Posts

Tig Notaro // Photo: Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times

Bentzen Ball Turns 10: Tig Notaro and Svetlana Legetic Reflect on Longevity, Quality and Openness

Comedy should be unpretentious and approachable, a way for us to connect and find humor in the many facets of the human experience. In theory, a comedy festival should follow suit, creating a safe space for artists to try out new material and collaborate with one another in a welcoming setting. But that isn’t always the case, so Tig Notaro decided to create a festival designed to make comedians feel at home.

She shared her idea with former Brightest Young Things (BYT) contributor Jeff Jetton, who brought it to BYT co-founder and CEO Svetlana Legetic, and the three joined forces to create the DC-based Bentzen Ball. Fast-forward 10 years, and the co-founders are gearing up for the festival’s 10th Anniversary of Comedy & Friendship on October 24-27.

The Bentzen team is proud of their longstanding collaboration, and the consistent, simple ethos driving the festival every year.

“We wanted it to be this perfect toolbox of four days, both for the comedians and the city,” Legetic says. “The only requirements to get booked are: Are you really talented and are you not a jerk? We run it like a comedy camp. Everything’s completely democratic.”

As the driving force behind BYT – a DC- and NYC-based events company, online magazine and most recently, creative agency – Legetic says organizing a comedy festival that is equal parts accessible to audiences and the talent they’re coming to see is critical. She describes Bentzen as “the great equalizer,” where the artists are all treated as peers regardless of who’s headlining or has the most IMDb credits.

“A festival should be the best time for the comedians because they all like each other,” she adds. “They’re friends. Fame doesn’t play a role – just quality and respect in the community.”

Notaro’s own brand of dry, often deadpan humor paired with personal comedy, touching upon vulnerable topics like her experience with breast cancer, seems like a natural fit for the open, community-driven message behind Bentzen. On a recent phone call with the comedian, she tells me that Bentzen has secured itself not as a fleeting or entertainment industry-driven festival, but instead as an event built on having a good time and doing good things with good comedians.

“I think we’ve maintained it and just grown it, but we’re not trying to grow it to be this monster,” Notaro says. “I just want it to always remain positive in every direction – from the size of it to the people who come to the charities we work with to the audience experience. As I’m going through all of this, it’s reminding me of how proud of it I am.”

The tone of her voice fluctuates ever so slightly when she says this, and I know in that moment how much Bentzen means to her. Notaro hails from L.A., where she lives with her wife Stephanie Allynne and twin 3-year-olds Max and Finn, but comes to the District every year for the festival. When I ask, “Why DC?” the response is quite flattering, another nod to our burgeoning performing arts scene.

“I had such a great time in DC [during the DC Comedy Festival years ago]. It seemed like such a fun city and like regardless of where you stand politically, it would be a nice draw for people to want to come out. And I was right.”

She says she can rely on good vibes from our city year in and year out – and on smart audiences to come out and support the comedians.

“[DC is] always so fun, and it’s always a place I know I can come and try something new. There are certain cities where I feel like, ‘Oh, it can be hit-or-miss, or I had a good time last time [but] who knows what’ll happen this time?’ But I feel like DC is a town where I can just go, ‘Yeah, I’ll go have a great time for sure on that stage.’”

Legetic reiterates how smart of a city we are, and how the District’s collective intelligence has in some ways led to Bentzen’s continued success.

“I always say everyone gets the jokes here,” she says. “If you can’t land a joke here, you can’t land it anywhere because people have read everything, heard everything. We’re so in tune with what’s happening around us.”

Another contributing factor to the festival’s popularity, according to Notaro, is the creative team’s clean-slate approach.

“It’s really wide open,” she says. “We go into each year with an openness of, ‘What do these performers want to do? What kind of show do they want to have? Who do they want in the show?’ Everything still falls in place but as it unfolds, that’s always one of the best parts: seeing what direction everything goes in.”

Bentzen offers artists the opportunity to expand their forms of expression, opening doors to unexplored creative outlets and giving access to talented peers playing in the same space.

Legetic says, “It’s very much about the performer and the audience. People trust that it’s going to be good on both sides, and a lot of magical things happen in the process.”

