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Photo: Scott Affens

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival Celebrates 10th Anniversary

May 4 marks DC’s 10th annual Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival, one of the city’s most iconic music showcases. However, this particular happening wasn’t formed with a singular effort to deliver more music to the District; instead, the organizers intended to draw attention to one of the city’s most unique features: Kingman Island. Nestled between the banks of the Anacostia River, the Kingman and Heritage Islands are home to wildlife and natural resources unlike any other in the city.

This year’s festival is slated to bring another talented lineup to DC, featuring prominent performers like The Dustbowl Revival, Ballroom Thieves, Hackensaw Boys, Odetta Hartman and more. As always, proceeds from the event go toward supporting stewardship of the islands, as well as educational programming.

“We wanted to drive people to the island because at the time, it seemed like no one knew it existed,” says Lee Cain, the director of Kingman and Heritage Islands for local nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation, of the festival’s beginnings. “Over the years, it’s helped us gain momentum and enhance opportunities for our hands-on education programs.”

Cain says the festival, brainchild of DC’s Ward 6 and Living Classrooms, saw only several hundred attendees its first year. Now, Kingman draws crowds up to 8,000 each spring.

“The first one was like 300 people, a band and a keg of beer,” Cain says with a chuckle. “Then a few hundred more, and a few hundred more. In 2015, it went from 1,200 people to 6,000 people. It was amazing because all these people were coming to Kingman and the Anacostia River. People discover this amazing wildlife in our backyard. [The festival] really lives up to its purpose.”

Volunteer participation has also risen steadily as more people get acquainted with the festival and its mission, says Living Classrooms Director of Communications Michelle Subbiondo. With more people helping and enjoying the annual shindig, resources have gone toward improving the island.

“The island has grown and changed along with the festival as it morphed from a dumping ground to a lush animal and plant oasis thanks to our students and volunteers,” Subbiondo says. “Now, we’re among the top festivals in DC. It’s been quite a ride, that’s for sure.”

Despite the foot traffic and vendors providing goodies for patrons, Kingman doesn’t stop maintaining its eco-friendly zero waste initiatives during the party. The campaign began in 2016 with help from the city and organizations like the Sierra Club, which helps manage waste during festivities.

“I’ve been working in this field my entire career, and trash is the one thing that people don’t like,” Cain says. “That’s one of the things that is exciting because it’s not a polarizing issue. That’s a lot of waste not going to the landfill and there’s literally no trash on the island the day after. That’s an exciting blueprint.”

With 10 years in the rearview mirror, the organizers have no plans of slowing the momentum. However, with a finite amount of space, more people may be a tough ask; but that doesn’t mean it can’t continue to thrive in other ways.

“We have a few things on the table for future years,” Subbiondo says. “Perhaps bringing in some big-name talent or introducing new genres of music, expanding the event to two days, [and] including more educational opportunities to get people really immersed in the island. Time will tell how this all unfolds, but one thing we can guarantee is that the island and community are always our first priority.”

As for this year, with the festival enjoying a pivotal anniversary, there’s no plans to deviate from the successful formula of lots of music, beer and food trucks. With that being said, Cain does expect some costumes of a very specific variety.

“It does fall on May 4, so I’m wondering if people will show up in Star Wars gear.”

Join Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders at the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival on May 4 from 12-8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$100. For more information about the festival, visit www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info. For details about Living Classrooms and its mission, visit www.livingclassrooms.org.

Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC; 205-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Photo: Rey Lopez

