent alcohol by volume.

DC Brau Assistant Manager Myesha Cheatham’s beer journey began by chance.

“I fell into the beer world by accident,” she says. “I used to be a teacher, but I got a homebrewing kit and thought, ‘Oh, I should work in a brewery!’”

Like all good educators, she progressed via communication and critical thinking.

“I’m lucky that at DC Brau, I have people who are willing to share knowledge. Just not being afraid to ask questions has been very helpful.”

Cheatham has worked at high-volume places like MGM National Harbor, the Willard InterContinental’s Round Robin Bar and the Café Du Parc, and at some of them, she’s had to do her own beer training.

“I brought some awesome beer-related ideas to [the table], like ‘This is how we change a keg’ and ‘This is what to do with an old keg’ and ‘We need to plug our lines every night to make sure we don’t have fruit flies in the beer.’”

The knowledge she’s gained as a protector of black beer culture has enabled her to be a positive force in driving it locally. She offers up examples of people to follow online.

“Social media is taking off and they’re a lot of people on Twitter, as well as bloggers like Ale Sharpton, Beer Kutlure and Afro.Beer.Chick, who are bringing black beer culture to the mainstream.”

Follow Cheatham’s recommendations on Twitter @alesharpton, @beerkulture and @afrobeerchick. Check out Potter’s magazine at www.blackbrewculture.com and follow Jackson-Beckham on Twitter @jnikolbeckham.

Learn more about these breweries and bars below.

DC Brau: 3178 Bladensburg Rd. Suite B, NE, DC; www.dcbrau.com
Port City: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com
Service Bar: 926-928 U St. NW, DC; www.servicebardc.com