She’s confident in the event’s continued success, and with good reason. Audience numbers grew 40 percent between 2017 and 2018 “because I think people needed it,” Legetic adds. Festival passes often sell out before BYT even announces the lineup. And headlining acts like Maria Bamford, who has been on both Notaro and Legetic’s wish list for years, continue to join the Bentzen family.

“We don’t have a marketing budget or anything like that,” Legetic says. “If the audience didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be growing.”

Bamford opens the festival on October 24, and on October 26, audiences can catch Notaro’s “But Enough About You” at festival mainstay Lincoln Theatre or head over to the Entertainment and Sports Arena – a new addition to the lineup – for the DC Homecoming! show featuring DMV natives like Jay Pharoah, Aparna Nancherla and Judah Friedlander. The list of curated talent continues, and regardless of who you decide to check out, Legetic promises Bentzen won’t disappoint.

“We’re very earnest in our enthusiasm. Even if you’re not sure about something, give it a chance. We’ve never taken anyone astray in 10 years.”

Bentzen Ball’s 10th Anniversary of Comedy & Friendship runs from October 24-27 at Lincoln Theatre, the Entertainment and Sports Arena, and the Kennedy Center’s Millennial Stage. Most tickets range from $25-$40. Proceeds from this year’s Bentzen tickets support José Andrés World Central Kitchen. Learn more at www.brightestyoungthings.com/bentzen-ball-2019.

Follow Tig Notaro on Twitter at @tignotaro and check out www.tignation.com for more information on the comedian. Pro tip: watch “Under A Rock with Tig Notaro” on www.funnyordie.com.

Photo: Mark Raker

Shuck, Slurp, Repeat: Chesapeake Oyster Fest Deliver Supremely Delicious Shellfish to Union Market

“Shuck, slurp and repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens, who along with other members of the Trigger Agency, braved the unseasonably warm temperatures to steam and grill seafood for the attendees.

The 9th Annual Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival took place on Saturday September 21 at Union Market’s Dock 5, where a number of people avoided the heat by scarfing down wonderful seafood dishes paired with seasonal beers. 

 It was easy to follow those directions to enjoy all seven oyster stations, but the options also included mussels, clams and shrimp. An estimated 30,000 oysters were consumed between the two sessions.

There were casual eaters and true oyster devotees, and some people even carried tasting books to take notes on the different types of oysters. 

This event provides attendees with the chance to eat all of the oysters they could, and to learn more about the different varietals of the shellfish. Everyone who has ever tried knows it takes skill to open oysters, and expert shuckers take it another level, something like an art form. 

Pros were happy to share information about the oyster farms, as well as variety of options. The environment and terroir (waters) they grow in help determine the oyster’s size and flavors.

Shuck, Slurp and Repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens

Some of the selections were big and plump, and some were small. They ranged from sweet to briny, however, for the oyster lovers committed and new, they all had one thing in common: they were delicious .

This year, the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival partnered with The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP). There were special “recycling stations” provided for the shells. These recycled shells help to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Kevin Boyle of Shore Thing Shellfish in St. Mary’s County, Maryland said that “farming oysters is beyond sustainable, it is restorative; creating life and ecosystems where there was nothing.” The organization loves this event, because it allows the people of DC to enjoy the oysters and connect to the Potomac.

In addition to the seafood, folks enjoyed Hard Times Cafe chili and barbecue from Kloby’s Smokehouse. There were also several dozen beers, wines and spirits available for sampling, using the commemorative sampling glass provided.

Participants also enjoyed pairings. Blue Point Brewing Company was pouring a number of styles, and locally-brewed Granite City Brewery sampled their SMASH beer, single malt and single hops as well as the seasonally available Blue- Eyed Brunette Bourbon Brown Ale. 

Champagne pairs wonderfully with oysters, so naturally, the Korbel Champagne bar was a popular destination. The wine station offered a number of tasty varieties, and local distilleries assisted attendees with spirits, allowing for attendees to truly customize their pairings. 

As Shakespeare said “The world’s mine oyster” but on Saturday, it is safe to say that the oysters were our world.