New and Notable: Mama Chang, Rooster & Owl, TallBoy, and More

NEW

Mama Chang
Open:
March 8
Location: Fairfax
Lowdown: Ask almost any local diner if they know Peter Chang, and you’ll get nods of recognition. The names Ronger Wang, Lisa Chang and Lydia Chang may not be as familiar. Chef Peter Chang wants that to change with his newest restaurant. Mama Chang pays homage to the women of the Chang family: Peter’s grandmother, mother, wife and daughter. The restaurant celebrates home-style cooking, with many family recipes from their home in the Hubei province. Peter’s mother, Ronger, visited from China for the opening of the restaurant and her influence is seen throughout the menu, which features simple and comforting dishes like a farmer’s stir fry, stir-fried rice cake with homemade fish cake and braised pork belly with lotus root. Peter’s wife, Lisa, is known as a pastry chef, but is the star of the kitchen at home according to their daughter Lydia. Favorites from the Changs’ other restaurants like dry-fried eggplant are changed up slightly – here you’ll find dry-fried cauliflower. There are also the expected fiery Szechuan dishes like hot chili oil tofu with flounder, plus more unusual options like Chinese barbecue pig feet, dry chili pork intestines and a sweet caramel rice with thin pork belly. 3251 Old Lee Hwy. Fairfax, VA; www.mamachangva.com

Rooster & Owl
Open:
February 7
Location: Columbia Heights
Lowdown: A restaurant offering a market-driven tasting menu doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary. But Rooster & Owl is intriguing and satisfying in a way that very few places are. In fact, it’s something of a sleeper hit. The restaurant is the passion project of husband-and-wife duo Carey and Yuan Tang. Their opposite but complementary roles in the business inspired the name. Carey has a 9-to-5 job at Children’s National and manages the restaurant operations, and Yuan works late in the kitchen. Despite the inverse hours, the Rooster and the Owl have always made time to share a meal together. Their first restaurant together honors that commitment to communal dining with an experience that blends shared plates with tasting menus. The menu is divided into four courses, and each guest chooses one small plate for each course. When the dishes arrive, sharing is highly encouraged. The food is imaginative, taking simple ingredients – especially vegetables – and transforming them into something that makes you think twice. Carrots are seasoned with barbecue spices and served with cornbread ice cream. Sunchokes masquerade as wings with a “buffa-no” sauce. Light and fluffy Parisian gnocchi is bathed in a tarragon butter sauce. Pastry chef Olivia Green sweetens the meal with desserts like a delicate hazelnut éclair and a parting gift of a little chocolate robot. 2436 14th St. NW, DC; www.roosterowl.com

TallBoy
Open:
March 7
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: After the beloved Smoked & Stacked closed, Tin Shop partners Geoff Dawson and Peter Bayne decided to go in a different direction with their space. They realized 9th Street was in desperate need of an affordable neighborhood bar that stayed open late and felt nostalgic and playful. TallBoy was born with that goal in mind. The concept is simple: grilled cheese sandwiches, wings and tall boy (16 oz.) beers. Fans of the pastrami from Smoked & Stacked will be thrilled to hear that the house-made meat is still available in a grilled cheese sandwich with Swiss, pastrami, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Other sandwich options include the Kim Cheese with pepper jack, kimchi and bacon and the Cuban with Swiss, bread and butter pickles, ham, and Dijon. Any of the sandwiches can be ordered with vegan cheese, and of course, each grilled cheese is accompanied by a cup of smoked tomato soup for dipping. The wings are available in various flavors, from a Memphis dry rub to a lemon pepper wing with butter and lemon pepper sauce. There’s a full bar but tall boys are the hot sellers, with nine to choose from including the OG Schlitz Lager as well as the Guinness Stout, Bold Rock Cider and Union Duckpin Pale Ale. There’s also a rotating tall boy of the week. 1239 9th St. NW, DC; www.tallboybar.com

Zeppelin
Open:
March 4
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: The meaning behind the name of this sushi and cocktail bar is twofold. The space is designed to look like the famed airship, and there are references to the legendary rock band hidden throughout. Zeppelin is the latest project from beverage bros Ari and Micah Wilder and their partner Adrian Williams of Chaplin’s, in addition to Tokyo native and chef Minoru Ogawa of Sushi Ogawa. The new Japanese concept offers two experiences: a lively bar and dining room for sushi, charcoal-grilled yakitori, cocktails and karaoke, as well as a secluded omakase counter with top-quality seafood hand-selected from Toyosu Market in Tokyo. The à la carte offerings range from shrimp dumplings and various tempura to skewers of chicken meatballs or beef and maki made with cucumber and plum paste or fatty tuna. The cocktail program is built around a highball machine that adds “baller bubbles” to drinks inspired by the Japanese highball. Wine, beer and 80 premium sakes are also available to complement the à la carte and omakase menus. 1554 9th St. NW, DC; www.zeppelindc.com 

