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Iron Cages // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

With “Present Tense,” Photographer Farrah Skeiky Brings DC’s Vibrant Music Scene to the Front

If you’ve been to a punk, DIY, or house show recently, you might have been in the midst of local creative and photographer Farrah Skeiky. Her list of accomplishments runs long, and the common thread between them all is a devotion and dedication to DC’s famed music scene as it currently exists. Born of a desire to share that this city is as vibrant as ever when it comes to music and creativity, Skeiky’s first solo exhibition, Present Tense, opens at Transformer on January 18. To get to the heart of her work, which is at once a celebration and a call to action, On Tap spoke to Skeiky about her process and the progress she hopes drawing attention to live music in the District will bring.

On Tap: Present Tense is your first solo exhibition, and on your site it said the exhibition aims to “fight… the notion that this section of DC counterculture exists solely in the past.” As a music photographer, when did you first catch wind that there was an idea that counterculture was a thing of the past?
Farrah Skeiky: I love shooting all kinds of music. One of my favorite shows I shot this year was Lizzo. In 2018 I shot Blood Orange – obviously there’s a lot of national acts that I really, really love. But people kind of know and herald DC as a very important place to when it comes to music, but people really talk about it in the past tense, right? They talked about Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Brains – all important bands. I’m never going to disagree about that.

And their contribution to music is obviously great, especially in punk music and the culture around it. Conversations about straight edge, veganism, benefit shows – all that stuff is really important, but it’s still going and it never really stopped. So for me, highlighting the bands and the people that are part of the present tense, where it gets its name from – this concept of people talking about DC as a place that used to have really cool bands and used to have really cool shows. And I was standing there talking to people who are saying these things, and I’m thinking, “But I was just at a great show last night, where three out of the four bands were local bands that are currently active or are in all these big bands currently playing reunions.”

I hate when people talk about this place in the past tense, when I’m in the middle of it and it’s active and it’s vibrant and people from all over the city bring all sorts of different stuff to the table. 

OT: What proved, to you personally, that it was alive and well? Was it a specific moment or a culmination of your experiences?
FS: [It] as kind of just a culmination [of everything]. I moved from Seattle to the Maryland suburbs [when] I was 15 and that’s not a fun move, to go from a very cool city to the suburbs. You’re kind of just getting into who you are and how you can use the world around you at that age. [So I] moved across the country, from one Washington to another. I really was not excited, but knowing that DC had this rich history that was still very much active, with really great independent music shows, all ages [and] culture, which is not common in a lot of cities – that was really important to me.

I feel like I watched it from afar, just like a lot of other people do in this country who are excited about punk music, but you don’t always realize it when you get there and [can] be part of it. So it wasn’t one specific [moment]. I think it was just, I realized I was going to more and more local shows and I was really excited about all of these local bands and what they were doing and I’m like, “well these are the bands I want to be taking more photos of.”

OT: Did you get exposed to photography and the local scene as a teenager in the suburbs of Maryland or was that something that happened as your career progressed?
FS: I never really thought that photography would play such a large part in my life. I got a camera when I was 16. I got my Canon Rebel XS. I was already engaged with art in school and playing music. I’ve played in jazz band and orchestra, and I thought that that was going to be how I engaged with music, by playing it in that class. It wasn’t really until my friends’ bands were playing something like the rec center or in a battle the bands [where] I was like, “I’ll bring my camera,” and or my friends said, “It would be cool if you brought your camera.” Live photos were always more interesting to me than any still one. I can capture people in that emotion and kind of show you how it felt to be there, rather than just tell you – I’m not good at words. I would rather show you how it felt to be there than tell you. That’s what I got really excited about. So it was probably 17 or 18 when I really started becoming excited about music photography.

OT: I’m guessing you had a rather large amount of photos to sift through for inclusion in this exhibition what criteria did you apply to capture this goal?
FS: It’s really hard because there’s a Present Tense book that’s coming out in February and that’s a couple photos of…almost every DC the band I’ve captured over the last five or six years. And that’s that book. The show was really hard, because it’s 16 pieces, I didn’t want to repeat bands and I wanted to get kind of a wide range. There are some from 2015 and 2017, and the most recent photo is from about three months ago. 

I didn’t want it to just be hardcore bands, and didn’t want it to just be photos of singers, because it’s very easy to catch [them] because they’re moving around the most. I tried to shoot photos of every member of the band when I’m shooting a show, so everybody has a photo of themselves. There’s also like, not just straight forward hardcore punk bands in there, but also bands that are more DIY or indie rock as well.

I wanted a little bit of genre diversity and having a kind of range. This isn’t just photos from 2019, there are photos from like 2015, when I really started shooting punk in DC more seriously. Before I was doing that, I was on and off the house photographer rotation for IMP for a long time and I kind of consciously made the decision to say, “Okay, I’m going to step back from that a little bit and focus more on local bands.” 

OT: Any particular favorites that are part of the exhibition you’d like to share?
FS: There’s kind of a lead photo that I have as part of this show. I think it was at Damaged City Fest, of this band called Sem Hastro. So in the photo, the one guy is choking the other guy. I love that photo because I feel like it’s a great little encapsulation of what DC punk and DIY has been in the past few years. Both of those people in the photo came to DC from other countries and participated in the punk culture here. 

Sem Hastro // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

So [in the photo,] the one doing the choking came from Japan was studying art at the Corcoran for four years. His band is still active, on and off, where he still lives in Japan, but he comes back to DC when they tour the States. The person singing came to DC because DC punk bands were playing in Brazil, and kind of made this super group of some of the Brazilian punks and some of the DC punks. The transient nature of DC is sometimes not the worst thing in the world. All these bands still have an impact here, these people still have an impact here. They’re still part of it, even though they’ve gone back to Brazil to Japan. They still made their mark and their contribution to it, so that’s one of my favorites. 

There’s also one crowd photo in there that I really love. My roommate is in it, and everybody’s expressions were just very sincere. Some of them are a little bit goofy. We’ve all had photos where we’re like,  “Damn, that’s what I looked like at that show? That’s the face I was making?” and there’s humor in it. Like you can’t take yourself super seriously in that moment when you look ridiculous.

OT: What do you hope those who view your exhibition gain from it?
FS: I want people to know that this is something happening right now. When people have this idea that punk and DIY is something that used to happen here, [and] when people were making important decisions about development and changing neighborhoods and changing venues and people access spaces and content, what your barrier of entry is, they’re not considering [music] because they’ve got it in their heads that it used to happen here. If it doesn’t happen anymore, they’re not making room for it. The reason that scenes and communities – two different things – can struggle in a city like DC is because they’re not getting enough support because they’re not being taken seriously.

That’s a big part of it. Smaller venues close, bigger developers come in, and the nature of it changes who’s controlling the booking of bands in the city. A lot of stuff is happening. Even smaller venues will book through Live Nation, which is so trippy to me. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of this, that means that a lot of local folks who have been here and are actively doing this thing [and] are left out of the conversation, because people are not doing their homework and realizing these people exist.

It’s hard, and we kind of need to shout our existence a little bit more so that we can maybe be part of this conversation, so we’re not constantly looking for a space and not having space to make things happen. We’re also like resilient folks. So if the show needs to happen in a house, our show needs to happen in a house. We’ll figure it out. We’re not gonna stop doing what we’re doing just because the new development and new DC isn’t making way for us. We’ll find a way. But wouldn’t it be cool if people knew we were here and supported our existence?

Present Tense runs through February 29 at Transformer, Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6 p.m. and by appointment. Skeiky’s work featured in the show is also up for sale. Her book Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now will be released on February 22. For more on the exhibition and its programming, visit here.

Transformer: 1404 P St. NW, DC; www.transformerdc.org

AYO on left // Photo: Jim Saah

AYO Gets Help And Opportunity At Strathmore With AIR

AYO needed help. That’s the first thing she mentions when discussing her recent inclusion as one of Strathmore’s Artist in Residence (AIR). The program is intended to help them gain opportunities to perform, create and teach workshops at the Bethesda-based arts center.