For more information about the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival, visit here. Want to relive the festival? Check out Mark Raker’s photo gallery

Still from The Cowfoot Prince // Photo: courtesy of Bex Singelton

DC Shorts Returns With Impeccable Taste and International Flair

“We didn’t want to wait around for other people to let us do it.”

Actor, writer and director Mike Doyle, perhaps best known for his Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appearances, is telling me about his latest short film The Chase. Doyle is no stranger to feature films, adding that he has a romantic comedy making the rounds at festivals at this very moment. But there’s politics to producing a longform theatrical release – you need money, time and a prolonged story.

“The great thing about [short films] is that they’re distilled short stories that live in the span of six to 15 minutes,” Doyle continues. “I love that there’s a place like DC Shorts that promotes that kind of storytelling.”

The DC Shorts tagline is simply, “We champion short filmmaking.” Since 2003, the homegrown festival has proven Doyle’s sentiment correct, showcasing a variety of films in every genre from documentary to comedy to drama to action. This year’s International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is no different, offering more than 156 films from 38 countries on September 19-28 around the city.

“It’s remarkable what you can tell in a short amount of time,” says Bex Singleton, director of short documentary The Cowfoot Prince. “It’s good for people to come away with questions they can explore on their own volition. I don’t think there’s any shame in leaving an audience wanting more.”

Singleton admittedly learned most of what she knows about shorts from film school; The Cowfoot Prince was her final project in college and made its international debut at DC Shorts. The documentary follows Usifu Jalloh, a storyteller from Sierra Leone, and his journey from his adopted home of London to the village where he was born.

The first-time director, who lived in Sierra Leone as a photographer, met Jalloh at a fundraising event. After being knocked sideways by his performance, she approached him with an offer to make him the main subject of her graduation film.

“The story is about the complexity of the relationship with the place you’re from and the place you live,” she says. “Sierra Leone changed the way I saw the U.K., and if you look at the source material that’s easy to access about Sierra Leone, it’s about war or disease. You don’t often see characters. Usifu is such a strong and interesting character.”

The documentary is about 28 minutes long, pushing the boundaries of a short, but Singleton acknowledges the struggles of even getting below 40 minutes. After seven weeks of shooting, both in the U.K. and Sierra Leone, Jalloh’s energy was captivating and worthy of an even longer feature-length documentary.

“He has more energy than anyone else I had ever met,” Singleton says of her film’s subject. “Actually, trying to have an emotional journey through the film and understand what an optimistic person he is – that felt like quite a delicate balancing act. I’m not that used to documentaries where there’s a lot of flipping through happiness to sadness to seriousness to lightness.”

While The Cowfoot Prince marked the first time Singleton and Jalloh had worked together, Doyle’s The Chase marked the latest of several collaborations between the director and scriptwriter Nick Jandl, who based the story on a personal experience where someone snatched his phone off of a restaurant table.

“He was out with his wife one night in Los Angeles and the phone was stolen from the table,” Doyle says. “His wife chased, and he followed. We wanted to fuse that with bigger stakes, more drama. Nick’s character, Tim, is ineffectual. His instinct is not to run after [her]. I wanted to make a road movie on foot.”

Upon reading the synopsis for The Chase, you’ll likely have little faith they can squeeze all it promises in the limited 11-minute runtime. In that short amount of time, the film features “a complex intersection of race, justice and self-discovery.”

“We’re living in a time of division and misconception of the other – from all sides,” Doyle says. “In telling this story about a white guy, a black guy and a mixed-race wife, it speaks to ultimately the good of human nature and how we can cast away some prejudgment and learn something about ourselves in the process.”

Doyle and the rest of the crew filmed the short over two night shoots. With a script of 15 pages, he knew he had to trim about five minutes of content for a better chance on the festival circuit. Luckily, the small-scale nature of the story lent itself to a compact runtime. But editing for tone proved to be the most creatively demanding aspect.

“The film walks a fine line between drama and comedy, and I wanted to make sure the comedic moments sprung from the drama and absurd elements,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we honored those moments.”