NOTABLE

Georgian Wine Wednesdays
Location:
Supra
Lowdown: Since opening, DC’s first Georgian restaurant has been lauded for introducing Washingtonians to the little-known world of Georgian wine. Now they’re making it a little more affordable to explore the country’s wine regions and grape varietals with themed specials on Wednesdays. Each month, they’ll offer a $20 discount on select bottles. This month, they’re channeling the element of surprise in honor of April Fools’ Day. Every Wednesday, guests can try three of the restaurant’s most unexpected bottles, including an amber wine that isn’t what it seems and a sparkling wine that combines 8,000-year-old Georgian techniques with the champagne method. 1205 11th St. NW, DC; www.supradc.com

Hank’s Cocktail Bar in a New Home
Location:
Dupont Circle
Lowdown: Jamie Leeds’ cocktail bar, formerly located in Petworth, has a new home in Dupont Circle. It sits right above the flagship Hank’s Oyster Bar and has an extensive menu of more than 40 different cocktails. The drinks are divided into five categories: Market Fresh (seasonal creations), We Invented the Remix (twists on the classics), New Fashioneds (what it sounds like), Size Matters (large and small options like shareable drinks and shooters), and Food Production (starring ingredients from the kitchen). In addition to these themes, there’s also a very useful diagram that plots each of the drinks based on flavor and booziness so you can find your perfect match depending on where your tastes fall on the cocktail spectrum. You can feel good about ordering one of the most interesting selections because it repurposes kitchen waste into a delightful cocktail. Revisionist History is a rum milk punch made with leftover tea, coffee and citrus rescued from the kitchen and bar at the end of the night. 1624 Q St. (second floor) NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com

Public school playground at Sedona, Arizona // Photo: Bill Bamberger

HOOPS Depicts International Connection

Basketball has always held the hearts of people from all over the world. Need proof? Just turn on your TV until you find an NBA game. Hell, you can look at just this past year’s all-star roster featuring players from Germany, Greece, Australia, Cameroon, Serbia and Switzerland all sharing the same court.

Since the 1992 Summer Olympics and the formation of the Dream Team, basketball reached a fever pitch internationally. And though it’s unlikely that most kids who pick up the ball and head to a court will make it to the professional level, the game is nonetheless celebrated and played everywhere.

“It shows how we’re all connected around this common game,” photographer Bill Bamberger says. “It’s played worldwide. You can come upon [courts] in Italy and South Africa, and you can step up and play. It’s open to anyone willing to step on the court.”

Bamberger grew up hooping when he was a child, and in 2004, the established photographer began shooting courts near his home in North Carolina. Over the next 15 years, he traveled the country – and the world – collecting a diverse set of images depicting places people shoot, dribble and ultimately connect through this game. From now until next January, 75 large-format photographs from his massive collection are on display in his exhibition HOOPS at the National Building Museum.

“It was completely unintended,” he says. “I often start my projects close to home, and you expect to find courts everywhere. I love to explore the middle of nowhere, and I’d see these courts in cotton fields and in barns. I like some of the early ones that speak toward different times; not all of them are active and some are relics.”

Though the photographs are creatively captured through a series of environmental portraits, a majority of the 22,000 pictures feature basketball courts that aren’t what you’d expect to see at your local park. Some feature murals on bordering walls and a vibrant blacktop with a plexiglass backboard, while others are made up of a dirt surface with beat-up pieces of metal acting as rims.

“You take that basic design and it becomes interpreted in different ways,” Bamberger says. “The permutations are virtually endless, and each court reflects the design and influence of the host community.”

The courts are tremendously varied and display a certain amount of ingenuity on the part of the people who put them in place, while the backdrops for the photographs shed light on the communities they serve. From Italy and South Africa to New Hampshire and Philadelphia, each portrait displays a unique sense of place.

“I drove through Colorado and Utah and South Dakota just looking for hoops, and they were everywhere,” he says. “One of my favorites is a campsite in Utah. There was a hoop in the middle of these grassy fields and I photographed them in the distance, making the point that even in really remote places like this, you’ll find a court for young people.”