Being an independent artist while juggling an upcoming EP, singles and performances is a full time job, and if you couple that with limited resources, the life can seem daunting. For a majority of her early life, AYO never even considered the path of a full-time musician, citing that she enrolled at Howard University to study Biology. Despite this, her undeniable talent behind a microphone coupled with her messages of empowerment have made her an artist to watch in the DC area.

At 7:30 p.m. on January 15 and January 29, AYO will take the Strathmore stage with two unique concerts. Before she performs at The Mansion, we got to talk to the artist about the life of a musician, AIR and writing music that resonates.

OT: What made you want to get involved with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program?
AYO: I needed help, that’s what. I needed help.  This program keeps stretching me, and it’s crazy how much help I didn’t know I needed. Creating a strong email list is something that seems common sense, but it wasn’t to me. Being your own music director or pitching yourself to venues. It’s been a lot of things, and it’s forced me to do those things. It’s classes: It’s all six of us in the room with [AIR director Betty Scott]  and one of her assistants and aids, and a presenter. We ask as many questions as we want. For example, we had a grant writing class, and I didn’t know all this money was available for people like me.

OT: What was your reaction when you found out?
AYO:
I screamed when I found out, just YAY, you know. I was really really excited and I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. I was just really honored, and I didn’t know what to expect.

OT: Obviously the AIR participants are all from different backgrounds, what’s it like getting to know your contemporaries from different genres? 
AYO: Yeah, it’s definitely been very encouraging to see, to feel this much support in this music thing. To know that it’s possible to know that other people are on this journey with me. It can feel very alone. Like you’re out here alone trying to make this ting work, to know that other people are working toward the same thing in other genres is really inspiring.

OT: How did your musical journey start? How did you start singing?
AYO: I lived in Nigeria, from five to 11, and my babysitter used to sing songs with me. She heard me sing, and realized oh you have a nice voice. She was also the director of our Youth choir at our church, and she would give me little solos and stuff like that. 

OT: From there, what kind of involvement did you have with music and singing?
AYO: I remember singing a lot of church music, a lot of leading worship. Didn’t really sing anything outside of church. I did a couple of talent shows. My dad listened to a lot of Sunny Adaye, Nigerian artists and afro beats and stuff like that. 

OT: You’re sound is often listed under the umbrella category of pop, so what’s your relationship like with that term?
AYO: For me, pop music happened when I was in high school. I used to go on Limewire and Frost something, all of those ripped music sites, I would go on there and type in artists. At the time I loved Maroon 5, and then I listened to Coldplay, then Plain White Ts. I loved the way those songs made me feel and how they would build. I loved Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I was obsessed with Pink and Katy Perry. I loved big pop songs, those go to another place type pop songs. Coldplay was really good at that. I loved Journey, a lot of these songs I would hear on the show Glee, and I would go look at it from there. 

OT: Were you writing your own “big” pop songs at the time?
AYO: There’s stuff I wrote my senior year at high school, [and] I’m not saying I was a bad writer, but I definitely wrote different. My freshman year of high school, I would write melodies and I would play the piano by ear. I would just play the harmonies I heard in my head. That made songwriting slow for me, versus now, I can hear a melody in my head and build songs fairly quickly.

OT: What changed about your song writing? Was it the inclusion of the piano as a tool?
AYO: Oh absolutely, for me, it was very much hand in hand. I started playing piano when I was five, but I didn’t really do anything. The guy would try to teach me, and I would run around. In high school, my mom would make us sing worship at night, and I would play different chords on the piano. I tested into the remedial music course in college, and I took classical and jazz piano, and I practiced my butt off and I started to see a difference in my writing. It was really playing piano and theory that fueled me as a writer.

OT: Your music is extremely emotional, which makes sense because of your church backgrounds. Where you always writing songs like this?
AYO: I was a sad child. I wrote about my parents’ divorce, I wrote about being alone a lot. I wrote about liking people, crushes. So yeah. It definitely was there, I wrote about everything I experienced. I basically loved seeing people’s stories and having the chance to tell them. It was very unrefined, when I was raped in college, it took me six years to write about it, but I did. The struggle with depression and anxieties, seeing what children in Baltimore went through when I was teaching them. Despite that, I don’t want the music to sound depressed, or have that vibe. 

OT: How do you strike that balance during the construction process?
AYO: Most of the time I have a theme. If I’m feeling a certain type of way. With my single “Direction,” I remember really liking this guy and I didn’t want to be the one to approach him, I wanted him to approach me. [So], what kind of chord would make it seem like I was moving in a direction? I also thought about what artist I wanted to influence the song, so I used Earth, Wind and Fire and early Michael Jackson. [When] I wanted to write a Christmas song [“Direction”], I love Jazz music, and I wanted to use Nat King Cole, he used a lot of two-five-ones and key changes, and I figured out what sounded Christmas-y, and wrote the lyrics according to that. That’s kind of my process.

OT: You have several concerts coming up, an acoustic performance on January 15 and a larger pop show on January 29, what should people know about those showcases?
AYO: So, the first one couple of concerts is very intimate, very singer songwriter type of vibes. The second one is a very pop show, with huge pop songs, such as “Don’t Stop Believing.” My music is very uplifting and very fun, but it’ll make you think. It’ll make you think about those experiences that you have in life. That what my music will do. 

AYO’s performances on January 15 and January 29, tickets $25. For more information, click here. For links to her music, click here.

The Music Center At Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

Photos: courtesy of Ian McLeod

Scoring Stories: DC’s Cleod9 Music

Ian McLeod, a DC native, grew up with a strong passion for music. However, his path diverged when he took an advertisement job. After a year of working in an advertising position, McLeod left and founded Cleod9 Music, where he could produce and compose music for films and storytelling. McLeod’s goal is to help clients tell their stories. 

Cleod9 Music provides filmmakers, businesses, non-profits and advertisement agents with custom music and scores. The team at Cleod9 recently finished scoring Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait, and the film won an Audience Award for the Documentary Feature category in the Austin Film Festival. They have also scored content for brands like REI and Nikon. 

McLeod’s work breathes creativity. When he worked under a larger corporate umbrella, he found his talent constrained. He was charged with choosing music that productions would use, but found the process difficult. He described the procedure as time consuming and cold. 

“This is all how Cleod9 started,”  McLeod explains. “Music was always my side hustle. Throughout college, throughout high school I grew up playing jazz in the city of DC. When you’re playing in those clubs, you’re not just playing jazz; you’re playing funk, go-go, hip hop and an array of different music. So, I quickly realized that I wanted to record that music and I started making beats. So, I actually sold hip hop beats to artists in high school. That’s how I paid my way through summers. And I continued that side hustle in college.”

After a year, McLeod left and started his own company, which is different from competitors because it is a relationship-driven business. McLeod knew how to make music, but he needed to make a mark for himself in the industry. 

“I did not even know how to start a company,” he says. “I actually took the first couple of months when I left my job, and I got together with probably 20 different business owners. I just grabbed coffee with them, and I picked their brain on how they started their companies. I just wanted to learn.”

A relationship-driven company means that the work creates deeper connections. Cleod9 Music is designed this way so clients know they can depend on the service for more than quality work. McLeod hopes to develop connections with even more talented filmmakers and big feature films.

“Our business structure is a good one because we are able to tackle a steady stream of commercial work, which keeps our lights on,” he says. “We want to sink our teeth into longer format storytelling. Like short-documentaries, long form-documentaries [and] feature films, because it really gives us the freedom to create something musically and to tell a story musically.” 

