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Christine Lilyea, Alyssa Bell and Jack Inslee // Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.

Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.

The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.

MI CASA ES SU CASA

On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.

OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?

Jack: Oh!
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.

SECRET GEMS

Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
[All laugh]
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.

COMMUNAL SOUNDS

OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
[All laugh]
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.

OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.

STAY WEIRD, DC

OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.

OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.

Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC

Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com

Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to www.slashrun.com for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com

Photo: Trent Johnson

Hi, Felicia! Wine Director Felicia Colbert Shakes Up Industry Standards

Felicia Colbert is a woman on a mission and she’s not letting anyone stand in her way. She has worked her way through the food service industry for the past 17 years, and her determination is paying off. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Colbert returned home to Maryland where she got a bachelor’s degree in sociology from University of Maryland while helping raise her niece. Six transformative weeks in Spain made her pump the brakes on law school, put her life in storage and say, “I’m going to be a somm.” With help from some “amazing, powerful women in the industry,” Colbert set out to be not just a sommelier, but the sommelier. Now, as wine director at A Rake’s Progress in AdMo’s LINE Hotel – which is holding strong to the title of one of the city’s hottest restaurants – she is shaking up industry standards one Burgundy at a time.

On Tap: Were you always drawn by wine? What was it about the food service industry that attracted you?
Felicia Colbert: I feel like I was always in food. My first job was when I was 14 at Outback Steakhouse as a hostess, and I actually stayed at that job for almost five years because I worked at such a dynamic restaurant that really believed in ownership.

OT: You are a young black woman in a white male-dominated industry. What unique challenges have you faced in your burgeoning career?
FC: It’s no secret to anybody that there’s not a lot of ladies over here in somm land. It’s definitely a challenge. But I think everything is an intersection so it’s hard for me to talk about my life as a lady somm and say I’m not only a woman, but I’m a woman of color. People think I’m either the hostess or maybe the maître d’ or some other job, and I’m like, “Oh, I’m here to sell you wine.” It’s watching people rectify their cognitive dissonance in real time. But like, the reason that a company has decided that I get to be in charge of millions and millions of dollars of someone else’s money and wine is because I’m more qualified than anyone else who works here. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. There is no privilege that I get to sit back on. I’m here because I’m literally more qualified than any other person.

OT: How do these experiences inform the way you run your program and manage staff?
FC: You have to find a way to build productivity into every single thing that you do. I hold myself and people around me to the highest standard, and sometimes it makes them uncomfortable. There is literally nothing that I love more than perfect service. Service is everything. It’s the reason why we do this, because otherwise you would eat at home. It’s about someone being so skilled at their job they can anticipate things you didn’t even know you needed.

OT: What is exciting to you right now about being in DC and having this job?
FC: I think it’s exciting that DC is open to new things right now. Millennials, 30-somethings, have real jobs now. They have money – they want to come out and drink good wine and spend money on wine. On a deeper level, the fact that people are entertaining the idea that women of color can run programs, I think that’s great. I think there are a lot of challenges that still come with that from a consumer basis, but also from an organizational standpoint. You can’t have qualified people and then not have the systems in place to keep them. I do think that change is exciting, but it’s also like, who wants to be the person who has to do all of the emotional work for people who aren’t ready to put in the emotional work for the change that they want to see?

OT: Do you personally enjoy educating people about wine?
FC: Yes and no. How do I nicely tell someone you’re asking for something that you don’t want? Some people are open to it, but the reason that [many people] continue to get wines that they don’t like is because you’re going into a dealership and asking for a Ferrari but you’re describing a Honda, or vice versa. It’s hard to educate people. I try to use words that are descriptors as opposed to buzzwords – people words. I think that a way I try to educate my guests is by saying, “Hey, the next time you’re looking for a wine, you can mention that you really like wines that have X flavor.” Or not. Because you know what? I’m not here to do the emotional work for that either. If you don’t know how to ask for what you want, there’s not enough Burgundy for all of us to drink it, so you can keep on saying, “bone dry.”

OT: The DMV has received some notoriety in recent years for progress in growing and vinting. What about our region particularly excites you from the wine industry perspective?
FC: DC is getting a lot more fun, interesting wine shops. I always tell people first and foremost: retail, that is your place. In DC, there are no restrictions. The wine shop can be the importer, the distributor, the purchaser. Domestique is a great example of that. Weygandt Wines is amazing. Go prepared with at least $50 more than what you plan on spending because you’re going to find some stuff that’s just crazy and amazing.

OT: You have your exam to be a master sommelier this fall. What’s the next challenge? What’s on the vine for future Felicia?
FC: I have a dream jar. I am always thinking about what’s next. I am a planner. What’s next for me is I need to be in a place where what I have to give and offer is fully recognized and I don’t have to fight to do my job, and I think that’s only working for myself. I just dream up this utopian restaurant because you know what? Someone is going to come along and be like, “Hey Felicia.” They will. I believe that – truly. I bring value to our program by making sure that we get the wine that other people can’t get by building relationships because that’s what it is always: your people. Your people are what matter. My people have gotten me here. My people will continue to get me here.

Check out Colbert’s carefully curated wine menu at A Rake’s Progress, and learn more about the AdMo spot at www.thelinehotel.com/dc/venues.

A Rake’s Progress at LINE Hotel: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; 202-588-0525; www.thelinehotel.com/dc/venues