Bamberger didn’t just focus on public places; he often found extremely intimate settings worth immortalizing. There are a number of selections featuring courts in abandoned areas and others in family backyards.

“[For] some of the private places, I would stop and knock on the door. In every instance, I would ask. The same is true internationally. I remember I was on a court in Naples, Italy and there was a lot of ballers playing on the court. There was one who spoke some English, and I just asked them to clear the court.”

If nothing else, Bamberger set out to show how connected we are as a society through this one universal game. Whether your court is regulation-size in the middle of a city or involves a tree, a hubcap and a block of crooked wood, you can still pick up the ball and hoop.

“It’s been one of the truly fun projects to work on,” the photographer says, reflecting on the past decade. “I work on long-term projects, and as an artist, it’s been a joy to have something I can take worldwide. It represents the full range of the work. It’s probably time to let go, but it’s going to be hard. This exhibition represents a stopping point and opportunity to reflect on the project.”

HOOPS will be at the National Building Museum through January 5. Admission to the museum is $10. For more of Bamberger’s work, visit www.billbamberger.com.

National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; 202-272-2448; www.nbm.org

Chaia taco lineup // Photo: Maya Oren

Power Plants: The Rise of Vegetables as a Main Source of Energy, Not Alternative Fuel

It’s no secret there’s been a recent uptick in healthy dining options in the nation’s capital. Plant-based and vegetable-forward restaurants have taken root in the District, and they’re championing the idea that healthy food can also be tasty food. From local expansions to international brands, DC is adding more and more vegetable-friendly options to an already growing list of new restaurants. Just don’t call it a trend.

Homegrown taqueria Chaia recently opened its second location in Chinatown this January. From slinging tacos at farmers markets to their first location in Georgetown to the newest spot downtown, owners Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon have always remained committed to utilizing seasonal ingredients.

“Our business really wants to get people to eat more vegetables more than anything,” Stern says. “Support your local farmer and eat foods in season. What grows together goes together.”

In addition to serving up seasonally inspired tacos, Chaia’s newest location offers a lineup of local brews, ciders and draft cocktails. The ambiance and new offerings are key to the restaurant’s goal of making vegetables more fun.

“[Ten] years ago, being vegetarian or vegan or going into a restaurant that focused on that had the perception [that] there was no joy; you were just stripping your life of all the good things,” Simon says. “But that’s all changing with places like Chaia. We’re trying to make vegetables fun.”

Another component of their business model? Sustainability. Leftover tortillas are repurposed as the base for their spin on Oaxacan street food tlayuda. Cilantro stems are given new life as a sauce ingredient and discarded items are composted when possible. Hummus purveyor Little Sesame also looks to high-quality ingredients and seasonality for menu inspiration.

“The region that inspires our food is so built on fresh vegetables and big spices, and lots of ferments and pickles,” co-owner Nick Wiseman explains. “How we feel and shape the menus at Little Sesame is all around this idea of, at the end of the day, does it make you feel good?”

The hummus shop added its second location in Chinatown this March (the flagship spot is in Golden Triangle), where guests can order vegan options including their popular hummus bowls, pita sandwiches and dairy-free soft serve. More than just providing an exceptional in-restaurant experience, Wiseman and co-owner Ronen Tenne hope to build a community that transcends the walls of the physical space.

The owners even have an offshoot project, Wild Sesame, as “a way for us to strengthen the community we’re starting to build around these ideals of travel, outdoor cooking and storytelling.” It’s equal parts weekend getaway and outdoor adventure – an exploration of food and community.

“Food is the center, the focus of travel and this sense of adventure around food,” he continues. “We’re trying to really bring that spirit to Little Sesame and certainly what inspires us.”

H Street fast-casual concept Pow Pow made the switch to a completely plant-based menu last spring after two years in operation, and co-owner Shaun Sharkey believes DC is ready for more.

“I think DC has always been known as a city full of intelligent, forward-thinkers,” Sharkey says. “Plant-based food just makes sense in every aspect, whether you’re cutting back on a regular meat-based diet a day or two a week, interested in its benefits for the environment, or just interested in new flavors. Some chefs are really pushing the boundaries with plant-based food.”