Music and scoring can make a commercial or video come to life. It adds another dimension to the medium, and adds a texture that contributes to the story. There are more than 500 original songs in the Cleod9 library, and McLeod’s team adds new music following every project. The deep library allows them to complete lower budget projects on a fast turnaround, which enables McLeod and his team to give bigger projects more time and attention. Notably, the process helps them work with first-time filmmakers. 

“Our goal is to grow our library,” he says. “We want to continuously update it with new music, and we want it to be a go-to resource for filmmakers, especially the DC area.”

Overall, McLeod is drawing attention to the broad spectrum of the DC music scene. His return to his roots, and the success of his company, shows his creative talent for business and for music. McLeod’s story is a story of determination, creativity and change.

 “DC is an underrated music scene,” McLeod says. “It just is. It is not considered a major hub like New York, LA, Nashville or even Austin. But, I think that there is a growing movement here, not just on the performance side, but on the composing side. Film making is a big industry, and it is really starting to grow in the city. And we are trying to help build that movement too. And we just wanted to be a go-to music source for all those filmmakers.” 

To learn more about Ian McLeod and Cleod9 Music, visit www.cleod9music.com.

Shea Van Horn as Summer Camp // Photo: Jason Tucker

Summer Camp Rings In The Raging ‘20s with BENT

A new decade is upon us and the start of 2020 means we can channel (even more than we already do) the infamous Roaring ‘20s, where fashion was iconic and partying wasn’t only a way of life, but a risky thrill (thanks Prohibition). Celebrating the new decade with similar theatricality, this Saturday 9:30 Club will host BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s

With just one year under their belt, 9:30 Club’s quarterly BENT parties have increased in popularity and scope with each event, consistently filling and transforming the venue in new and exciting ways. With a focus on celebrating LGBTQ entertainment, the quarterly parties for 2020 will focus on different decades from the 20th century, including 1970s disco, 1980s Halloween, PRIDE and this weekend’s Raging ‘20s.

BENT will be hosted by Pussy Noir and has a long list of entertainers including DJ L Stackz, Baronhawk Poitier, Lemz vs. Tezrah, Sean Morris, Baby and Majic Dyke. Also, DC DJ Shea Van Horn’s drag persona Summer Camp will debut on the 9:30 Club stage.

“Nightlife does shift and evolve, and some of the things that have changed in the last couple of years are for the better and I think that BENT is a good example of how things have changed to be more inclusive,” Van Horn says. “It’s a mix of DJs and performers and go-go dancers, and I think they’ve done a really great job of being more aware of a fuller queer community.”

Van Horn has long been a staple of the DC LGBTQ entertainment scene says Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director for I.M.P. Back in 2005, he, Chris Farris and Karl Jones created the non-profit, queer performance group CRACK with the goal of providing a space for local performers and artists who fell through the “cracks” of more traditional DC venues. Van Horn also co-produced and co-hosted Pride dance party MIXTAPE at 9:30 Club with DJ Matt Bailer since 2008.

After many years performing and DJing in DC, Van Horn moved to India with his husband and planned to take a hiatus there. His break lasted for about a year, but eventually he met local LGBTQ performers and promoters and dabbled in performing again. Now back in the District after more than two years, BENT’s Raging ‘20s party is more than a debut for Summer Camp; it’s also a return to the DC entertainment scene for Van Horn.

“Each time I get on the stage it still feels incredible and humbling and exciting to be on the same stage that idols of mine have also been on,” Van Horn says, having DJed as himself at 9:30 Club for MIXTAPE numerous times. 

As for it being Summer Camp’s first time at the venue, it will be special Van Horn says, especially as Camp has never performed in front of 1,200 people before. Playing on the theme, Van Horn is looking to bring an old Hollywood vibe to Camp’s performance, and may include visuals as well.

Van Horn adds that the 9:30 crew, especially BENT co-creator Steve Lemmerman, have done a great job in the way they’ve subtly but effectively changed the venue for each party, not just the décor but the energy of the room as well.

“I think they’ve done a really effective job at creating a night that has evolved and built off of the alternative, queer scene in DC over the last decade, but just seems like the next level, the next sort of iteration [of the scene],” Van Horn says.

Schaefer also highlights the shift in energy of 9:30 during BENT parties, saying you can feel the close-knit ties as you wander through the crowd.

“We hear a lot from friends that are in different cities across the country that are talking about BENT, and that’s something that is really flattering and encouraging,” Schaefer says. “What I would say is probably the most gratifying aspect of it isn’t just the fact that it sells out each time, but the feel once you walk in, and that really is a sense of community.”

Don your best flapper dresses and pinstripe suits and head to 9:30 Club on Saturday, January 4 for BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s. The doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets $20 and are going fast. For more information, visit www.930.com.

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

Photo: courtesy of Drew Gibson

Virginia Native Drew Gibson Returns To Pearl Street

When Richmond native Drew Gibson released his debut album Letterbox in 2007, the singer/songwriter quickly developed a strong local following, with songs that harkened back to American days of country-blues and songwriters of yesteryear.  

By 2015, now living in Sterling, VA, Gibson came out with the critically acclaimed 1532, his third album, one that had a theme of family. Dedicated to his dad, who passed away a few years prior, the recording included tales of Gibson’s family beginning with its roots in Scotland.

After the success of his first concept album, Gibson returned to the format for his latest release, Shipbuilder, which came out in 2019, and carries a theme of water throughout.

“I felt that having a concept drew people in to my prior record, and it made it more special to have a theme,” he says. “As successful as that record was, I was really worried about how to follow that up because it was so personal. Over the course of time, I developed the theme about water metaphorically talking about the ups and downs of life.”

He considers Shipbuilder his best work to date and is happy his fans are enjoying it just as much as 1532

On January 5, Gibson will be performing a free show at Pearl Street Warehouse located on DC’s District Wharf, one of his favorite venues.

“It’s a full band show and we’ll be playing stuff across all four of my records,” Gibson says. “It will be a little less emphasis on just the new one, and really spanning equally among all four.”

Playing live is always an exciting time for the singer, and he’s happy to be kicking off the new year with this intimate show at a time when the band is at the best it’s ever been.

“Instrumentally, we can all breathe a little bit with expansion of solos and the night is going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “These are some of the best musicians in not only DC, but even on the entire coast.”

Gibson knew at a young age that he wanted to be a musician. Although he wasn’t a fan of his four years of piano lessons, once he found a guitar in his home, he taught himself how to play and started a band with friends. 

“As you start to feel good about something, it breathes your drive to do it,” he says. “I started writing songs and went out solo in college. Throughout my life, I had mini-successes that have kept me going, and I feel blessed that people are enjoying my albums and I get good reviews.”

Being heard wasn’t always easy. Although it was easy to get songs online, because so many others are doing that as well, attracting a following took some time. Gibson built that up by playing live shows mostly in the DMV at places like Jammin Java, the Birchmere and of course, Pearl Street. 

In 2020, Gibson hopes to release a live recording and will continue touring and playing throughout the area.

“Being on stage is one of the most enjoyable things I can do you just get that chill,” Gibson says. “I get it from feeding off of other guys in the band and hearing how they attack a solo. And I love communicating with an audience. I just enjoy sharing my music.”

Drew Gibson will perform at Pearl Street Warehouse at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 5. Admission is free. For more information about the artist, click here.

Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; 202-380-9620; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

Photo: courtesy of The Roots

The Roots Take Center Stage At Kennedy Center

A decade ago, The Roots were already one of the most dynamic and potent bands in the world; then they got the call that made them one of the most popular. If you’ve heard of “The Legendary Roots Crew” from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you probably recognize them as the house band for Late Night and now The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The group – in an expanded form featuring more keyboards and percussion – excels at their on-air role, pulling out new walk-on music for each guest, playing along to numerous musical sketches, and sometimes going head to head with other rappers in “freestyle” games. It’s this last category of sketches that reveal a sliver of the group’s full potential as frontman and emcee Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter weaves dense rhymes that flow like warm honey.

