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Down In The Reeds Brings Healing and Hope Through Music

DC’s newest music festival is more than simply a music festival. The word “festival” itself may conjure images of dancing, drinking and reveling with music in the background – and that’s all well and good. But what if there was a way to do this and explore more of why music serves as the backdrop for these joyous connections?

Enter Down in the Reeds, taking place on Saturday, October 19 at The Parks at Walter Reed. You’ll surely hear great music at this inaugural event, but chances are you’ll be deeply moved to explore more of the ways music positively impacts the human condition.

“I have been a huge believer in the healing power of music from my own personal experiences, but I also felt that embracing the topic of healing through music involved too much of a focus on spirituality,” explains Chris Naoum, co-organizer of the festival and founder of DC music initiative Listen Local First. “From speaking to folks, I realized that healing through music is as much spiritual as communal and all experiences are unique to oneself. That understanding really helped push the theme of this festival out into the open.”

Naoum and his partners grouped with Grammy winner Dom Flemons, formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops and perhaps best known as “The American Songster,” to help bring this powerful concept to fruition. Though Flemons won’t be performing at the festival, he’s serving as co-organizer and using what he calls his American Songster stamp, which places emphasis on the communal connection music has among people from all walks of life.

“Healing was the key thing Chris explained to me as being the goal for the festival, which was something a little bit different than I was used to,” Flemons explains. “Most of the time, music festivals are for a good time, a party, for everyone to just enjoy themselves over the weekend. But with this festival, they’re really trying to make an effort to put out some positive energy and create a positive space that will hopefully reverberate through the community.”

Of course, there will be performers sharing healing with festivalgoers just through their incredible talents. One such musician is Aaron Abernathy, a pianist and soul singer fully engaged in the DC music community. On each of his three studio albums, Abernathy deals with different forms of healing and growth, making the Cleveland native and Howard University graduate a natural fit to join the lineup of Down in the Reeds.

“I really pride myself and my band in bringing good energy and uplifting people through music,” Abernathy says of his slated performance at the festival. “I’m into that vibration – making people want to get up, dance, smile, see our energy and know that our energy will rub off. It’s always good to come back and give back to the community who gave me a start.”

More literal elements of healing are incorporated in Down in the Reed’s programming as well. Naoum and team tapped Artis Moon Amarché, known as the “Boundless Eclectic,” who passionately guides people to be empowered by their own growth and healing through multidisciplinary practices – music included.

“Music is everything,” Amarché says. “It has been part of the fabric of society I’m sure since early human existence. Music has the power to heal people, both on the physical and metaphysical level. I work with music and sound in an intuitive way. My sound baths are sort of like a concert you listen to laying down with your eyes closed, but there is more at work. Deep restoration and transformation take place during these sessions. Part of what I’m providing is a safe, held space for people to be with themselves, sometimes guided in specific reflection and contemplation.”

Amarché will open the main stage of the festival and bless it and the grounds in “a performance that combines music, performance art/movement, energy healing [Reiki], meditative vibes and ceremony.” She’ll also sell handmade art and jewelry alongside daughter Adobe and offer 15-minute Reiki sessions throughout the day.

No matter how participants connect to music as a powerful source of peace and healing, they all add to the tapestry of creativity that will unfold at this new and innovative festival. Each person who elects to come will also bring their own intimate connection to music with them, adding to the festival experience and hopefully deepening their relationship with music in the process.

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

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

Aaron Abernathy: www.aaronabernathy.com
Artis Moon Amarché // The Boundless Eclectic: www.theboundlesslife.net
Chris Naoum // Listen Local First: www.listenlocalfirst.com
Dom Flemons // The American Songster: www.theamericansongster.com

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