Sharkey has a meat allergy and Chef Margaux Riccio has a dairy allergy; Pow Pow’s menu is a reflection of the foods they missed eating.

“Most of the menu items are developed that way,” he says. “This is more about fun food than anything else.”

The popular trolley fries are now topped with cashew cheddar and plant-based protein, the disco stick egg roll now features plant-based chicken, and their bowls have all switched over to plant-based chicken and seitan as protein options.

“We create all of the proteins and cheese in-house from scratch. Our focus is making good, plant-based food.”

Shouk founder Ran Nussbacher wants to remind the world that vegetables have been a mainstay of our diet for centuries, and it’s time to make a reconnection with the freshest produce possible.

“Eating a plant-based [diet] is a very positive experience, and it’s tasty and not lacking in any regard,” Nussbacher says. “I wanted to demonstrate that by bringing a compelling, appealing product that people would get hooked on, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with Shouk.”

The Israeli street food-inspired menu at Shouk’s Mount Vernon Triangle and NoMa locations features an oyster mushroom shawarma, fresh salads, pita and the famous Shouk burger. One of the healthier items on the menu, Nussbacher notes that despite chowing down on a burger, “You’re not eating health food; you’re eating delicious, decadent food that’s healthy.” And the recent addition of falafel to the menu has already proven to be a popular move.

“There used to be this perceived compromise that you could either get food that was really tasty or food that was really healthy, but you couldn’t get both,” the founder continues. “And what we do at Shouk – as well as others in the industry today – is eliminate that compromise and offer food that is exciting, tasty and healthy at the same time.”

Glenn Edwards, U.S. managing director of international fast-food chain LEON, shares a similar sentiment.

“I want to eat food I enjoy,” he says. “I don’t want to feel compromised in eating food that’s better for me. I want to eat food that’s delicious and oh, by the way, it’s better for me. Food should taste good and do you good.”

LEON opened its first North American outpost last summer on L Street and is hoping to change the way people view fast food. Fries are baked and the recently added, vegan-friendly LOVe Burger is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Edwards says, “When we launch dishes, [we ask ourselves], ‘Does it taste really delicious? Would your best friend ask you for a recipe? Is it better for you?’”

It seems DC denizens agree that fast food can be good food; a second LEON restaurant is coming this summer. But you won’t find any marketing or advertising efforts to promote these restaurants as vegan joints. Instead, the focus is on preparing first-rate food offerings.

Chaia’s Stern notes, “You have to have a delicious product, and that’s why people are going to come.”

Regardless of protein preferences, get people in the door. And if they like what they eat, they’ll come back.

Chaia: 615 Eye St. NW, DC (Chinatown) // 3207 Grace St. NW, DC (Georgetown); www.chaiatacos.com
LEON: 1724 L St. NW, DC; www.leon.co
Little Sesame: 1828 L St. NW, DC (Golden Triangle) // 736 6th St. NW, DC (Chinatown); www.eatlittlesesame.com
Pow Pow: 1253 H St. NE, DC; www.eatpowpow.com
Shouk: 655 K St. NW, DC (Mount Vernon Triangle) // 395 Morse St. NE, DC (NoMa); www.shouk.com


Plant-Forward picks

Fare Well
Doron Petersan’s vegetable-centric bakery, diner and bar on H Street offers plant-based comfort dishes like Southern fried wings, pierogies and a steak platter made with Southern fried chickpea seitan. And don’t walk out the door without dessert: indulge in a brownie sundae and a daily rotating lineup of cakes from Petersan (of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats fame). 406 H St. NE, DC; www.eatfarewell.com

Flower Child
Championing feel-good food, the national chain landed in Foggy Bottom at the start of the new year. The fast-casual joint features bowls, salads and wraps that come as vegan and vegetarian-friendly in a hip, colorful atmosphere. 2112 Pennsylvania Ave. Suite 101, NW, DC; www.iamaflowerchild.com/locations/washington-dc

HipCityVeg
The Philadelphia import arrived in the District in 2016 and serves up a 100 percent plant-based menu including burgers, salads, milkshakes and sandwiches. There’s even a Philly steak, an homage to the brand’s hometown. 712 7th St. NW, DC; www.hipcityveg.com

Light It UP! Scores Funding For Alexandria Basketball Courts

It’s truly amazing what a group of citizens can do when they partner up on something they care about – even if it’s something as simple as installing lights at outdoor basketball courts.