All of that late-night talk show band workhorse talent comes from The Roots’ long years on the road and deep study of creating one of the most fulfilling live experiences in hip-hop. Live sets often reflect some of the hits from the group’s 11 studio albums – including the monumental breakthrough album Things Fall Apart – and the deep jazz, classic soul and R&B roots that fuel the symphony that surrounds Black Thoughts’ raps. In fact, the group also digs into some of the sounds that inspired them, including classic hip-hop tracks like Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work,” R&B party anthems like Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and heavily-sampled, well-beloved soul numbers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” The Roots’ live set can be like a jazz show in that way, a spontaneous, dynamic mix of music; with Black Thought and drummer Questlove’s propulsive attack pushing you out of your seat.

After a decade playing it up on Fallon’s shows, releasing their own studio projects and full collaboration albums with the likes of John Legend and Elvis Costello, and recording one of the most popular NPR Tiny Desk concerts with neo-soul powerhouse Bilal, The Roots cap off the 2010s with their first headlining show at the Kennedy Center. The group will take over the Concert Hall on December 29, turning the room that houses the National Symphony Orchestra into a South Philly house party for a pre-New Years blowout.

“Questlove and Black Thought are founding members of the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council,” Simone Eccleston, Director of Hip Hop Culture at the Kennedy Center, reminds On Tap. “Therefore, having The Roots at the Center reflects a natural progression in our relationship with them.”

Historically, The Roots have graced DC with a show or two this time of year and have played at the Kennedy Center before as part of tributes, honors shows and other special programs, but this will be the first time the group takes center stage at that great temple to the arts. This show also marks the last show of the year for the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop programming, which had a remarkable second year of events and performances, including notable headlining sets by De La Soul, Robert Glasper, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Flying Lotus, as part of the REACH opening festival in September.

The Roots continues the line of performers embodying the highest principles of the art of hip-hop, something that is at the core of all the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop program.

“It is important to have artists like The Roots at the Kennedy Center because they reflect the very best of who we are as a culture,” says Eccleston. “Their live performance is a masterclass in musicianship, showmanship and lyricism. They have helped to shape and redefine the American canon so it’s only fitting that they would perform at the nation’s performing arts center.”

The Roots went national at the beginning of the decade, and it’s fitting that they end it at one of the biggest stage’s in the nation’s capital.

For more information about The Roots or their performance at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.reach.kennedy-center.org

Best of 2019: Our Staff’s Favorite Music, Memes, Sports Moments and More

2019 was a long year. So many things happened. TOO many things happened, if you ask me. Let’s all slow down in 2020. With new memes taking over the Twittersphere every day, history-making sports moments, and more binge watchable shows than ever, it can be hard to round up your year in retrospect. To help jog our collective memories, On Tap and Fray staff reflected on their favorite things that happened this year, so you can come with us on this journey of reflection on this wild ride of a year.


Monica Alford, Managing Editor

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
I like old things.

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
See above.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
There’s too many to name but at this moment, the two that stand out are Bloc Party at The Anthem (nostalgic vibes and adorable concertgoers) and Beck // Cage The Elephant at Merriweather (high production value, insane amount of talent onstage, epic thunderstorm).

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Favorite 2019 sports moment?
I don’t know much about sport ball but I was very proud of the USWNT win.

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Thamee and Kith/Kin for incredible meals // experiences (Thamee for authentic cuisine and mom-and-pop feel, Kith/Kin for insanely good flavors and the personal touch of Chef Kwame chatting with and checking on his guests).

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Too many to name but off of the top of my head, Mrs. Fletcher (mini-series) on HBO was phenomenal.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Jojo Rabbit because it was surprising, delightful and so tastefully done.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
The OT team joining the Fray family and continuing to kick ass in media and across departments.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Being acquired by and becoming part of the Fray family (weird = fantastic in this instance!)

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Anything M.K. sends me (help me, I’m old!)

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
The new look and vibe of our print and digital media, coming in hot in 2020 and continuing to kick ass!


Maggie Awad, Marketing Director

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Freaking Out,” by ARIZONA and then every remix since, including Matoma.

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?

IDK, I definitely didn’t have a big music year in 2019.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?

ARIZONA at 9:30 Club, while the venue is always perfect, the band just gave the performance of their life. They went hard in the paint and it was hands down the best gig of 2019 for me.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?

Nationals winning the World Series!

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Ugh, I’m hesitant to share this gem, but then also feel obligated to support this business. I love Benitos Place in Shaw. It’s not new, it’s not fancy, but damn is it good. It’s a little Honduran spot with the best pupusas, tacos and carne asada platter. In the summer, you can sit outside on their picnic table and sip margs in cactus glasses. CACTUS GLASSES. Need I say more?

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What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Schitt’s Creek or Kim’s Convenience – those Canadians kill it.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Does every Lifetime, Hulu, Netflix, Hallmark Christmas movie count?

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
I MET KANYE WEST AND NEVER GONNA FAIL! I also joined the Fray team AND I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc!

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Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Can’t think of anything weird, but would like to shout out the best book of 2019 for me was a tie between Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl and American Royals by Katharine McGee. Entirely different genres and love them for different reasons.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Nancy Pelosi clapping, Ok Boomer, I don’t know who needs to hear this but, I’m gonna tell my kids, Kombucha Girl.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
More traveling, more reading, more of everything. Oh and The Killers on tour again with a new album.


Sandrika Berthias, Event Manager

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Sexy Tropicale” by Claudio Capeo. I discovered this new artist from a podcast and I really love his style.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Mana at Eagle Bank Arena. Always a great show, great songs, great ambiance.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
U.S. won the women’s soccer World Cup.

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What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Money Heist.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
I need to catch up on the movies but I went to see Abominable with my son. It was a very cute movie [for] kids and adults. We both cried.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Climbed Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala, its elevation is 13,045 feet.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Realizing I am an empath. I physically feel people’s emotions. Not easy, but the realization of it changed my life.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Make sure to be 100 percent present with my family and friends. Continue my personal and professional development to be the best person I can be.


Rhiannon Bunek, Permit Administrator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Tebrikler” by Merve Özbey

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Manga by Mayra Andrade – Chill and unique vibe that’s perfect for the work day.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
David Helfgott at Hagia Irene in Istanbul. The venue is an ancient Byzantine Church with amazing acoustics and lighting. The whole atmosphere was both spiritual and eerie.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
A February match between Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş (our rival), where we were behind but rallied in the last half to tie the score.

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Nothing beats fresh figs in the summer in Turkey!

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Jack Ryan

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Defiance (not new, but watched it on Netflix this year). It’s based on an incredible true story that I had never heard of before.

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Moving half-way across the world and getting settled in DC!

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
A toss-up between finding a small scorpion in my kitchen and witnessing burger restaurants giving their customers black gloves to wear while they eat. Weird.

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Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Baby Yoda.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Exploring DC!


Carter Hering, Operations Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“7 Rings” by Ariana Grande. Made me want to become more of a boss ass bitch.

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend. It hit all the notes for me. So great to listen to.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
CJ Chenier at City Winery. Amazing New Orleans jazz and it was so fun all around.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Nats winning the WORLD SERIES

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Proper Burger at Dukes Grocery was the best burger I had all year. Holy cow was it good. The frozen rum and coke at Tiki TNT. We all are aware of my love for Thrasher’s Rum. The spiced rum is just so good. Atlas Brewing Oktoberfest beer. Bad boy was so crisp and yummy.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Mindhunter was crazy good. Love the influence of David Fincher.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
I mean Avengers: Endgame was just a freakin’ blast. Going to the theater on my off day and watching it at a 10 a.m. showing was great. Rocketman was/is better than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Moving twice [and] getting a job here, then getting a promotion here at Fray.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Zion broke his shoe.

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Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
“What it do babyyy,” 30-50 feral hogs.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Going on a vacation to Scandinavia, getting in shape, finding out who Mr. Sandman truly is, trying new beers, possibly going to a concert with M.K.