The short debuted earlier this year to applause and laughter in Los Angeles. While a premier for a film is always a bit nerve-wracking, the positive reception allowed Doyle to focus on how to market the piece going forward.

“DC Shorts was at the top of the list because I had such a great experience there previously,” Doyle says. “I think it’s a great showcase for stories such as these.”

The festival sticks out to him as a filmmaker because of its integrity and standards, and with films like The Chase and The Cowfoot Prince, this year’s selection is positioned to captivate audiences again and again.

“They just curate really well, so you’re getting the best of the best,” Doyle says. “It’s not just someone who slaps their iPhone out. They have impeccable taste.”

For more information regarding the two films, the entire DC Shorts schedule and ticket prices, visit www.dcshorts.com.

DC Shorts International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition: Various venues in DC; www.dcshorts.com

Alysia Lee and Ty Defoe // Photo: Tony Powell

The REACH’s Opening Festival

The inside spaces of the Kennedy Center’s The REACH are spacious and cavernous, like an underground college building with rooms ripe for seminars, classes, performances, films and whatever other kind of programming the Center offers, which is to say almost anything. The outside buildings are equally stunning, standing tall not in an intimidation, but a reassurance.

The facility had yet to open when we walked through the grounds in mid-July, but it was easy to close your eyes and imagine a swath of people congregating in one of the spacious fields for a concert or a movie projected directly on the side of their sloping creations. Soon, there won’t be much left to the imagination as the Center is set to unleash every kind of installation you can think of – big name to small name, hip-hop to opera, dance to painting, sculpture to DJs.

“We’ll achieve a vision in people’s minds,” says Robert van Leer, the Kennedy Center’s senior vice president of artistic planning. “And I mean everyone: artists, staff, visitors, civic leaders. When you open a new building, there’s a process that comes up with that vision, but it’s important to start with what it can be.”

From Saturday, September 7 through Sunday, September 22, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival will feature close to 500 free events inviting people to explore the space, participate in workshops, and see headlining acts such as Robert Glasper, Bootsy Collins, The Second City, Thievery Corporation and so much more.

“It’s a great way to illustrate what The REACH can do,” van Leer continues. “It’s a combination of all of those things and a chance to learn with the artists to see what the future opportunities can be.”

Artists Ty Defoe and Alysia Lee are perfect examples of the diverse range of creative talent participating in the festivities. Both will travel from different East Coast cities – Baltimore and NYC, respectively – to support The REACH and take part in the public’s first invitation to the campus.

“I like the word festival,” Defoe says. “I like the word joy and I like the word connection. I feel like among those words, it reminds me that we’re at a time right now where the arts are a place of healing, celebration and activation. The arts not only change people’s minds, but people’s hearts. I feel like we’re in a time where that is very necessary right now.”

Defoe is an interdisciplinary artist from New York slated to participate in two events: a panel titled “The New Contemporary in Native American Art” and an interactive participatory hoop dance. The latter is only allotted 15 minutes, but despite this expedited runtime, the movement has several different layers all geared toward a unique experience.

“I’ve been working on this since I was 7 years old,” Defoe says. “It gets at a lot of intersections that I like to operate in, which is contemporary indigenous culture, community, spectacle, and utilizing spaces [both] indoors and outdoors. Also, [knowing] this festival will have all these amazing people of culture coming together in that circle, there was no other thing in my mind that came up besides this.”

The dance starts off with a story about finding a way through fighting and warring as a community, but it’s not all spoken. For some, the narrative is better understood through a series of physical steps, hence the hoop dance.

“I’ll weave myself in and out of these hoops to make different shapes – things you’d see in nature like trees, plants, flowers and animals – to pay honor to the equity of all living things,” Defoe continues. “The interactive part breaks down the multigenerational part because as adults, we are sometimes living in our heads and not able to feel. No matter who you are – shape, size, color – you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your friend or relative.”

While Defoe’s interactive performance welcomes all people in attendance to gather around and dance, Lee’s workshop about protest songs will focus on inspiring middle school children to express themselves in tune. As a Kennedy Center 2019-2020 Citizen Arts Fellow and multifaceted vocalist, Lee is an obvious choice to lead an educational workshop for the opening festival.