Started by Alexandria, Virginia natives Chris Denby, Bruce Falk and Mike Porterfield, community group Light It UP! (LIU) has gained enough support to partner with the City of Alexandria to provide lights at the basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park. Through fundraising efforts in the area, the group’s connections with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and councilman John Taylor Chapman, and sheer patience and determination, this $150,000 project has become a reality.

In 2016, the trio noticed there was inequity at the brand-new facilities at Potomac Yard, whether they were just passing by or in Porterfield’s case, picking up his son from the park just after dusk. There were lights on the tennis courts but not on the basketball courts. His son was shooting baskets in pitch black, but light was coming from the tennis courts, which didn’t seem right to him.

“As I’m waiting for him, I’m texting [Mayor] Wilson because we all know he’s dialed in,” Porterfield says. “He responded saying, ‘You’re a little late to the party; there’s already two guys [Falk and Denby] who are on it.’”

Mayor Wilson, along with the Alexandria City Council, supported the creation of a public-private partnership to help fund the new project, giving the guys the freedom to really make it happen.

“From there, Mike was a huge help, spurring us along with connections, energy and fundraising expertise that Bruce and I didn’t have prior to this,” Denby says. “We also took advantage of a lot of the opportunities [nonprofit] ACT for Alexandria provided to get well-known in the community. Their fundraising efforts were great and gave us some more clout.”

ACT for Alexandria’s annual Spring2ACTion event aims to strengthen the local community as a “giving day” to support all the nonprofits doing incredible work locally, which benefited LIU’s progress as well.

“We got some camera time, and experienced good camaraderie with people organizing Alexandria-specific events,” Falk says. “John and Justin came out to dunk on our mini-hoop; those things also lead to productive, positive photo ops that we can leverage on Facebook and elsewhere – things that are individually small but amplify one another.”

LIU is all about extending the use of the basketball courts and their overall time availability, but there’s also increased opportunities for local rec leagues and others that might be able to take advantage of the courts in a structured way “that’s beneficial to specific organizations and the city in terms of revenue and maintenance,” Falk says. “We think of it as a positive feedback loop.”

Of course, only time will tell the long-term impact LIU will make, but it’s clear the project is creating opportunities for the overall community.

“The legacy of what this could be [includes] more kids who are staying occupied, doing healthy activities and not hanging out playing video games when the weather is good,” Denby says. “You’ll get adults that are staying fit, staying happy and they’re outside being good citizens for good health. There’s no measure for that, but you know that it’s going to be the result.”

Falk touches on an invisible benefit for people that have been going by Potomac Yard, seeing lights from the tennis courts and darkness on the basketball courts.

“For people inclined to make use of the basketball courts, there was an implicit message that they are somehow less important, or their needs are somehow less important,” he says. “Now that the lights are going up, we are showing the city values everybody equally.”

Not only that, the usage of the courts will increase significantly, raising an excellent point about the numbers of the sport.

“In basketball, you’re going to get at least 10 people playing and sometimes more,” Falk says.

Denby adds, “There’s always someone saying, ‘I got next game.’ The force multiplier is huge. You’re rotating through [players] on a good day.”

The lights have been ordered by the City of Alexandria and the LIU team is waiting eagerly for the installation date. Signage is being finalized and funds are completely transferred. Now all that’s left to do is host the unveiling later this spring.

“The unveiling should be awesome,” Falk says. “[We’ll] have two rec kids’ teams, and we’ll have them play under the lights. We’re excited be able to recognize all our donors and major supporters.”

Light It UP! is successfully bringing lights to the community basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park thanks to PARKnerships with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA).


To learn more and receive updates about the LIU project, visit www.fb.com/pg/lightituppotomacyards.

Photo: www.studiotheatre.org

Queen of Basel’s Playwright Discusses Adaptation and Influences

Any time a contemporary artist decides to tackle and untangle a literary classic, the task is often monumental. However, when said artist then decides to mix and mold the already established characters into representations of the modern world, an adaptation is in the midst.