Erin Hessler, Senior Marketing Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Rollercoaster” by Jonas Brothers

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Heard It In A Past Life by Maggie Rogers. I saw her at All Things Go in 2018 and since then it’s been so fun watching her take the world by storm. I even bought it on cassette tape because I drive a really old car that can still play it!

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Kacey Musgraves’ Oh What A World tour. I saw it THREE times. First, at The Anthem in January, then at Red Rocks Amphitheater when I was on vacation in Colorado this summer, and finally at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for the final night because Maggie Rogers was there with her for one night only. Golden Hour was the Grammy Album at the Year, I don’t feel like I need to explain much more.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Washington Nationals winning the World Series!

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
The Medium Rare sandwich at Nationals Park. The sauce!

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What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
The Good Place or Love Island UK.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Captain Marvel. I watch most of the new movies I see on airplanes and I think that one was my favorite one I remember seeing.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
I decided a few years ago to travel to at least one new country every year and this year I went to two! Mexico and Iceland. I also got to return to Canada.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Seeing the Washington Nationals win the World Series.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
The sentences that started with “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…”

photo: knowyourmeme.com


Julia Goldberg, Graphic Designer

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran and Justin Beiber.

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!. The album provided comfort at the end of a long day. Also enjoy listening to it when i’m in the art zone // sketching and whatnot.

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Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Beck, at Merriweather was pretty exciting. First off, I grew up listening, so it was a real treat to see him live. Also, it was the dead middle of summer and there was a torrential downpour, so everyone was just toughing it out in the storm as Beck performed. It was awesome.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
I’m not a big sports person but the women’s soccer team winning the world cup was pretty exciting. Right up there with the Nats winning the World Series.

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Hm, this is a tough one. There is a local wine restaurant by me in Arlington called Verre Wine that my best friend and I tried after the movies. Hands down, best bruschetta I’ve had in my life. We almost ordered every kind on the menu, and there are a lot.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Big Little Lies.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
I don’t really see movies, but I have a lot of catching up to do. Pretty sure I saw two movies this year in theaters, Hustlers and Ford vs. Ferrari. Both were pretty good, and based on true stories.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Probably moving out and living on my own. Jumping out of a plane was pretty cool too.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Cannot think of anything so I guess that means if something weird happened, it probably wasn’t that weird or I have a terrible memory…or I just live a very normal non-weird life.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
I’m gonna tell my kids…

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Something weird to happen.


Joe Jasper, Events Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
Tones & I – “Dance Monkey”

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier, because I waited five years for this album and it didn’t disappoint at all, every single song is amazing. A whole mood.

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Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Brockhampton at The Anthem. The crowd was amazing, it was not stop jumping from the second they came on until the second they left.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Nats winning the World Series!!! Or Manchester United beating Tottenham and Manchester City in the same week.

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Some delicious wines at the DC Wine Walk!!!

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Sex Education or Russian Doll, both were amazing.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Avengers: Endgame was everything it had been hyped up to be for years, I also really enjoyed Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, because I was sitting on the edge of my seat for the whole movie and there was so much build for such an amazing climax, it was awesome.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Graduating college or starting to work at Fray!

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Someone climbed in through my window while I was sleeping, that was weird.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
The meme about how Gen Z’s love stupid memes or “Oh God he’s wearing airpods”

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Getting older, wiser, and making new memories! Also a Kendrick Lamar album 🤞🤞🤞


Trent Johnson, Assistant Editor

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
I don’t know…F**k it, “Old Town Road.”

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Favorite: Atlanta Millionaires Club by Faye Webster // Least Favorite: Jesus Is King by Kanye West

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
My favorite teams are generally disappointing from a championship perspective. That being said, probably James Harden’s streak of 35+ point games, because all the haters on Twitter cried about it for months.

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Kith/Kin at the Wharf. It was amazing because it tasted great; I’m not a food critic.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
The answer is probably still Game of Thrones, but the last season was trash. Justice for Dany and justice for Jon actually having speaking lines beyond a few phrases. A real shame for all parties involved.

Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
I mean it’s Avengers: Endgame. I’m not sure any other movie has been that hyped or anticipated since Star Wars: Force Awakens in 2015. The build up was crazy, the payoff was crazy and it’s a three hour finale of one of the longest serialized stories in movie history. Not to mention the memes like Daddy Thanos and I Love You 3000.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
I hate questions like this because I don’t structure things in a yearly way, but I guess interviewing Kwame Onwuachi was a cool experience because it felt like he blew up on a national level like two months after we spoke. Also, talking to Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt fun for me because I love their moody music.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Probably talking about the universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
I really like saying “twenty-twenty,” so probably that. Saying “twenty-nineteen” was a real hassle IMO.


M.K. Koszycki, Editorial Assistant

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“True Blue” by Mark Ronson feat. Angel Olsen. Sad music you can still dance to is kind of my thing.

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow. She’s an incredible human and musician and this whole record was beautiful and hopeful and all the best things. In a close second and third would be I Am Easy to Find by The National and Reward by Cate Le Bon.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Beach House’s homecoming show at The Hippodrome in Baltimore. The venue was ornate and formal and such a cool place to have a visually stunning dream pop show. Also Bombay Bicycle Club’s first post-hiatus DC show, and The National at The Anthem.

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Favorite 2019 sports moment?
The US dominating at the Women’s World Cup, once again. On the subject of #girlpower, the Washington Mystics winning the title was cool to see. And how can I forget the Nats’ world series win? Still waiting on *someone* to get their curly W tattoo.

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
The Bee’s Knees cocktail at Bresca. Served in an actual bee-shaped glass. The most Instagrammable drink at the most Instagrammable restaurant that’s delicious to boot. I will also always love the chicken wings at Cafe Saint Ex. They’re the best.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Fleabag, the second best show to ever be on TV. It’s only second-best because Twin Peaks exists. Also Russian Doll on Netflix and season two of Big Little Lies because of Laura Dern and Laura Dern ONLY.

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Midsommar. Absolutely terrifying but still, in my opinion, has a happy ending. The first 15 minutes will be seared into my brain for the rest of my life. I also adored High Life and Honey Boy.

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Covering SXSW. It’s always been a dream of mine to go but I never thought I’d be able to cover it, too.

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Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
I finally met a baby goat in person. I love baby goats.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
BABY YODA. And Monique saying “I would like to see it.” There are many things I’d like to see so I say it ALL the time. Also “ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.”

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
All the new music that will be released and all the shows I’ll go to. I don’t know what they are yet but I’m already excited.


Travis LeFlore, Senior Staffing Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Goodbyes” – Post Malone (Young Thug)

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy…Outstanding album, best lyrical album this year.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Justin Timberlake’s Man of Woods Tour. Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC. First time seeing Justin in person, heck of a show!

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Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Coaching my first NCAA National Champion.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Godfather of Harlem.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Moving to DC, starting a new career, making it through first year of marriage.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Met my coworkers, Carter and Julian lol.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Jordan crying face.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
More Life!


Julian Makarechi, Player Services Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“I Said Me” – 2 Chainz

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Rap or Go to the League

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Electric Forrect Music Festival, Rothbury, Michigan. First 5 day camping festival. Phenominal

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Double Doink

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Pupusas at Gloria’s Pupuseria in Columbia Heights. First time eating them, so tasty.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Atypical

Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Knives Out. It was simply a great mystery movie.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Got my first job! Yay!