“I really want to have something where kids walk away with something they created,” Lee says. “I want collaboration and sharing, and something where there will be high incentive and high reward to move quickly together.”

Lee came up with the activity upon learning that a majority of 60s protest songs were parodies of oldies from the 40s and 50s. The format took form when she thought of using modern pop music to help kids write their own pieces.

“What do we care about and how can we use music as a way to voice our opinions? The accessibility of these protest songs is super cool because you can get kids to take their favorite hits and use them for social change.”

Lee feels confident that the children participating will be up for protesting, whether it be concerns about global warming or requests for more snack machines.

“Kids nowadays are so in tune because of social media,” she says. “They’re so in touch with the world in a way that I wasn’t. Kids really feel very strongly and passionately about things that are beyond them. They feel more connected to the global society.”

The REACH is also slated to feature a number of DC-based artists as part of the festival’s lineup. GIRLAAA Collective Founder Dominique Wells has coordinated a full slate of curation on opening day with a panel of female DJs – including Mane Squeeze, Ayes Cold and Niara Sterling – followed by a performance.

“We want to discuss women in the music industry and how they’re doing more than just following contemporary trends – they’re breaking barriers,” Wells says. “I feel like what they’re doing is important and monumental and necessary.”

The DC native sees The REACH as an opportunity for the Kennedy Center to better serve the underprivileged in the community by introducing them to art by way of free workshops and performances, much like the programming for the festival.

“It’s about what’s happening beyond their main space,” Wells says. “I think The REACH is going to offer a lot of people who otherwise might not come there an opportunity to experience something inclusive and diverse. They have a great team of people who are working really hard, and they’re listening to people.”

From local to national, big to small, contemporary to classical, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival is a multi-dimensional playground for patrons of the arts from any background. Van Leer says there are no plans to make this an annual tentpole event, so you will definitely want to revel in it while you can.

“You see all the cross-pollination that’s occurring,” Lee says of the festival programming. “It’s really inspiring and makes me think about the through-line of creativity and how things can speak. I love that the festival is a place for that. It’s hard to even fathom missing one day of it.”

To peruse the comprehensive list of events at The REACH’s Opening Festival, visit https://cms.kennedy-center.org/festivals/reach. For announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH, go to www.reach.kennedy-center.org.

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. 

Photo: Firefly Music Festival

Stars Shine Bright at Eighth Firefly Music Festival

The eighth edition of the Firefly Music Festival, from June 21-23, proved to be its best ever, with the three-day event in The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway Dover seeing great headlining acts from the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Travis Scott and Post Malone

Brendon Urie and his Panic! At The Disco bandmates truly lit up the night on Friday. Coming off his successful Broadway run in Kinky Boots, Urie revamped old classics with amazing belting, wowing the crowd in the process. They brought out real instruments to replicate the synth sounds on various songs, and the energy they put forth and received from the crowd was incredible. 

Urie recounted how “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was released 15 years ago and talked about how the song launched the band into the “amazing ride that been developing” since. 

An earlier act on the day was Max Frost, who even though was performing to a smaller crowd, definitely made a new collection of fans hearing his music for the first time. Alison Wonderland was another who earned cred from the Firefly crowd with killer female energy coming from her DJ spectacle. 

The Party Pupils were another highlight of the first night, playing the smaller Treehouse Stage. Great fan interaction made for a positive experience for everyone and they vibed well with the audience. The group mixed old classics like “Ms. Jackson” and “Pony” with original songs by one of their creators, Max.

On Saturday, Brockhampton, the American rap collective formed in San Marcos, California had their spotlight members take the stage. They utilized an airplane set, which they used theatrically throughout their songs. The group’s high energy and big movements amped up the crowd.

Longtime favorites Death Cab For Cutie proved they are still a force to be reckoned with on the festival circuit and played some of their biggest hits, including “Northern Lights,” “Transatlanticism” and “Black Sun.”

Travis Scott finished off a long, yet incredible Saturday with a collection of his top songs and plenty of covers, including songs by the likes of 2 Chainz, SZA and Kodak Black. He began his set with “Stargazing” and “Carousel” back to back, and finished with “Goosebumps” and “Sicko Mode.” His set was something to behold, as it was a complete carnival atmosphere, complete with a neon merry-go-round, pyrotechnics and fun everywhere you looked.

Passion Pit served as the post-headliner, closing the night with a mix of indie and dance favorites including “Carried Away,” “Take a Walk” and “Make Light.” The set provided a great end to a busy day of concert-going.

On Sunday, AJR, comprised of multi-instrumentalist brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, were another highlight for Firefly attendees. The trio made a strong effort to connect with the crowd and their enthusiasm and goofy nature made them very relatable. 

Vampire Weekend started its set with “Bambina” and delivered almost 90-minutes of great music, mixing in old and new favorites including “A-Punk,” “Ya Hey” and an SBTRKT cover of “New Dorp, New York.”

Post Malone, the headliner on Sunday night, had the audience acting as background singers, with a full chorus of vocals singing along to every show. Post’s songs range from sad ballads to party anthems and he had everyone joining him for every single word, playing tunes from both his albums. His energy and soul stayed high all night and his voice and guitar skills absolutely shined. The 23-year-old Malone also told fun backstories behind his songs and gave some sweet inspiration anecdotes. 

The festival also saw some noteworthy performances by a diverse collection of artists, including Kygo, Tyler, the Creator, DJ Snake, ZEDD, Courtney Barnett, TLC, Lykke Li, Bishop Briggs, Lauren Daigle, Alison Wonderland, King Princess, Jessie Reyez and Tank and the Bangas.

And it just wasn’t the music that made this trip to the Woodlands so wonderful. With more than $4 million in upgrades in 2019, attendees were treated to upgraded facilities, top tier entertainment (in addition to festival performances) and creative programming all designed to foster a sense of camaraderie and community during the long weekend of music. 

For information about 2020’s Firefly Festival, visit here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Graphic: Smithsonian American History Museum

American History Museum Highlights Regional Impact on Beers

How do brewers incorporate local flavors in their products, and how does that impact their profitability and overall image for the American consumer?

This question was discussed this past weekend at the Smithsonian’s Last Call event on November 3, which included an evening of conversation, craft beer tastings and historic artifacts. The event was part of the fourth annual Food History Weekend, held at the National Museum of American History. Each year offers a different theme, and this year’s theme was “Regions Reimagined.”

In a panel moderated by Theresa McCulla, historian of the Smithsonian’s American Brewing History Initiative, four American brewers spoke about the sourcing of their ingredients, what inspired them to dive into the beer industry and more. The panelists included Shyla Sheppard from Bow and Arrow Brewing Company in New Mexico, Jon Renthrope from Cajun Fire Brewing Company in New Orleans, Deb Carey from New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin and Marika Josephson from Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois.

Before the panel commenced, guests were able to view a myriad objects on display related to brewing history in America. There were publications from the Smithsonian Dibner Library that ranged from beer histories to instructional books, some dating as far back as the 1890s.

One was a journal from 1988 by Jeff Lebesch, New Belgium Brewing Company founder and Fat Tire creator. Also on display were vintage posters, photos and business ephemera from the 1870s through 1905, as well as Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub tap handles from the 1980s.

During the panel, each of the guest brewers spoke about their emphasis local ingredients.

“It feels great to be able to highlight some of the special aspects of the culture of the area and the native people in a really authentic way,” Shyla Sheppard said. 

“We get all of our malt from a local maltster,” Marika Josephson said. “We get our hops now all from Illinois, and we hired farmers almost three years ago to help us with our farm, and we were able to give them jobs.”

With this, Josephson added, “I think breweries have a lot of power.”

While guests of the Smithsonian’s Last Call event listened to the panel, they were also able to enjoy samples from each brewery as well as appetizers from the museum’s chef, Stephen Kerschner.

Some of the highlights from each brewery included the tart, fairly floral Blueberry Lavender beer from Scratch Brewing Company; the bright and refreshing Denim Tux Blue Corn Lager from Born and Arrow Brewing; the Big Chief Crème Stout from Cajun Fire Brewing Company, which offered soothing French Vanilla and coffee notes; and the Wisconsin Belgian Red, a very cherry-focused beer from New Glarus Brewing Company whose taste resembled a Jolly Rancher.

“I’m always so grateful for public enthusiasm for beer through the lens of history,” McCulla said. “My job is much easier and fun because the public has a sense of investment in the topic.”

For the future, at some point in 2019, McCulla said the public should expect a refreshed food exhibition on the first floor of the museum in the east wing with a new installation that will focus on brewing history. Some of the items that were displayed in Last Call will be incorporated into the exhibit.

For more information about the Museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, click here

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

DMV Black Restaurant Week Highlights Local, Black-Owned Businesses

From November 4 through 11, Washingtonians will be able to enjoy good eats and empowering signature events poised to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry. The inaugural DMV Black Restaurant Week will highlight black-owned restaurateurs, chefs and caterers in the region, with 20-plus locations serving discounted deals or prix fixe menus for $25 or less.

“We want to be able to create a platform,” says cofounder Erinn Tucker, who describes the new restaurant week as locally grown but globally aware. “We want to use this opportunity to really give back.”

Tucker, a Georgetown University professor for the Master’s in Global Hospitality Leadership program, is one of three restaurant/hospitality veterans behind the already well-received and well-publicized event. She’s joined by Andra “AJ” Johnson, who is in the process of publishing White Plates, Black Faces, a book that puts a spotlight on black culinary talent and addresses cultural neglect in the industry. Third cofounder Furard Tate worked as the chef for H Street-based Inspire BBQ before it closed and is now getting ready to open Brookland’s Love Market, a business designed to train those between the ages of 19 and 25 in a fast-casual restaurant setting.

“I’ve watched this city change and have been a part of it as a business owner as well as a resident,” Tate says. “I know this city, so this is something that we have been collectively working on for awhile. We want to educate the community [on how to] support these restaurants, because a lot of them are closing. An educated consumer is a much better consumer.”

Po Boy Jim’s Jeff Miskiri says he’s hopeful the restaurant week will be advantageous for newer establishments participating in the event, including his five-year-old Cajun restaurant on H Street.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s not just about me. It’s about everyone coming together as a whole.”

DC icon Ben’s Chili Bowl is also participating, and cofounder Virginia Ali says it’s spectacular that the District has so many restaurants representative of various cultures across the globe.

“DMV Black Restaurant Week is something new and exciting for Washingtonians to come and enjoy, and hopefully it’s going to grow over the years,” she says.

The restaurant week’s three signature events include a kickoff networking opportunity on November 4 at the Union Oyster Bar and Lounge near Union Market, the R. R. Bowie Bartender Club competition on November 5 at Service Bar in Shaw, and the Business of Food and Beverage Education Conference on November 10 at the University of the District of Columbia.

Conference panels will range from “Workplace Culture: Rethinking the Workplace” to “Miseducation of the Black Diner,” including discussions on important topics like employee safety, tipping, stereotypes of the black diner, and treatment of the black server.

The theme of the bartending competition is “Black History Makers of the DMV,” and contestants will pay tribute to the DC area through their cocktails.

Participating restaurants will not only be able to enjoy continued support from the community, but also from their peers like the Restaurant Association of Maryland and National Restaurant Association.

“We’re not just letting people [try] the food,” Tate says. “We’re also helping these restaurants sustain themselves [through] our allied relationships and partnerships.”

Plans are also in the works for quarterly programming to further bolster the local restaurant community, according to Tucker.

“In five years, we really see this as an initiative [that becomes] a signature event for the globe,” she says. “We are a global city. We are a global environment. People will be traveling in for this particular event.”

The full roster of restaurants, bars and other spots participating in this year’s DMV Black Restaurant Week has not yet been announced but check www.dmvbrw.com for updates. Follow the event on Twitter and Instagram @dmvbrw.

Note: DMV Black Restaurant Week is in no way affiliated with Black Restaurant Week, LLC, which plans on expanding to the District in 2019. The event is also not the first of its kind in the area. In 2015, a Black Restaurant Week was organized by ABlackLife LLC and New York-based I DON’T CLUBS brought Black-Owned Restaurant Month to DC.

Photo: Doug Van Sant

Homegrown Festival All Things Go Highlights DC Music Scene

Zack Friendly has been committed to advancing DC’s music scene for more than a decade. Determined to share his taste and talent for spotting artists on the verge of making it big, he did what everyone within his niche did in the mid-2000s: ran a blog. What started out as an online side project would eventually become the All Things Go Fall Classic, a fast-growing music festival in the District.

This year’s festival will be held at Union Market on October 6-7, with an all-female lineup the first day. All Things Go is focused on highlighting as much female talent as possible to help combat the myth that female festival headliners are economically lesser than their male counterparts, and the statistic that only 14 percent of headliners are women, according to a 2017 Pitchfork study.

Headliners Maggie Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger, formerly of the band MS MR but currently performing as LPX, collaborated with the festival’s founders to help curate the performer lineup. Artists like Ravyn Lenae, OSHUN, Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez are a few of the kickass women they’ll share the stage with, but the female-powered partnerships don’t end there.

Rogers and Plapinger – along with other women in the music lineup and prominent women in the DC food and distilling communities – will speak on free-with-RSVP Women X Music and Women X Entrepreneurship panels at the new Eaton Hotel on October 5 to kickstart the festival weekend. The event is also partnering with the Women’s March to register festivalgoers to vote in their Power to the Polls initiative.

Friendly and his fellow founders (Will Suter, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu) chose Union Market as this year’s festival host, a spot brimming with local food vendors, brewers, artists and other DC-based businesses highlighting the District’s cultural contributions. The NoMa locale has morphed from a large wholesale area to a bustling metropolis of cuisine and distilling, with a “block party” vibe that Friendly is particularly excited about.

His blog-turned-festival got its start in 2006, when he and Maseda were searching for a way to share their musical preferences with the world.

“It was when music blogs were the source of new music, rather than Spotify or Tidal,” Friendly says.

As streaming services proliferated, they pivoted to stay relevant. Rather than sharing music directly, they began curating playlists, using the platforms to promote their discoveries. From 2009 to 2010, Friendly took one step closer to launching the festival by setting up a series of live music components with the help of publicists, labels, managers and agents. They hosted shows at venues like U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club and SXSW, as well as other pop-ups around DC.

The inevitable transition from smaller events to a larger-scale festival was a “natural progression.” The group launched the first All Things Go in 2014 to spotlight emerging artists from the DMV and beyond. It’s extremely important to the founders to provide a homegrown spirit to the festival.

“We grew up going to music festivals, like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival,” Friendly says. “[We’re] trying to bring some of what Lollapalooza brings to Chicago or Austin City Limits brings to Austin. We wanted to highlight DC. It’s a real destination for music.”

Friendly adds that the DC music scene has been alive and well for a long time, citing the city’s contributions to the punk scene and the birthplace of go-go music. With that in mind, the All Things Go founders always pay close attention to musicians cutting their teeth in the area. Among this year’s local acts are FootsXColes, Cautious Clay – a Brooklyn transplant who moved here to attend George Washington University – and the now New York-based OSHUN.

But highlighting DC as a music destination goes beyond drawing in famous performers for the festival. As All Things Go continues to grow with innovation and inclusion, Friendly knows there will always be room for improvement.

“We always joke that the first year we made 100 mistakes, and we fixed 90 of them and created 20. There’s just a constant back-and-forth. What’s been great for us is trying to find our way to get it perfect. We’re not there yet, but I just love seeing these fans buy tickets on the first day who I recognize and who were there [from] day one. Slowly seeing the audience build organically and [hearing] people say ‘Hey, I don’t know who [this artist] is, but I trust you guys.’  That feeling is why we do this.”

Don’t miss the 2018 All Things Go Fall Classic from Saturday, October 6 to Sunday, October 7 at Union Market. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased at www.allthingsgofallclassic.com.

Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; 888-512-7469; www.allthingsgofallclassic.com