Critically acclaimed Hilary Bettis not only took hold of the characters and story from August Strindberg’s 1889 novel Miss Julie, but completely flipped it on itself. In an effort to provoke thoughts from diverse audiences, Bettis adapted the story from the troublesome Strindberg into the play Queen of Basel.

The play charges head first, focusing on societal aspects of power, race and class. Performances of the play are now in their last week at Studio Theatre, and before the Queen’s run ends, we spoke with the passionate Bettis about adapting the story, her process and the influences she draws from.

On Tap: How did you select Miami as the backdrop for this modern take on a classic play?
Hilary Bettis: Queen of Basel was originally commissioned by Michel Hausmann at Miami New Drama, with the goal of taking a familiar classic text and reimagining it specifically for a diverse Miami audience. So the backdrop was part of the assignment. Most of America likes to brush poverty under the rug – we don’t like to look at it. We live in gated communities or “gentrifying” neighborhoods, trying to separate ourselves as much as possible, but in Miami it’s so in your face. You literally have homeless encampments across the street from million-dollar condos. After spending time in the city, Miami felt like the perfect setting to explore a modern-day take on a play about wealth, class and power in 2019 America.

OT: What was most difficult when creating Queen of Basel?
HB: [August] Strindberg. Full stop. Aside from the original Miss Julie written as a total fever dream with messy internal logic and structure, which made trying to build a plot complicated, I fundamentally disagree with Strindberg’s view of humanity. He viewed women through the Madonna-whore lens. He believed “white” male sexuality is the epitome of strength. In his author’s preface Strindberg says, “Miss Julie is a modern character. Not that the man-hating half-woman has not existed in all ages but because now that she has been discovered, she has come out in the open to make herself heard.” And, “Jean is superior to Miss Julie because he is a man. Sexually, he is an aristocrat because of his masculine strength.” And, in his reference to Kristine (who he calls the “female slave”), “if my minor characters seem abstract, it is because ordinary people are abstract in their occupations.”

I believe ordinary people are unique, complicated and deserving of dignity. I believe sexuality female or male – doesn’t define the character or value of a human being. I believe men are capable of vulnerability and gentleness. I believe women are capable of strength and intellectual ideas. I believe people are equal in their flaws, their need for intimacy and love, their desire to be seen and valued. I believe choice comes out of circumstances. If we can understand the reality of a person’s life, we can find empathy – especially in the darkness.

OT: What will audiences discover or re-contemplate about race and power through Queen of Basel?
HB: The responses to the play have been utterly fascinating. People either love it or don’t know how to process it. The play really digs into the fluidity and messiness and ambiguity of privilege. All of these characters have power in some ways and are oppressed in other ways. They’re all victims and perpetrators. The play is designed to make an audience uncomfortable. My hope is that discomfort sparks conversation.

OT: Why the Latinx influence?
HB: I’m Latinx – my mother is Chicana – so everything I write tends to be through that lens. I was commissioned to write a bilingual adaptation for a Miami audience – so embracing Cuban, Venezuelan, Haitian [and] Colombian communities felt necessary. I also think America tends to think of Latinx as a monolithic culture; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Imperialism, slavery, Jewish people fleeing Hitler, genocide against natives, dictators, death squads funded by the U.S. and the empires built on that heritage – also plagues much of Latin America. I wanted an audience to see the nuance and diversity of communities within Latinidad.

OT: How did you and José Zayas get connected and how has it been working with him on this project?
HB: José is my theater soulmate. We’ve know of each other for a few years now, always wanting to work together, but the timing was never right. We finally got to work together at the Alley Theatre’s All New Festival last January on this play. We connected and got each other right away. He understands my voice and what I’m really after in my work and he challenges me to dig deeper, he never lets me settle. He’s really an actor’s director who knows how to make everyone feel empowered.

OT: What did you learn or discover during your creative process?
HB: So, so, so much, I was literally rewriting up until opening. This play is an actor’s play – three people in a room for 75 minutes bearing their souls and flaws and vulnerabilities – I really wanted the cast to have a point of view and a voice in our entire process. We had a lot of conversations about power, gender, race [and] how we navigate that onstage. How we portray these people with empathy, while remaining honest about their flaws.