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
My mom (lives in Philly) has her own travel agency (check it out: DiscoverMyItaly.com!) that hosts tours in different parts of Italy and creates individual itineraries. By chance Carter’s parents (live in NC) were on my mom’s tour in Italy. None of us had any idea until our parent’s were talking about their children and it came up that both of them have kids who work at DC Fray.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Peloton Girl.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Trip To Italy


Kayla Marsh, Digital & Advertising Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
All My Favorite People by Maren Morris (feat. Brothers Osborne)

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
GIRL by Maren Morris because it was so empowering and inspiring with a hint of fun and flirtiness! What I aim to be ;)

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Brothers Osborne at The Anthem! It felt like an epic rock concert but in such an intimate space, I really connected with the artists throughout the entire show! Also – Kenny Chesney at The Anthem because I actually got there early and had a great spot in the crowd to actually see Kenny perform up-close.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
2019 WORLD SERIES CHAMPS BABY

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
I visited Ramen by Uzu quite a few times this year in Union Market. All hail the miso ramen, the perfect rainy day comfort food.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Dead To Me! Brilliant acting by Christina Applegate (who got a Golden Globe nom for it) and overall great dark humor for the witchy soul.

Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Toy Story 4 – this year a beloved new animated character was born. “FORKY” This one, like the other three, really tugged on my heartstrings.

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Getting approved for an AWESOME apartment in Alexandria that’s closer to work.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Got my car window smashed only for a thief to steal my whole makeup bag.

Favorite meme that ruled the internet this year?
All things Baby Yoda of course.

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Hitting the basketball courts with the Fray squad – it’s been a while!


Tom Roth, Senior Sales Executive

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“You need to Calm Down” – Taylor Swift

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
Whatever Taylor Swift Album that came from.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Kenny Chesney at The Anthem b/c it was the only concert I went to.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Nats winning the World Series and there wasn’t a close second.

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What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Succession, an amazing show. My favorite by far. True Detective, Big Little Lies, Dead to Me were all okay but not great.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Keeping my kids alive and happy. Winning multiple adult basketball leagues.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Robert bought our company and brought us down [editor’s note: up?] to DC. But it’s all working out for the best.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
The ladies yelling at the cat thing.

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Health, happiness, and lots of time with family and friends. And vacations to St. Johns, Cancun & Cape Cod.


Alison Schrank, JAX City Commissioner

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
Honestly my hype song for awhile was Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”

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Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Lil Wayne and Blink 182 at Daily’s Amphitheater. Everyone was unsure if Lil Wayne was going to show up because he had missed several other shows on the tour and after like 10 mins of just his band playing, he finally came out and I was completely surprised. I typically don’t listen to much rap music, but I went to a Lil Wayne concert in college so there was some nostalgia along with it as well. We also were in the pit and made it up to the second row and the environment was just so fun down there.

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Favorite 2019 sports moment?
USWNT winning the world cup!

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
I don’t know how to pick a best one. I love eating and drinking.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Game of Thrones, Shameless, Broad City, Schitt’s Creek

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Bought a house! Turned 30 (It was a big moment in my year haha)

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Honestly, how does one choose?

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
More vacations to new places!

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Kristen Sargent, Culture Contractor

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Higher Love”– Kygo, Whitney Houston. Cover of the 1986 classic, celebrated its 33rd anniversary in Jun 2019.

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
People still listen to whole albums? OMG, I’m the worst. I listen to whatever playlist Spotify recommends for me.

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
The NightOwls at Icenhauers in Austin, TX. Local cover band, SUPER high energy. They play every Sunday afternoon. Cool back yard/ back porch vibe. Everyone drinks sangria from mason jars. If you’re ever visiting Austin on a weekend, you’ve got to celebrate on Sunday afternoon with them!

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Kona Ironman Triathlon – World Championship

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Stranger Things and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Free Solo, brought so much public awareness to vanlife and rock climbing, two things very much a part of my life. It’s cool to hear people say “oh you have a van like that guy in Free Solo?”…the movie gave people a window in to my world. So cool!

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Completing my well-being and career coaching certifications.

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Campervanning trips around Maui Hawaii and South Island New Zealand!

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Katie Seaman, Events and Promotions Coordinator

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
“Movement” – Hozier

What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
The Big Day – Chance the Rapper. SO many great collabs – Ben Gibbard? C’mon!

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Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
“Come Through” at the Kennedy Center with TU Dance and Bon Iver. So moving. The dance and the music together was seriously incredible. I had a steady stream of tears the entire time.

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
WORLD SERIES WIN! Duh. It felt like my first time truly experiencing fandom.

Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
LUCKY BUNS. Everything they introduce is incredible. I am such a huge fan and I never shut up about it. I can’t wait to see what they do in 2020. EXTRA PUMPED FOR THE UNION MARKET POP-UP!!!

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What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
Schitt’s Creek!

Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
Midsommar was so good! Also, I loved/ still love Bird Box.

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Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Running into the DC Fray/ On Tap merger HEAD ON!

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
Traumatic experience at an *unnamed* local venue.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
Two words: Baby.Yoda. *sips bone broth*

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Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
SO excited for a new decade of growth and memories! Cheers y’all!


Anthony Towey, Head of Media Operations

What song released in 2019 defined your year?
Off the top of my head, I literally can’t name a song released this year besides “Baby Shark” (if that was even this year)

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What was your favorite album of 2019 and why?
See above 🤷🏻‍♂️

Best concert you attended this year? What was the venue? Why was it great?
Eric Church…first time seeing him since he’s been famous and first time ever going to The Anthem!

Favorite 2019 sports moment?
Mystics winning the title! Just kidding. Watching Lamar Jackson break the NFL every single game he plays.

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Best *local* thing you ate or drank this year? Where did you have it? Why was it amazing?
Harissa Carrots from Maydan. As someone who loves meat, it’s amazing how good these were. In the month long wait for our reservation, I never expected to walk out of dinner with a veggie being the most memorable thing I ate.

What was the most binge-worthy season of TV released this year, in your humble opinion?
I binge watch TV about as much as I listen to new music. The only show I binged watched this year was Succession, which came out in 2018 so maybe next year I’ll have a 2019 answer for you.

via GIPHY

Any favorite movies? Why does that movie stand out to you?
The Irishman. Great cast, story and all-around film that actually lived up to the hype. Also the Lion King because it’s my all-time favorite Disney movie.

via GIPHY

Biggest personal accomplishment of 2019?
Getting engaged! Also winning my first ever tournaments on DraftKings and FanDuel.

Weirdest thing that happened to you this year?
When we visited Madrid we unknowingly went on Day of Madrid (their Independence Day) so it was very cool being in the city for military parades and the other celebrations, but weird because it was completely unexpected by us and many of the local places we hoped to eat at were closed for the holiday.

Favorite meme that ruled the Internet this year?
I’ll get back to you on memes as soon as I figure out my favorite song and TV show

Anything you’re looking forward to in 2020 you’d like to share?
Very excited about my wedding in Cancun in December as well as continuing to up my game as a fantasy sports player!

December Music Picks

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9 – TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Mariah Carey
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mariah Carey’s album Merry Christmas, and her All I Want For Christmas Is You Tour commemorates her album’s success. Carey recently announced that she will be re-releasing Merry Christmas with its original songs as well as remixes, and a portion of ticket sales from her holiday tour will benefit Toys for Tots. Carey also encourages ticket buyers to bring donations for the program. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $160. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com/entertainment

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Cher: Here We Go Again Tour
The goddess of pop returns to DC for her Here We Go Again Tour. Fans can expect Cher classics as well as songs from her newest album, Dancing Queen, a tribute to ABBA. Special guests Nile Rodgers and Chic will also grace the stage for the North American stint of Cher’s tour. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11

The Suitcase Junket
Considering Matthew Lorenz began creating music with repurposed items from the garbage, the professional production of Mean Dog, Trampoline is an enormous step for this self-made entertainer. His classic melodies carry through to his newest album, but artistic tweaks from the production team make these songs more accessible and even more worth hearing at this performance. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12

Alicia Ward & Joey Antico
Cellist Alicia Ward and percussionist Joey Antico come together for a performance that pairs beautifully with Ward’s stunning melodies and Antico’s percussive prowess. Ward has shared her talent at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Moscow Conservatory, and has won the Lennox International Competition as well as the National Symphony Orchestra Soloist Competition. Antico’s background in jazz traditions promises a unique night as he shares the stage with another thrilling talent. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $24. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Rachael & Vilray with Akie Bermiss
Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price lends her velvet voice to an album made in partnership with guitarist, singer and composer Vilray. Their self-titled debut album Rachael & Vilray stars the duo’s shared love for 30s- and 40s-inspired jazz, and their performance is sure to set the mood for a chilly December evening. Akie Bermiss, pianist for Lake Street Dive, joins Price and Vilray on their musical adventure and provides unobtrusive tunes that complement the duo’s playful, bantering lyrics. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13

Cautious Clay with Remi Wolf
Cautious Clay characterizes his music with electronic twists that make his songs catchy yet soothing. His passion for music shines through his lyrics, and it’s clear that each song reflects an important aspect of his life and career. Remi Wolf’s impressive beats and blunt lyrics will prep the stage for the Cautious Clay main event, and audiences can expect honest and passion-fueled performances. Doors at 10 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Harry & the Potters
Harry & the Potters will dive into the hidden possibilities of the Harry Potter universe. The group explores an alternate reality in which Harry misuses a time-turner and starts a punk rock band with a past version of himself, and their songs will cover a range of topics from saving Ginny Weasley to Voldemort’s inability to defeat rock ‘n’ roll. A portion of each ticket will benefit the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that encourages humanitarian activism. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Vim & Vigor with Kellyn Marie Goler
Vim & Vigor, a pop-folk band based in DC, produces unique songs that resonate with melodic sweetness. Their band name translates to “enormous vitality and energy,” and their music and performances live up to that promise. Kellyn Marie Goler, an independent singer-songwriter also based locally, creates acoustic folk-pop that will pair perfectly with Vim & Vigor’s performance. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9 Nightclub: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14

80s Mayhem Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party
FYM Productions will bring groovy 80s remixes to the 10th annual Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party. Their group consists of DJ Steve EP, DJ Missguided and Killa K. These experts are well-versed in mixing quality music. DJ Steve has been in the business for more than 25 years and DJ Missguided is a regular at Black Cat’s exceedingly popular events. Their group was founded in 2001, and they continue to pursue their mission of promoting good times. Dance party kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Anuel AA
As part of the Emmanuel World Tour, Anuel AA is visiting Eagle Bank Arena to showcase his talent as a rapper and singer. He was the recipient of the 2019 Billboard Latin Music Award and is well-known as a pioneer of the Latin trap movement. His songs feature unrelentingly honest lyrics and moving beats that will shine as the artist shares his reggaeton and trap blends. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39. Eagle Bank Arena: 4500 Patriot Cir. Fairfax, VA; www.eaglebankarena.com

Best of 2010s Flashback Showcase by 7DrumCity
The 2010s featured trends like YOLO and unforgettable music like Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” and Young Money’s “Bedrock.” As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to honor the music this decade had to offer. 7DrumCity’s Best of 2010’s Flashback Showcase will feature nine bands time traveling through the top hits of the past 10 years. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $13-$15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Lomelda with Long Beard and The Goodbye Party
Texas songwriter Hannah Reed, a.k.a. Lomelda, says her stage name is a made-up word meaning “echo of the stars,” and her performances maintain this drifting vibe. She is a strong stage presence, though, and her song “Interstate Vision” is full of original sounds that demand audience attention. In contrast, Long Beard’s music explores the definition of home while incorporating impressive melodies. The Goodbye Party, another solo stage presence, started with bedroom recordings and eventually upgraded to mostly self-recorded album Silver Blues. Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 15

Amy Guess
Amy Guess finds her musical inspiration from bands like Evanescence and Portishead while incorporating industrial sounds and emotive energy. Guess is currently preparing for the release of her sophomore EP that details her experience as a music presence, and she continues to unapologetically create bold content. She feels confident that her music career is just getting started, so join her journey at this upcoming event. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli, the world’s most beloved tenor, captivates audiences once again during his 2019 tour. Bocelli has paired with pop icons like Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion to produce stunning duets, and he has been in the international spotlight for more than two decades. His career barrels on as he travels across America to share his impressive vocals once more. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $83. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

Horton’s Holiday Hayride
The Reverend Horton Heat reinvents country twang by infusing his music with punk rock vibes. This hybrid genre – psychobilly – is the Reverend’s specialty, and his band is picking up momentum as they begin their holiday shows and prepare for their upcoming 2020 tour. The Reverend will be joined onstage by the Voodoo Glow Skulls, an American ska-punk band, and The 5.6.7.8.’s, a Japanese rock trio. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16

Hot 99.5’s Jingle Ball
This year’s Jingle Ball will feature headliners like Halsey, Khalid and Charlie Puth. Halsey paired with South Korean boy band BTS this year to produce “Boy with Luv,” and Khalid recently wrapped up his Free Spirit World Tour. Niall Horan will also grace the stage along with French Montana, Lewis Capaldi and Why Don’t We. The lineup for this Jingle Ball is packed, so don’t miss this opportunity to see multiple music icons rock the stage in a single night. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Capitol One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17 – THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

The Hip Hop Nutcracker
The Nutcracker meets the modern world in this reinvention of a holiday classic. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is set in New York where Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince embark on a thrilling adventure through the city. The performance features Tchaikovsky’s original score while incorporating updated hip-hop choreography and a DJ. Kurtis Blow, described by Strathmore as “one of hip-hop’s founding fathers,” will open the show and prepare the audience for a remixed version of a Christmastime favorite. Shows at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $33. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

CeeLo Green Holiday Hits Tour
CeeLo Green, a five-time Grammy Award winner, returns to the stage for his Holiday Hits Tour. He initially released his Christmas album CeeLo’s Magic Moment in 2012, and the album was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. Green is also well-known for his four seasons as a coach on The Voice, and his wildly popular song “Forget You” was nominated for five Grammy awards and won Best Urban/Alternative Performance. Green’s tour will showcase his well-rounded talent as he continues to push his career. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

The Slackers with Mephiskapheles
The Slackers have been sharing their ska-, reggae- and soul-inspired music with audiences for more than 28 years. Since the NYC band’s beginnings, they have released 15 albums and were referred to as “the sound of New York” by The New York Times. Ska band Mephiskapheles will open. Concert at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Turnover with Men I Trust and Renata Zeiguer
Turnover, an American rock band from Virginia Beach, boasts four albums, two EPs and a handful of singles their fans are wild for. They will share the stage with Men I Trust, a Canadian indie pop group that self-released their latest album Oncle Jazz. While these bands have extremely different sounds, their music is complimentary without overpowering the other. Renata Zeiguer will open for the Turnover and Men I Trust, and she recently released her newest album Faraway Business. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20

The Captivators
The Captivators describe their genre as third-wave ska, and have proven themselves worthy members of the DC ska scene through electrifying shows and captivating tunes. The six band members pride themselves on providing soulful and danceable music. An important aspect of their concert is the dance floor, so you’ll definitely want to groove to their irresistible beats as they blow through their energetic lineup. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21

FeelFree with The Elegant Plums
Alexandria-based FeelFree’s Define The Free won Best Reggae Album of 2018 at the Wammie Awards, and members of The Elegant Plums hail from a variety of music backgrounds and use their diversity to provide unique jams. Everything from reggae to bluegrass to rock will make it onstage at this show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

LITZ + Radii
LITZ blends funk, go-go and electronica vibes with the intent to distract their audiences from everyday stresses and provide an unforgettable concert experience. The band has been hard at work on their newest album, and they plan on sharing their 16 new songs in four separate EPs, one of which will be released at this show. Radii plays a mix of rock, funk and alternative music, and they perform remix covers of your favorite classic tunes. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28

Hackensaw Boys with Yarn
For 17 years, the Hackensaw Boys have delivered their unique version of American roots music to fans that are hungry to hear more. Their band promotes a “the more, the merrier” attitude while sometimes fostering up to 20 members. Yarn, a folk band with rock ‘n’ roll influences, uses their music as an outlet for storytelling. Their lyrics are meaningful and reflect experiences from all walks of life. Each band brings a distinct personality to the stage, and audiences can expect a night of toe-tapping songs. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Throwback Bash featuring Almost Queen
Almost Queen strives to create experiences as similar as possible to Queen’s concerts. This four-part tribute band dresses in realistic costuming and creates an energetic concert that emulates the legends themselves. Audience members will honor classics with the help of Almost Queen’s dedication to throwback experiences. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29

The Roots
Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and Black Thought (Tariq Luqmaan Trotter) of The Roots originally performed together on street corners while attending Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. They are now well known in the hip-hop industry and have been considered one of the greatest living bands by Rolling Stone. The Roots will share their iconic music with audiences on one of their free nights away from serving as house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

MONDAY, DECEMBER 30

The White Panda
This EDM duo started with two college guys looking to procrastinate their homework. Eventually their remixes, made in lieu of doing school assignments, topped the Internet radio charts in 2009. Entertainment Weekly named The White Panda “a veritable party-mashup machine,” so prepare for a wild time at their high-energy performance featuring loads of thrilling special effects. Concert at 9 p.m. Tickets $30. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31

Moonshine Society’s NYE Speakeasy Party
Moonshine Society combined talents in 2009, and their inspiring blues and old-school music is a testament to their success. Band members were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for their work with harmonica player Charlie Sayles, and Moonshine Society was listed in top four fan favorites in DC two years in a row. Join this on-the-rise band as they take over the Hamilton Loft Bar to ring in the new year. Doors at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $35. The Hamilton LIVE: 600 14th St. NW, DC; http://live.thehamiltondc.com

On Tap Writers Joyelle Ronan and Destinee Harper with Fitz and the Tantrums // Photo: Joyelle Ronan

Fitz and the Tantrum’s Noelle Scaggs Talks New Album, Political Lyrics and DC

Fitz and the Tantrums has been bringing their unique sound to pop music for more than 10 years now.

On November 7, Fitz and the Tantrums performed a private concert for Hilton Honors members at The Conrad Hotel in DC. Mark Weinstein, Hilton Senior Vice President & Global Head of Customer Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships, described the concert experience as “amazing artists that are used to selling out major arenas in a private, intimate setting delivering an exclusive concert experience for Hilton Honors members.”

After the show, I sat down with co-lead vocalists and percussionist Noelle Scaggs to talk about their new album All the Feels, using political messages in music and her favorite things about DC. Fitz and the Tantrums will return to DC on Friday, February 14  at the Anthem for their Twin XL tour.

On Tap: How would you describe Fitz and the Tantrums’ sound? How has it evolved over time?
Noelle Scaggs: I put [our sound] in the category of alt-pop, I think I’ve always put it there. Our earlier works were more in the world of new age – alternative meets Motown kind [of] vibe, that blue-eyed soul period. As we’ve progressed as a band, like our second album through the third and now All the Feels, we’ve progressed more into our pop element. We always keep things that inspire us in our music. Fitz and I always sing in tandem. That’s always been our dynamic together, and of course all the guys in the band – the way that we do our production – we’ve always really wanted to push ourselves to modernize our sound as much as we possibly could.

OT: How does the band’s new album All the Feels differ from previous ones?
NS: I would say it’s the most worldly conversation. Our third album, our self-titled album – that record for me was probably our most challenging album, because we were still trying to figure out what we wanted to do creatively and going through this crazy writer’s block period. With All the Feels, it felt like all the songs were really flowing and it came down to what songs we were going to run with. There was a flow this time around and a global conversation. It’s really tapping into our personal experiences and not being afraid to share those stories, not being afraid to have political messages in our songs as well. That’s something we’ve never really done before.

OT: What songs on the album feature political messages?
NS: The song “Hands Up” is actually about today’s political environment and resisting what you see morally wrong in this world. We have another song called “Kiss the Skyand that entire song is about gun culture in America and the lust for it. It’s my interpretation [of] if a gun was trying to woo a buyer, it would probably be saying these things. But it just sounds like a party song; it has a temptation about it. That’s something that I wanted to talk about and found an interesting way of doing [so] on the album.

OT: How did you guys decide that  “All The Feels” was going to be title track?
NS: I think it’s an all encompassing song. The entire record itself is about our own inner turmoils that we go through, our lives on the road and things that we see in the world. I think “All The Feels” has this very triumphant build up, which is honoring that humanity we get disconnected [from]. We’re always on our phones and stuck in the world of bad news. We forget to sit back and take a breath, reconnect with our families, friends and ourselves to have those moments. That’s what this song is all about, a lot of the record is about that – mental health, getting through life and trying to find gratitude and positivity where you can.      

OT: Favorite track off the new album?
NS: It’s kinda crazy because when you’re putting together an album, you go through so much blood, sweat and tears in trying to figure out what you’re going to put on it. I have a few favorites. “Dark Days” is a song myself and Fitz [Michael Fitzpatick, lead vocals] wrote together and it talks about the earlier part of our career when there were a lot of people that doubted our abilities as a band and didn’t think that we would make it as far as we did. So that song is really important to me on that personal note. “All The Feels,” obviously. “I Need Help” is probably one of my real favorites because it touches home for me. I’m bipolar. I deal with mental health. I’ve dealt with it my entire life. That song talks about asking for help, being able to reach out when you need it, not being afraid of that and taking away the stigma of vulnerability.

OT: The new album has 17 songs, I read that it started off with 80. Is that true? 
NS: Yeah. You write songs, you write half songs, you write songs that you come back to and you try and try and it doesn’t happen. Then you sit on this one song, think it’s going to make it, and then you take it off. It’s a crazy process figuring it out.

OT: Both the music and lyrics from “All The Feels” tend to be upbeat and uplifting, is it a conscious effort to promote a message of positivity?
NS: Yeah, absolutely. I think from the start of this band, we’ve always put out the energy of allowing the audience to become a seventh member. I’ve always performed very energetic shows even before this band, when I was doing my own thing. I love the energy. I think in our music, we always wanted to have a nice juxtaposition, we can have really biting lyrics about the break up in a relationship and how we felt about our exes but also have this joyful experience in the music that allows the audience and listener to let go for a minute. Like “yes, I can identify with what you’re saying and also dance this off and feel better in the morning.”

OT: What’s it like to make that connection with fans?
NS: It’s interesting because we have a lot of fans who come up to us talking about songs they’ve played at their wedding. I remember earlier in our career, [a fan] was talking about “Moneygrabber,” and I was like, “Do you know what that song’s about” and they said, “It was our wedding song!” I said, “Okay, hope it works out for you!” It’s just one of those songs that is a complete breakup song but because energetically, it’s all about the movement and the experience of enjoying the music itself. It just makes it one of those songs that everyone wants to play at their wedding, I guess. Even people that have been in the hospital or going through crazy times in their lives, our music has in some way been able to break through that and get them through whatever they’re going through. I think that’s a blessing that we’ve been given to offer that to people.

OT: Next year you guys are set to headline a North American tour, what’s your favorite thing about being here in DC?
NS: There’s just a vibe here that I really love. There’s this elevated sense of community and people wanting to be connected to the world and having important conversations. For me, it’s being an African American woman, I come to DC and I feel like I’m surrounded by family. It’s really different from my experiences in a lot of cities where sometimes I’m the only person in the room. I just really love DC for giving me balance, diversity and experience. People come out here to do things, not just sit around. You can feel that when you come out here.

To learn more about All the Feels and Fitz and the Tantrum, check out their website here. For information about their Anthem show in February, visit here.

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

Between the Riffs: Catching Up With Jazz Musician Jason Moran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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