But what’s fascinating is how Julie’s wealth sort of erases everything else about her. Audience’s are much more likely to forgive John and Christine than Julie, even though Julie is in just as much pain and turmoil.

OT: How has the current immigration conflict impacted your storytelling in Queen of Basel?HB: Immigration is something I write about in almost all of my work. The history of America is the history of immigration, and each generation has its immigrant story. Because I set out to write for a Miami audience, understanding the conflict in Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba and Baby Doc’s Haiti were vital to understanding the very fabric of Miami. Michel Hausmann, who commissioned this, is a Venezuelan ex-pat who fled the country after his theater was tear-gassed by [Hugo] Chavez. His family were Jewish refugees fleeing their homeland. The cycles of oppression, how we wield it in small and large ways, is the spine of this play.

OT: Aside from Strindberg, where else did you draw inspiration for this story?
HB: Certainly my own life. I’m mixed, white and Mexican, so I often struggle with where I fit in the world. All three characters are juggling multiple identities, so that part is very visceral and personal. And I’m a woman, so misogyny is personal. All of my collaborators have inspired me.

Queen of Basel is showing at the Studio Theatre through April 7.  Tickets are $20-$97, and available here.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.

On Tap Media + DC Fray Join Forces

We have some big news to share!

As On Tap Media continues to look for new ways to grow and expand our editorial and events footprint, we’re excited to announce that we’re teaming up with DC Fray, a DC-based social sports, events and media company. By joining forces, we’ll expand our coverage of what the DMV has to offer and bring amazing new experiences to both of our communities.

Much more to come about this news over the next few months, but for now all you really need to know is lots fun and exciting things are coming your way. In the meantime:

  1. Check out our Instagram and hit up our story today to learn a bit about our new team members.
  2. Check out the latest edition of our magazine, and our SXSW 2019 coverage.
  3. Learn more about Fray’s spring leagues and sign up here.

For our full press announcement, click here.

OT Team


On Tap Team

Fray Team

Fray Team

Photo: Michael Coleman

Waco Brothers Keep Crowd Alive During Late Set

The clock crept toward 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a long day at work and a full night rocking SXSW.

Sleep beckoned, but the pesky festival app on my phone wasn’t having it.

At 12:45 a.m., the app dinged and reminded me the Waco Brothers – cowpunk pioneers and Bloodshot Records legends – were due onstage in 15 minutes at the Continental Club, perhaps Austin’s most revered live music venue.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Walking in the door of the venerable institution on South Congress south of downtown, a blast of guitar-fueled adrenaline shot straight through my fatigue. Onstage, Waco Brothers were swinging electric guitars, accordions, mandolins, and even legs and arms as they blasted into their Hank Williams-meets-the-Ramones sound. Jon Langford, a Welshman and founder of punk legends the Mekons, launched the Waco Brothers two decades ago.

The guys may be grayer, but they show no sign of slowing down. Langford announced the Waco Brothers first played Austin in 1996, a time when some in the audience hadn’t even been born. This band was about to show the kids how it’s done.

“Had Enough,” a drum-thumping call-and-response tune about reaching the end of your rope, somehow played like an inspirational anthem. “Harm’s Way,” a propulsive country-rocker, revealed the Brother’s sharp songwriting skills and ability to infuse punk and country – two parts loud and one part melody.

Halfway through the set, a raven-haired woman in shorts and cowboy boots jumped onto a platform on the side of the stage a few sets in and started wind-milling her arms, exhorting the already enthusiastic crowd to make even more noise. Done!

The late-night crowd’s engine revved even higher when indie rocker Ted Leo joined the Brothers onstage for a couple of jams. You just never know what will happen onstage at a SXSW showcase. With that, I made my way to the exits, a weary smile plastered on my face and the exuberant sounds of the music ringing in my ears.

For more information about the Waco Brothers, click here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

DC Locals Gather at WeDC House in Austin

On the opening weekend of Austin, Texas’ international musical extravaganza known as SXSW, DC was definitely in the house – the WeDC House.

Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.

The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.

Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.

“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”

While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”

After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.

“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”

While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.

“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”

Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin