Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sweeter '16 for DC Music?

A year ago, as 2014 was ending and new 2015 poised to start, it appeared the situation for DC-area music and art in general couldn't get much worse. I posted this sad compilation of favorite DC artist Margot MacDonald performing at several venues that were either closing or had already closed their doors, along with perfectly awesome bands--like Bearshark--that would never play another note.
2015's unhappy endings depressed local music lovers.
 It was a depressing way to ring in a new year that felt more like bells tolling at a funeral march, with the only aspect even close to positive being a desperate call to support remaining venues while we still had the chance, an eleventh hour do or die.

  I'm happy to report that as we transition to still another new year, the pendulum seems to be swinging back in our direction. Rather than the end of DC music as we know it, 2015 ultimately gave us some going away gifts like great new venues, an exciting new band or two and a new local radio show--any one of them important enough to revive this blog for a new chapter. Welcome back. Happier New Year! As you find your way through 2016, keep these on radar. They're the four new DC music forces we're most excited about heading into the New Year. We'd love to hear yours: Comment below!

Songbyrd Music House (Adams Morgan)

Margot MacDonald helps launch live music at Songbyrd.
  The problem with some venues is that their talent buyers book the same tired acts month after month, presumably because "That's what our customers want." That model might work for them but doesn't do much for those of us who seek out more cutting-edge entertainment. Songbyrd gets it. Even though they're located in Adams Morgan, they feel a lot more like past favorite Columbia Heights clubs--like The Dunes, which sadly occupies a square in that obit I started this blog with. The bartenders are friendly and know bar offerings as well as music extremely well. (I love a bartender who can tell me both what beer I might like and what album I need to listen to!) Live music at Songbyrd happens downstairs, and unlike most DC venues with entry to rear of house, here the stage is the first thing you'll see. The performance area is oddly back lit with no front spot at all; so, seeing your favorite artist's smiling face might require night-vision goggles. It makes fan photography difficult but gives concerts a vibe consistent with the edgy bands who play here. Warning: This place is addicting! You'll want to come back here again and again not just because of the excellent bar service but because you'll always see a band on their schedule you've been meaning to catch live.

Sehkraft Brewing (Clarendon)

Margot also performed at the Sehkraft Brewing debut of The 9.
  Clarendon is my absolute favorite neighborhood in the DC area and the closest to where I live that presents consistently compelling entertainment. I rarely miss an opportunity to come here. The area has traditionally provided everything from great live rock at IOTA Club & Cafe to an excellent (but now defunct) open mic at Northside Social to fun karaoke at SoBe, and finally awesome new Sehkraft Brewing. Sehkraft is unique in several ways. If you enter the venue like I did my first visit, you'll notice the business is actually a combination music venue and butcher shop--itself exciting, because a good butcher shop is even harder to find here than a great music venue! The bar boasts a dizzying variety of craft beers. As an aid to the discovery process, the bar sells miniature versions of their standard pint-size drafts to allow for some experimentation before settling on a favorite brew. The venue's shape is a long, narrow rectangle with the bar on the far end, the stage in the middle and to the right, and with a nice outside patio area to the left with an enchanting fire pit and, as I later realized, the preferred main entrance--my loss, because I missed being welcomed by delightful greeter Katie who works the door when she's not busy being a rock star herself!

  Sehkraft has a unique revenue model currently based almost exclusively on beer and food sales. So far, I haven't seen more than a nominal cover charge of about $5 for the exceptionally good live music they present. The very best shows I've attended there (like The 9 Songwriter Series pictured) have all been free. This appears to work well for them, because the place is always packed. I see this as a go-to bar for a lot of people, because in addition to being in a great, Metro-accessible location, Sehkraft's customers aren't held captive. There's no need to go through the hassle and expense of finding a show online, buying and printing a $10 to $20 or more ticket or worrying about being told at the door a show is sold out. See a new band on Sehkraft's music schedule that looks interesting? Just go. Have a seat. Drink a beer or two or three. If you like the band and want to stay, stay; if not, leave and come back tomorrow, because the only thing keeping you here is a good time. Talent buyer James leverages his experience booking bands for Gypsy Sally's to ensure you'll still be there at closing time. Word to the wise: Study the beer list beforehand; so, you'll have a clue about what you want to try when you arrive. My current favorite is a Dunkles Weissbier brewed in Freising, Germany called Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel (5.3% ABV). If you find yourself lost on the way to discovering your own favorite, bar manager Drew is an absolute expert. If he's not around, you can get much the same information in a somewhat more colorful format from bartender Moayad. Check the live music schedule often too; so, you don't mess up by skipping a show you'll be sorry you missed.

The El Mansouris

  This favorite new band burst onto the scene out of nowhere as an immediate front runner in the 2015 Tiny Desk music video contest with debut song "Walden." The collaboration seemed more of an experiment than a serious attempt to start a new band. The musicians involved already belonged to mature, successful main acts--bands of the stature of Young Rapids to Cigarette to Rival Skies to DC's most popular solo acts. Originally comprised of two females (Fiona Kohrman and Margot MacDonald) and three males (Alex Braden, Drew Hagelin and Sam Raymond), the mix was evened out by the addition of Lies About's (originally Lies About Butter) Sarah Schaffer.

  The now complete band is in the studio actively working on their debut album to be released in 2016, potentially DC music's brightest highlight for the coming year. Part of the excitement of this release will be to see what its format will be. While DC music artists have tended to settle on compact disk as the physical embodiment of their albums (to complement digital streams), bands associated with Babe City Records (as The El Mansouris are) tend to prefer less mainstream music delivery technologies--like cassette tape. Yes, we will definitely purchase this album, but will it come on CD, cassette, vinyl or (pretty please) all three?

  I love this band, but I do worry it might be abandoned in its prime like previous musical experiment Bella Russia. It would be particularly heartbreaking if this happened not because The El Mansouris weren't wildly popular but because their popularity threatened a higher priority band. Give the band a listen, and if you love them as much as we do, join us in a 2016 priority (as lovers of exceptionally awesome DC music) to be strong in our support for The El Mansouris and their longevity; so, we can enjoy this band live for years to come.

  Our next opportunity to show our support? LIKE/follow The El Mansouris' Facebook page for announcements of shows happening sooner, but definitely save your February 12, 2016 for their free show with Elena Lacayo at breathtaking Smithsonian American Art Museum. Also be sure to follow @TheElMansouris on Twitter & Instagram!

Music Alley Radio

MAR Staff: Marco, Ken Avis, Lynn & Carol Campbell
  Just when you thought it was safe to finally trash (okay, recycle/harvest for parts to fix your amp) your radio, a talented group of DC music innovators including Recording Arts music producer Marco Delmar and talented French Canadian jazz artist Lynn Véronneau are poised to give you a great reason to turn it back on...and up! Music Alley Radio will showcase live, in-studio performances, interviews and recorded music to help listeners discover the amazing talent that powers DC's local music scene. They aim to invigorate DC-area music by building both loyal listeners to their own broadcasts as well as beefing up the fan bases of the artists they feature. The new show will be live soon on terrestrial radio station WERA 96.7 FM and also streamed at on the interwebs for out-of-the-area listeners (as well as those of us who were premature in trashing our radios). The program will feature every genre of music--kind of like the last time radio was actually worth tuning into!

  Fans can LIKE for updates. Local musicians can visit that same FB page for music-submission guidelines or to find out how to guest on the show. The application process is expected to be fully spun up by early 2016. I hope you're as excited as I am about this new creative outlet--probably the best thing to happen to DC-music-focused media since The Circus Life podcast.

In Your Hands

  Unlike most natural resources, live music is unique in that the only way to ensure it will be available in the future is to consume it heartily as often as possible starting right now. Visit venues like Sehkraft Brewing and Songbyrd. Tune in to Music Alley Radio. Discover bands like The El Mansouris. Listen to local music. Buy it, remembering that in this age of streaming music ripoffs, the only way to ensure your favorite artists will be the ones benefiting from their own hard work (and able to continue doing what they do) is to press your cash directly into their palms at live shows. Most importantly, have a successful, dream-fulfilling and decidedly sweeter '16 with a daily dose of whatever music you love. It's the only way to ensure local music will survive throughout the New Year and beyond.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Margot's new album is called Canvas

Songstress Margot MacDonald just made an irresistible new record for you...
    ...Click the amazing rock star to preorder Canvas NOW!
Margot MacDonald's new album Canvas

  Nothing is more exciting than new Margot MacDonald music, but between it and us is what can seem to be a frustratingly endless wait. But making amazing, monde-de-musique-shattering music takes time, and
one of the reasons Margot's music is so perfect is that she's a perfectionist. She invests the time it takes to share the music she hears in her heart. Unlike the hurry up of "hit" mills, no force in the universe can speed
her up or slow her down even just a little--not even the constant nagging of her Recording Arts producer Marco Delmar. A new release will ship when it's ready, when Margot says it's ready, not a second before or after. Until that moment, she works quietly and steadily--often at the mercy of a relentless creativity that denies her sleep. She's not secretive about what she does, but spending a lot of time talking would only detract from the doing; so, she's mostly silent, occasionally revealing a new fact between performances at live shows. A song we've never heard before blows us away, and before we can close our mouths again, she casually mentions, "It'll be on my new record." Some of the hints seem improbable if not unbelievable. After years of teasing us with awesome new covers from a variety of artists we've often not heard before Margot's introduction to them, she reveals Massive Attack's "Teardrop" is the only cover to make the cut. What? What about Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love"? What about Little Dragon's "Twice"? What many other amazing songs Margot has made her own for us? No, Margot alone wields the creative control that shapes the form and content of this album. Anything we've been perceptive enough to figure out on our own will be insightful and logical but also most likely wrong. This can be disheartening until we realize that assuming and being wrong are how we learn about this unique artist and her work. Margot MacDonald is a new experience for us, and our errors in interpretation teach us a faith and curiosity that reward us with the gifts of surprise and amazement. Margot gives us back parts of ourselves we haven't seen since we were very small, and looking with these wider eyes finally enables us to see.

  She replaces our self-assured strides with the baby steps of a new-found caution. We stop assuming and trying to guess on our own. We pay closer attention, observe, learn, and open ourselves to the delight of anticipation: What new title will join her precious Walls, Torn and Rising? What iconic photograph or artwork will grace its cover? What vexing puzzles a la Walls' Panda and The Colors of the World will taunt us from its linear notes? These are details only Margot can reveal.

Margot MacDonald @ the Birchmere
  None of these are secrets--just revelations that fascinate us much more than Margot might imagine. A few months ago, I was at the Birchmere with fellow superfan Tom Henigman for Margot's epic concert with Emmet Swimming. As happens periodically to many of us--even Margot herself apparently--Tom was fresh out of Margot's WALLS CD and needed another copy as a gift; so, we visited Margot's merch table. Among the CDs was a characteristically artistic but otherwise unceremonious mention of her new album "Canvas." Canvas? Canvas! The new album would be called Canvas...unless of course Margot changes her mind. I looked for some huge online announcement I must surely have missed. Googling the names of some of Margot's earlier albums, I found 17,000 hits for one, 19,000 for another. 'Margot MacDonald Canvas' however yielded one solitary hit--a line from the lyrics of her original song "Colorblind": "A canvas not yet used"--nothing more. This huge Margot MacDonald album title announcement came to us only through that miniature mention on that tiny table.

  Canvas was a surprise to me not just because of how the title was originally announced but because the concept was one that was already at work in my mind since a few months prior. Margot had performed live
Gary Honig's Cryin Eye
at an art opening called Every Picture Tells a Story for painter Moses Hawk (Gary Honig) on my June 5th birthday, and my photo shoot for that show was a combination of stills of Gary's oil paintings on canvas with shots of Margot's live performance. All this happened at Studio 1469, designed to be a blank backdrop for the art displayed there. Its signature pure white walls made my photos of Margot  resemble oil paintings on canvas as well. Since I had already planned an art-on-canvas theme for this photo set, it seemed perfect for this introduction to Margot's new creation CANVAS. It's my simple way to pay homage to this artist I love, while also helping me creatively fill the time until this amazing new music can fill all her fans' ears, hearts and souls.

  Canvas release concerts are right around the corner. The New York City release for the new album is this Monday, November 4, 2013 at Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street. Margot will perform with her full band on the bigger Stage 2. The show is free and 21+. Let Margot know you're coming--RSVP here!
Margot MacDonald will release Canvas @ Rockwood Music Hall Nov 4th @ 8PM
Don't miss NYC's Canvas release Nov 4!
  The iTunes release of Canvas shouldn't be too far behind--along with another album release concert and party in the Washington, DC area. Yeah, it's going to be a busy, exciting Fall! If you were
following my blog and took my Indiegogo advice back when Margot's new album project was originally
announced, your wait has probably already ended [satisfying the curiosity this article discussed!] If not, Margot has given us all the special gift of being able to stream the album's key original "Speed of Sound"  today. I love it! It's exciting to hear something from the record, but it will very much make us anxious to play all the tracks from start to finish. Soon, we assure ourselves and make a mental note to sign up early NEXT time Margot announces an album in progress. Then we check Margot's schedule for her next live show, because as important as the new album most certainly is, it's not the only thing to love about this artist. Live Margot is life changing!

  In addition to the chance to stream "Speed of Sound" on SoundCloud, you can also download it or pre-order the entire Canvas album on BandCamp. My new advice? Visit RIGHT NOW, stream, fall in love, download, listen, preorder, and don't forget to tell absolutely everyone you know about amazing Margot MacDonald and her wonderful new creation CANVAS!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Margot MacDonald Special Musical Guest *TONIGHT!* @ The Dunes!

A special thanks to Free in DC for including the event in their great blog of DC events that are free or nearly so!

"Free in DC" Free and low-cost things to do in DC!: UPCOMING: COMEDY + MUSIC + ART: Tonight! The Dunes...: "Consensual Sext" Comedy Show at The Dunes with Musical Guest Margot MacDonald Friday, March 15th 8:00pm - 11:00pm show, doors at 7:00PM.


*THIS FRIDAY!* March 15th
7PM doors; show starts at 8PM

The Dunes
1402 Meridian Place NW
Washington,  DC 20010

$5 suggested donation @ the door


Andrew Bucket

Nate Johnson

Dana Bell

Brandon Wardell

Bill Metzger

Margot MacDonald

The Dunes



Official Facebook event

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Catching Up with MARGOT MacDONALD

Prize Easter egg...or egg-shaker abuse of superstar talent?

  I'm a bit surprised to be back with you again so soon. I normally don’t like updating the blog unless I have some big news, a creative presentation [like pretty new pictures : ], or at least something otherwise at least mildly entertaining to share. When I do write, however, I like to catch you up on whatever else has been going on-—particularly what’s happened since the last time we got together with emphasis on anything breaking at the moment. I know I’m not your only source of music news, but I may very well be your only way to get this unique perspective. Also, forgive me for pointing out that people on the Internet tend to be more than creatively lazy and often need to have things distilled & highlighted for them, even though they could dig up the same info themselves without too awfully much effort! Once I do start writing, I’m always surprised at how much actually has happened during the time “nothing really happened”! That was the situation this time around as I feverishly worked to add relavent current events to the Surviving the Facebook Facelift blog. Rather than kill myself or make you wait, I decided it was a better plan to resolve to fine-tune my way of working a bit, publish that previous blog as is, catch you up in a fresh future entry, and then see where we need to go from there. If you have ideas, feel free to share. As for the planned update, this is it.

  Last time we got caught up like this was Another YEAR with MARGOT MacDONALD; so, I guess
Margot MacDonald, Artist of the Year
I should start the follow-up from there. Back then, we were wishing our superstar luck at the Wammies, and Margot MacDonald is indeed our Artist of the Year for the second year in a row! Join me in congratulating her if you haven’t already done that on your own. I also promised then to let you know when voting started for the special Fan's Choice Wammie even non-WAMA-members were allowed to vote on. I really was watching for the announcement that voting was open, but I assumed there would be a separate email to let members know. There was none. I was super busy around that time, voting was announced in the regular WAMA member newsletter (& I believe on the WAMA website) instead of a special email announcement, I didn't read the newsletter, I missed it--my bad. It was just one of those at-the-bus-station-when-my-ship-came-in kinds of things, and I know I let both Margot and you guys down. : ( I am truly sorry and will try to do better next year. There's no time to dwell on that though, because there's so much more going on right now!

  One of if not the biggest excitement last time was the prospect of a new Margot MacDonald album, and Margot continues to work long & hard on that. Few things that could possibly happen are cooler than anticipating fresh studio cuts of Margot MacDonald music and we can’t wait to hear them, but the downside is missing our Margot dearly while she works. This is ultimate recluse time for her with few live shows or related events to give us face time. In addition to devoting countless hours to the studio (both before & since), Margot took her second major break from recording (the first was to plan, organize, rehearse, setup & execute her holiday show back in December). Margot recently traveled to
Photo by Listen Local First
SXSW (read South by Southwest), a huge, annual, internationally-famous music conference in Austin, TX. The pictures from her showcase performances making their way back to DC were precious. Last time I checked, there was still a photo from her Casa Chapala show up on Margot's Facebook music page. Another was tweeted to us thanks to our friends at Listen Local First, this great shot of Margot performing in Austin from their Mobile Music venue Margot introduced us to in her latest edition of Margot’s High Notes. As a result of her participation in the showcase, I got to know a great member of DC's promoter community, Dave Mann. I enjoyed promoting Margot's Austin shows so much Dave invited me to join his promo team for the rest of his Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie series there. That was a ton of fun, and I got to tweet up some great bands from DC, NYC & around the world. I even made some new friends among fans attending the showcases. The most amusing encounter was the guy I helped out via Twitter. He was at Casa Chapala in downtown Austin & objected to the music the DJ was playing between sets. I agreed that sometimes the best thing a DJ can do between showcase artists is allow for a little ear rest. Things were looking pretty unanimous; so, Dave talked to the DJ & made it happen. The fan then tweeted back to me that he'd be happy to buy me a beer if I would let him know where I was standing. We both had a good laugh at the fact that I was actually "standing" back home in DC! : ] I was also honored by two different tweet-tallying organizations as one of the top tweeters from SXSW, even though I physically didn't attend at all! It's a tribute to technology and the closeness of our DC music fam that we can support our stars remotely, regardless of where in the world they perform.

  This time away from Margot, combined with an increasingly warm/fuzzy with her growing base of fans, has brought home some important lessons for me. Biggies include how lucky we are to have Margot MacDonald with us here in the area and how much time & effort she really does devote to us and to making her amazing music happen. When much more than a couple of weeks go by without a live concert, I start to feel how much we all need our Margot fix. People generally don’t come out & say, “God, I miss Margot MacDonald!” but the message is pretty much precisely that clear: “Hey, is there a show this Friday?” “Have you heard if Margot’s playing at the…this year?” “I’ve got people visiting, and they want to go see a Margot show 'cause they've heard so much about her but never been; is there anything coming up?” A fairly new but increasingly common trend is the opportunity to share directly with those fans who have never met Margot or even seen her perform live, including her growing, glowingly enthusiastic group in the UK. They’re always eager for the next photo set, curious about the particulars of the shows in Margot’s online videos or just speculating about how awesome it would be to "one day" get the chance to see her live. It’s a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, again, it emphasizes what a great gift Margot’s presence here in the area is to us in DC (and how awful it is to miss even one show); on the other, it can make me feel pretty selfish for crying about doing just that! [Either way, infinite thanks to you guys for always offering a sympathetic shoulder to cry on by reading the Denuine blog. : ]


  Speaking of live shows, there are [quite conveniently : ] some new dates popping up on
Sidewalk Cafe / Photo by Yun Cee Ng
Margot’s event calendar. To start off the post-Austin portion of her schedule, Margot will be back this month--this week actually (well, okay, TONIGHT! : )--to entertain her New York City fans at Sidewalk Cafe, dubbed "the last live music venue on Avenue A." The show is this Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 from 7:30 to 8:30PM, and the lucky neighborhood this time around is East Village. If you're going to be anywhere near the city THIS evening, don't miss this show. You can RSVP for this latest date in Margot's periodically ongoing New York City adventure at the official Facebook event. Try not to be late to this performance, because live music shows at Sidewalk Cafe are famously punctual. Again, if you're a NYC music fan who's never seen Margot MacDonald perform live before, you're in for a thrilling experience; do not miss this opportunity. Live music & comedy shows at this venue are all ages & it's a great place to grab a burger & fries--a cold beer too if that's part of your evening plan. The musical instruments hanging all over the place have been said to give the place a Hard Rock Café vibe; so, if you've ever been entertained by Margot at one of her frequent DC Hard Rock Café performances, you should feel right at home here tonight!

  If you can make it here to Sidewalk Cafe tonight, please do stick around after Margot's
Ace Elijah
performance for a special treat from an artist who seems to be a favorite & at home all over the area, whether it's NYC, DC or Richmond. Ace Elijah Burgess will take over the same venue Sidewalk Cafe after Margot's set to host his 7 Songwriter showcase. Yes, there really are 7; count them: Adam Day, Matt Sucich, Amy Vachal, Ace Elijah, Jessica Carvo, Jon D'Angelo & Jonathan DePaso. Some of you will remember Ace as Margot's guest at her Songwriters' Association of Washington (SAW) Young Songwriter Showcase at Ebenezers Coffeehouse. As you can see by the list, Ace will also perform. He's right in the middle, going on at 10PM. Ace has a mellow, comforting baritone that makes his performances particularly memorable. If you're coming to Sidewalk Cafe tonight to see or perform in Ace's songwriter showcase, get there early enough (7:30PM) so that you can enjoy Margot MacDonald's performance as well. And again, If you're coming to see Margot MacDonald tonight, please stick around for Ace's great showcase. Both artists will appreciate it, and if that's not thanks enough, you'll have an awesome night of music to show for your good deed. Margot & Ace have separate events on Facebook; so, be sure to sign up for both. Here are the links:

  1. RSVP to Margot MacDonald's TONIGHT! Margot at Sidewalk Cafe NYC

  2. RSVP for Ace Elijah's 7 songwriters live @ Sidewalk.

  June is a huge month for Margot MacDonald shows with 2012 occurrences of some of the most
popular annually recurring performances on her calendar. This great month of entertainment starts appropriately on June 1st when, for a twist on Margot traveling to NYC for a show, NYC artist Anna Dagmar comes to visit Margot as they join forces at Ebenezers Coffeehouse for the release of Anna's Satellite CD. Although itself one of the very best places in DC to experience live music, this choice of venue has caused a bit of confusion among fans familiar with Margot's recurring showcase at the same venue for SAW. This special date with Anna has absolutely nothing to do with the regular SAW event. This is rather the official DC date of Anna’s CD release. Anna is a fellow Margot fan, a good friend to us both, and herself a compelling artist; so, don't miss this great show. DC music fans know Anna as a frequent major prize winner at SAW's Mid-Atlantic Song Contest (SAW-MASC). Rounding out the lineup this night will be Gideon Grove, best known (in this blog at least) for his duet with Margot at her Margot & Friends holiday show at IOTA Club & Café. More detailed information about this show is available on the Ebenezers Coffeehouse events site. You can RSVP at the official Satellite CD Release Facebook event.

  Things only get more awesome from there, as we head into the spring/summer season of Margot's
Margot MacDonald's huge talent seems particularly at home on the area's bigger stages.
full-length shows fans anticipate each year. Common knowledge among Margot connoisseurs is the fact that despite her young age, Margot MacDonald is a veteran songwriter & seasoned performer. Her repertoire is huge, spanning years & genres. During her many activities in support of DC's music community, Margot rarely hosts a showcase without also sharing a taste of her music, but her performances in those situations comprise little more than a teaser, an appetizer stoking a hunger that can only be fully satisfied by an awesome full-length show. These single-band headliner appearances are presented in bigger venues, are longer and honestly the only way to experience the breadth of this artist's talent in all its many forms—-the chance to meet or renew acquaintance with Margot the loopist, the pianist, the guitarist, and perhaps most importantly of all, the only way to sit down to a delicious full meal of her hypnotic vocals!

  The first of these huge shows is scheduled for Saturday, June 9th, 2012 at 7:30PM in Arlington, VA's spacious Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre. Encore Presents: Margot MacDonald is the must-see show your friends will be talking about through next year, and tickets are on sale right now. You can purchase them directly from Encore. You can also call 703-548-1154 for more information, check out the event on Margot's band page or read the great article about the show in the Clarendon Patch. I've personally been so excited about this show I bought my ticket the very first day they went on sale. Don't forget to RSVP for this awesome show at Encore's official Facebook event, Encore Presents: Margot MacDonald! If you can make it; I'll definitely see you there!

  It's still quite early in the season and new shows are added all the time (watch the event section of Margot's band page for her frequent updates [I'm actually frequently checking myself while I write this, because I'm sure a new show will be announced to date this blog the second I publish it! ; ]), but the final future date currently on Margot's summer schedule is another exciting episode of her amazing Lubber Run Amphitheater show June 29th at 7:00PM. LRA was rescued from ruin last year just in time for a long-overdue summer season of memorable acts--including Margot MacDonald. This year should be every bit as exciting. Many new Margot fans I've talked to lately have been fans precisely since experiencing her via last year's edition of this show. LRA's event schedule on their website is still (at this writing) displaying the 2011 schedule, but there's probably a better than average chance the 2012 schedule will replace it (at the same link) once the new season is announced. [UPDATE: I just checked the LRA event schedule link I gave you last sentence, and it's currently down. I'm thinking this may be a sign the new schedule will be up soon, but I wanted to give you a couple of additional links just in case. Good, permanent links for related information once it's announced will be the Lubber Run Amphitheater Main Page & Arlington Arts--both also excellent sources of information on some of the best happenings in the DC area.] In the meantime, you can refer to Margot's band page event listing. NEW! You can now RSVP for Margot MacDonald: Lubber Run Amphitheater 2012 Summer Concert Series here! This is another show I wouldn't miss for the world; hope you feel the same way! As we strive to stay patient awaiting this show, we can see photos from that awesome last season & more in Margot's live show album on Facebook.

  Once again, the best way to keep abreast of Margot's shows is to check her band page events frequently. The summer festival season is always exciting & fast approaching, and as Margot's new album nears completion, things will only get hotter with release-related events. It'll be our chance to make up for lost time with our favorite person & share her joy at finally having a record that truly reflects who she is as an artist--good stuff for Margot & all of us who love her.

  Again, along with a convenient opportunity to wish you guys a happy Easter, my purpose here has been to catch you up on recent DC music happenings. For me, great DC music & Margot MacDonald really can't be separated, but cool things are going on with some other great friends you'll want to check out as well. These are in no particular order:

  One of my favorite DC bands (other than, of course, Margot MacDonald Band & Honor by August) is Sing Me Insomnia. They have a polished pop/rock sound that, like the other musicians featured in this blog, makes them more globally significant than might generally be expected of local talent. They take the "boy band" thing to a new level of coolness to where none of us need to make excuses for listening, because, well, yeah, they ARE that cool! They have many great originals, but their latest accomplishment is a great new cover of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend"--check it out!

  Some of you will remember Derek Evry as one of the leads playing hot guitar at Margot & Friends
Derek Evry
last December, others as "that guy who sings a duet with Margot on touching "Tonight Our History Will End," to still others, he's the guy who never seems to leave favorite venue IOTA Club & Café. The more complete story, however, is that Derek is a compelling DC singer/songwriter with a distinctive biting vocal sound backed up by his own expert guitar work. Derek has just updated his collection of published CDs by releasing a new EP, Wait for you. This set of cuts is now available on iTunes. I spoke with one of Derek's people the other day about it, and he was extremely excited. Sadly, we'll have to wait until the release of the corresponding full album to get our hands on the studio version of "Tonight Our History Will End," but the EP will be a nice consolation in the meantime.

  If you've been following this blog for any length of time you know that as we honor fans, the finest musicians in DC & beyond (including our beloved Margot), our favorite venues big & small, and the music/music scene that brings us all together, we're careful to remember our fellow bloggers. Yes, there are more than a few of us out there, but rather than compete for territory, I think we're all smart enough to realize how much territory there is to go around. Some of us are foodies. Others cover photography. Still others advise about things to do in DC--specialized even to "soulful" things to do in DC by blogger buddy Rohan! Some of us even refuse to specialize at all, blogging about whatever suits our fancy at any given time, either globally in DC, NYC or a specific neighborhood. Even looking just at music, for every artist who's covered the way Margot is covered here, there are probably a dozen perfectly awesome artists who aren't on a single blogger's radar. I was talking to great DC artist, sweet lady & treasured friend Carey Creed the other day, and she commented, "Den, every artist should have one of you!" Yeah, there are plenty rock stars to go around. If you ever get the urge to blog, you'll easily find one of your own to adopt! rather than compete, we work hard to support each other.

  A blogger who has held a particularly special place in my heart since I've been working at becoming more active myself has been Amy, or @ClarendonCultur. Amy made a huge splash in my online life when she seemed to be interested in all the same things I was--my favorite artist, favorite venue AND my favorite Arlington neighborhood! Amy is also (I remember fondly) the first Clarendon blogger to follow @Denuine on Twitter. Yes, Amy has left us in the Clarendon space but the ending is happier than my tone so far might suggest. She's now covering an exciting new area of the DC-area space, Bethesda, MD via her new @Bethesdan! Amy, thanks for being such a delightful ally in the quest to keep the DC area safe for art & music. I wish you all the best of luck with your new Bethesda-focused blog and will hold you to your promise not to be a stranger at Margot's shows, at IOTA or around Clarendon! : ]

  Speaking of bloggers, I'd also like to welcome Philippa Hughes @PinkLineProject to the Margot blogger fam via her recent post of An amazing rendition of Massive Attack's "Teardrop". Phillippa is a long-time Facebook friend, but I wasn't fully aware of her important work promoting the area's arts. Philippa, I'm looking forward to working with you & Pink Line Project as we mutually support DC music in the future!

  I believe that about does it for this installment. While I'm being all mushy & appreciative, thanks to all of you who read the Denuine blog regularly. If this is your first time, welcome! Again, a very happy Easter to each one of you. Speaking of Easter, I'd like to end by re-sharing one of my very favorite Easter-related images. Coincidentally, it's also one of my favorite photos of Margot. Yeah, it's the one below of Margot MacDonald as The Stern Bunny--such an awesome photograph she shared with us via Twitter one Easter past. It makes me smile every time I see it and reminds me what a delightful, creative person Margot is. It's almost a paradox that someone this amazing at creating & presenting world-class music can without blinking become the "just Margot" who refuses to take herself too seriously. Enjoy your day and please remember to support local music & the artists who make it. They ask so very little of us--often just the chance to entertain us--yet supporting them just that tiny bit helps so much and literally means the world to them.
Margot MacDonald as The Stern Bunny

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Surviving the Facebook Facelift

Completed Denuine Facebook cover photo featuring Margot MacDonald & Michael Pearsall
  When Facebook announced they were changing the format of pages--including Denuine, I wasn't a happy camper. I didn't have a lot of experience with the new "timeline" and what I did have was all bad. My favorite way of expressing my dislike of it was that if I hit you up on Facebook I'm probably more interested in seeing if you might be free for lunch today than to find out what you actually had for lunch two years ago. My view didn't seem the least bit unique either. Whereas some of my posts about perfectly wonderful live music shows get as few as two enthusiastic responses, bashing the timeline was guaranteed to bring scores, including people I hadn't texted with in years. The only person I knew who seemed to like it at all was my contact for awesome band Sing Me Insomnia, bassist Wes Beale, who was using it to relive precious beginnings with his girlfriend. Still, I thought, can't Facebook just leave the non-Wes rest of us alone? I was hoping it was all just a cruel joke with a last-minute popup proclaiming, "Hey, you really didn't think we were going to pimp your page like that, did you? April Fool's!"

  No cigar. In place of that popup, I awoke the morning of the 31st to find a decimated Denuine. I felt like one of the tornado survivors too often in the news lately, wandering around, looking for something familiar I could pick up & hug to cut through some of the numbness of losing my home and provide a clue to how to begin to rebuild it. The most obvious new feature was a big "drink me" button begging me to upload my "cover photo" to a new gaping hole sitting on real estate where important content had been the night before, as if I was supposed to know what a cover photo was and have one ready to share. Okay, I know photos; just give me the specs, and I'll start to think about this. I did a quick "Facebook timeline" Google search & found their video on the subject. I was impressed they were actually sharing some documentation. Then I watched the movie & discovered it's a story about some guy named Andy who grows up, gets a FB page, gets lucky and himself has a kid. (I'm guessing the daughter that's born signs up for a Facebook profile of her own & starts the cycle all over again to prove the sustainability of the business model.) The video made the purpose of Facebook profiles very clear, but I still had no specs & no clue to how to get my music page back. Finally mustering the courage to click that big button, I was rewarded with what I wanted to know in the form of a suggestion: To get the best quality image and fastest load times for your Page, upload an sRGB JPG file that's 851 pixels wide, 315 pixels tall and less than 100 kilobytes. Thank you! I wanted to ask why Andy couldn't have told me that himself, but I guess he had better things to do. I'm hoping whoever slipped that helpful note into the site code doesn't get fired for being out of touch with corporate culture.

  Hmmm, 851x315 pixels--that's one flat, wide image! It's more of a mural really and not something likely to be spit out by a 35mm-based camera (DX or FX, film or no film) without some serious
Even playing down & dirty like Jonny Grave fails
to guarantee a successfully horizontal cover image!
panoramic stitching. That's probably the reason so many of the ones I've seen so far are sunsets or similar landscape photos. The only common snapshots I can think of that might fit the format are the ones your friends take of you when you pass out somewhere interesting after a rough night of partying. Most people don't otherwise get that horizontal--at least not in public. My pictures are primarily of decidedly vertical rock stars; so, I wasn't getting a lot of ideas. I've seen Margot MacDonald drop to her knees to punctuate particularly poignant passages & photographed Jonny Grave playing excellent Blues guitar with his back closer to the ground than I would attempt with any reasonable hope of getting back up again, but even either of those photos would have been much too vertical to work here. Yes, I do have a wide-angle lens, but that 24mm only recently joined my arsenal. Even then, I use it mostly to get shots of an entire band when I'm at a venue that's too crowded for me to simply take a few steps backwards. Rather than shooting wide, I'm usually just trying to get a usable shot in spite of being too close to the action.

  I finally remembered one of the few situations where I actually do shoot landscapes--summer visits to the beach at Ocean City, MD where I usually go to recharge my batteries after all the spring & winter shows. My
Lightning strikes twice in Ocean City, MD
latest trip's timing turned out to be inopportune for several reasons. First of all, Margot was invited last minute to gig at IOTA, and I wasn't going to be there to photograph her. Then out on the water where I normally find wonderfully colorful sunrises to capture, was the biggest ocean storm I had ever seen! Of the photos I shot that night, my favorite was the one in which I captured not one but two simultaneous lightning strikes. Not only did they have the good sense to hit at precisely the same moment but also managed to position themselves in strict obedience to the rule of thirds! Even more helpful in terms of cover image proportions, the sky above the clouds discharging themselves and the ocean below them were nearly perfect (ffffff) black. To give you an idea of the composition's fit, I cropped it to my liking (cutting black pixels from top and bottom), shrunk the image proportionally to 851 pixels wide and then measured it to see how much additional canvas I would need to trim from the top & bottom to get it to 315 pixels tall. As it turned out, I only needed to reduce 4 more pixels total--2 from top/2 from bottom! My plan up until this point was simple step-1 triage to undo as much of Facebook's damage to my page as I could immediately & to be followed by longer term tweaking as time and inspiration allowed; so, I uploaded the "finished" photo to Facebook & christened it tentatively complete.

  Even though I was warming a bit, both to my prospects for actually succeeding at doing this as well as to my nascent design, I was still by any definition far from finished. Yes, I had proven myself cooler than the Facebook timeline equivalent to Twitter eggs with no cover image, but I was still only slightly cooler than those who had simply given up and posted some pretty scenery from a recent vacation. That's basically what I had done, and my only real advantage here was not being smart enough to read a weather report before heading to the beach. Ocean City, MD has precious little to do with Washington, DC music--lightning or no lightning. Still, there was something in those arcs of electrical energy that captured my imagination. It's maybe the closest force in nature to what I feel while listening to live music. Maybe this heavenly battle scene could be salvaged by something as simple as some Titans--only this time ones awesome enough not to get their butts kicked by Zeus & his peepz. Maybe all I needed to do was to get Margot MacDonald amazing!

Margot MacDonald

  I needed to look no further than my favorite from Margot's BlackRock concert last year. The photo isn't a particularly good capture of her beautiful face, but the positioning of her arms,
Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam
hands & fingers is so graceful it puts her in a league with (& in my opinion a decisive winner over) Michelangelo’s models for his The Creation of Adam Sistine Chapel painting. Don't take my word for it, check it out; comments welcome below. Regardless, if my heavenly battle needed a goddess, I now had one. Luck was with me once again, for when I selected her off the original background (conveniently black at the default "as shot" exposure) & pasted her into my sky, her size was perfect. Appropriately, the being who supplies so much of the lightning I experience in the venues of DC & NYC, looked very much at home in my heaven as well. The image was also working well with my other inspiration. I've always liked Bollywood movie posters with their colorful, dramatically positioned characters; I was feeling something along those lines here as well. Following the rule of thirds (as I mentioned earlier), the bolts divided my photograph into three sections. The first third would be an appropriately empty backdrop for my Denuine U47 microphone logo on the left-hand side of the Facebook page. The third third would be lovely Margot. That left an empty middle section to fill. I needed one more DC music superstar--rock god a plus.

  The next name to come to mind was Michael Pearsall, dashing lead singer for favorite DC band Honor by August, one of (if not THE) best bands in the region with a superb repertoire of songs spread over
Honor by August's Michael Pearsall at Artisphere
several must-have CDs. If you hear these guys once, you'll buy their entire collection of recorded music. (This from someone who did precisely that the first time I heard them!) They're also one of my favorite bands to photograph, because these guys all look like rock stars. The night I took this picture, Michael was performing some of his songs at an intimate singer/songwriter event at Rosslyn's Artisphere. There were some harsh red-orange lights on the performers; so, I started playing with the white balance in camera until I got a natural skin tone. At that setting, Artisphere's distinctive dome glowed a deep midnight blue, very much reminiscent of the night sky. Moreover, Michael's eyes were really wide in the photo, suggesting that edgy ion-charged feeling when lightening is crashing around us. I picked him off the blue background and pasted him in place next to Margot--again, no re-sizing required! Things were really looking promising!

  All the basic elements in place, I went to work making them look like they belonged together. Normally, I want my subject to pop out of the picture, really not that difficult with models like Margot & Michael, but this time around, I was going for something a bit more subdued. I'm thinking a cover image should get & hold some attention (much like the cover of a book) but it's really the content on the page that should immediately take over from it; so, I didn't want anything too flashy or distracting. Also, unlike the items posted below it on the page, this image won't change constantly; so, it should be interesting & pleasant enough not to get boring or tiring longer term. This really isn't a "how to" & I don't want to bore non-geeks too much, but some of the things I did to help the elements blend were to apply lighting effects to simulate illumination from the lightning, adjust the curves (highlights especially) in the blue direction, decrease the exposure, adjust Margot & Michael's skin tones to match each other, apply some masks (mostly with brushes and gradients) to make the rock stars blend smoothly into the picture, & finally decrease their opacity a tiny bit for the same reason. At one point during the editing, I was trying to erase the black horizontal boom you can see pictured from Michael's microphone by painting over it in the layer mask, but it wasn't budging. I laughed to realize what I was trying to erase was actually a thick black storm cloud in the identical position in the background (sky) layer!

  I finally had a completed cover image I think does the best job I can of communicating the ion-laden excitement of live music, featuring two of my very favorite artists--not bad for the first full day of mandatory Facebook page timelines! I was in fact so inspired by the new design, I used it as the pattern for redesigning Denuine Twitter. The thing I didn't anticipate was that on the same day I created all of the above & put it in place, I would find myself blogging about the experience as well. To complete this third prong of activity, I'll leave you with a performance that gives me goose bumps. It'll also serve as a good introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the music of either of these two awesome featured artists. (Don't stop here; you're in for a ton of amazing music!) The show captured in this video was a special night at DC's 9:30 Club with Honor by August performing to a packed house. Margot MacDonald joined HBA's Michael Pearsall on stage to sing a duet with him on "Johnny (Pass Me Another One)"--one of the band's signature songs. There was lightning in the 9:30 Club that night, precisely the kind of lightning I want to share with each one of you on Denuine!

Monday, January 30, 2012


  This is the report I almost didn't write. I had just finished and was pretty content with then most recent I Want MARGOT MacDONALD FOR CHRISTMAS! in which I announced Margot & Friends to readers of this blog. I really couldn't wait but somehow managed to hold on until I was finally at the event enjoying its holiday fun. It was easily everything advance promotion had advertised and more. I had just run into DC music community mainstay (and according to that community's gossip, its friendliest member) Ted Zook who leaned in my direction and whispered, "When's the next one, Den?" It was a question I could normally be counted on to answer accurately, but this time, I smiled, shrugged and replied that I honestly didn't know. In my defense, I had promised in that earlier blog not to speculate too much in the interim about the coming New Year of Margot and her music. I wanted to fully enjoy this current event with her, her band, her special guests and fans like Ted who had been with us at so many other shows the whole year. As at any of the holiday celebrations happening in DC and the world roughly simultaneously to Margot's, this was our time to reflect on 2011 things that really mattered, be a bit sad about this one being the year's last, but ultimately excited and hopeful for even brighter if unspecified new things to come. Right then it seemed appropriate to allow 2011 to melt into the same happy, similarly unaccounted for f/1.4 bokeh of memories, with nothing too much more ambitious than a resolve to do a bit better job of documenting the ones the New Year would bring. More and better words and pictures in the future (I promise[d]!), but for right now I was done.

  New Year 2012, however, arrived with a bum's rush of curiosity dwarfing Ted's question about that unnamed first show of the year. Some of my friends assumed Margot must have headlined a New Year's Eve concert; so, I was questioned about how that "went," even though one was neither announced nor occurred. Even those who had attended Margot & Friends with me inquired about the blog I most certainly had to write about such an important event and asked that I let them know once it was published to make sure they got to read it. The other group of eager readers I had neglected to consider was new fans discovering Margot's music subsequent to the December 22nd show. These rushed online with a voracious appetite to make up lost time during our own hurried post-production and posting to catch the last lingering wave of interest in seasonal music sharing the show's video. These late comers arrived just in time to experience the general afterglow still present among the party's attendees and performers, kicking themselves for their unusually bad timing, pouring over the posted show notices, and again, expressing interest in reading a report about the show.

  First and most important lesson of 2012: I am not in charge of this blog; I merely write it. You guys decide what you want to know and when. Would you like fries with that?Newly revised plan: This will be I. a quick(?) update (already in progress) on the Margot & Friends holiday show followed by II. a 2011 Margot highlight recap. Best laid plans, take one, rolling:

Margot & Friends Holiday show
  As I explained in I Want MARGOT MacDONALD FOR CHRISTMAS!, Margot & Friends was the 2011 installment of host Margot MacDonald's unique contribution to DC holiday tradition, held on December 22nd at IOTA Club & Café in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA. I'm normally one of the first people to arrive at Margot's shows to get cameras and audio equipment set up before sound check, but even though I was early this night, there was already a crowd in the venue and anticipation in the air. It seemed all the rest of Margot's audience was just as eager as I was for this party to start. I call the people I spend time with at all Margot's shows her super fans. I've already mentioned Ted, but the first fellow member of the club I ran into at IOTA that night was Brick. He was seated where I normally set up, having dinner; so, I set up beside him. I actually ended up in his way not once but twice that same night--there and at the alternate Camera B position I shoot from house-left. Sorry about that, Brick, but so good to see you! In addition to Brick, Ted and other Margot fans, many of my close, personal, non-musician friends were there too. Thanks, Christy & Thomas! Thomas was even brave enough to have dinner at that same table, now holding mixers and other audio and video equipment. Another highlight of the evening was spending time with fellow music blogger Shawn Catherine Fisher of the Falling Leaves blog. She's always an interesting read, rarely misses a chance to help spread the word about DC music and musicians, is extremely pleasant to interact with online, but particularly sweet in person. She's also one of the countless friends I probably wouldn't have met were it not for the Margot MacDonald connection that originally introduced us. Finally, there was Stephen Negrey who was running the venue that night, always on duty but never too busy to stop to chat a bit with guests. Stephen and sister Jane are just two more important reasons to love IOTA Club & Café.

  The party was also the nice chance I had hoped for (and promised in most of my Facebook invitations) for catching up with the many DC musicians I enjoy chatting with, photographing or being entertained by. I can't emphasize enough how special this group of friends is to me in the very best and personally most meaningful ways. Whether it's our deep, mutual respect for music and other art or our shared endless supply of hugs, I get a feeling of community with them I don't experience to this degree with any other crowd. That music-based social portion of my night progressed from spending time, as mentioned, with bass cellist Ted Zook, through reacquainting myself with awesome Matt Hutchison, to a pleasant conversation with super nice, super talented Rob Martino near the bar and then literally bumping into Gideon Grove during one of my hurried trips to Camera B. Addieville's Dayana Yochim shared what's got to be the sweetest smile in DC music and gave away a bit of the mostly secret details of the night's unfolding itinerary by revealing that Margot was NOT planning to have her play egg shaker. Truthfully though, there was such a game of musical-instrument musical chairs under way that I wouldn't have been surprised to see anybody play anything that night. I was pleased to manage a free moment with super popular Maureen Andary of The Sweater Set. There was even time to sit a bit and catch up with guitar wizard Dan Cohn. I probably spent the biggest total of gathered scattered moments with best new music friend and talented entertainer Phillip Noss. As if all that wasn't pleasing enough, it was heaven to share some holiday cheer with the party's host and organizer Margot MacDonald and the rest of her core music family, band mates KC and Alan. These three are the motivation for pretty much anything of artistic value I do and my own raison d'être in the DC music community we share.

  If the audience was excited tonight, there were still brighter smiles gleaming back from the stage,
outshining even the trademark sprays of tiny white lights that accent IOTA's artists like baby's breath does a dozen roses. Matt and Tim Hutchison's performance turned IOTA into a London pub for their super-entertaining set, reminding me how much I’d missed lengendary Baltimore band Fools & Horses. Matt's been playing a bit further out lately, building a fan base for his new solo career, in what I call the Ocean City tour because it includes towns like Easton, MD I normally travel through on my way to the beach at Ocean City, MD; so, it was a treat for local fans like me to have them play so close to home. It's always sad when a band breaks up, but these two playing together were equally compelling. I've become a fan all over again.

  Margot MacDonald, perennially stunning, was ravishing in her stylishly sexy red Free People Clarendon dress, totally looking the classy superstar she is. She seemed to radiate holiday spirit and was obviously having as great a night as her audience and guests. Margot & Friends was much more a blueprint for the evening than simply the clever, cozy name for the event I had assumed it to be, as many of the "friends" performed not in isolation but joining Margot and her band on stage, collaborating to create some super memorable moments. The emotional apex of the evening came
with Margot inviting little brother Remy up to the stage to play snare on "Little Drummer Boy." The audience reacted en masse as soon as they realized what was happening, witnessing the most touching performance I've personally ever experienced in my countless pilgrimages to IOTA. I have to add though that in addition to being an "Aw!"-inspiring and convincing personification of the boy in that song, Remy MacDonald is an accomplished drummer in his own right. Well, okay, just a bit smaller and cuter than most other drummers I know--sorry, Alan! Other highlights included Rob Martino's captivating Chapman Stick accompaniment to Margot's vocal on "White Christmas" and some of the crowded-roster performances prompting doubts whether so much talent would actually fit on IOTA's stage. The arrangement definitely took my camera angle to task. It was difficult to keep flank men, Margot MacDonald Band's KC Hatton and the other side's guy, a man with more than enough talent to back up his rock attitude, guest Derek Evry, in the same shot. The audio gods were particularly happy that night, however; so, please do enjoy the video. Margot's created a special Holiday Set playlist with video of most of the holiday songs from this segment. There may be a video or two in that set that wasn't shot at the 2011 edition of Margot & Friends, but you’ll enjoy those as well. The other advantage of using the playlist is that it’ll automatically include any additional videos Margot might add after this blog is published. Yeah, good deal!

  Phillip Noss took us home. He's the good friend and great musician I had recorded earlier at the
showcase series Margot hosts as Youth Director for the Songwriters' Association of Washington (SAW). By party time, I had seen him play at least twice before, but this was my first opportunity to catch him at the helm of his full rock band, which also includes mutual friend Owen Danoff. Even though I was already a fan, what I was seeing tonight was a new level of awesome. Phillip Noss Band was magnificent--definitely one to keep your eye on in young country rock--with catchy tunes like favorite "Lover on the Run." He's also raising money to fund a new album with that same name; so, help Phil out if you can. You’ll be hard pressed to find either a better cause or a nicer guy.

  In addition to being such a great party, a chance to wish Margot "Merry Christmas!" a hangout with friends who are important to me, and a ton of awesome music in my favorite venue, Margot & Friends was my opportunity to experience a native Margot MacDonald variety show. Margot is constantly participating in and often organizing shows for already-mentioned SAW, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and various charities. Everyone involved appreciates the time and effort she gives of herself to make those happen, but having a sponsoring organization can add additional restrictions--things like performers having to be BMI songwriters, young/emerging artists, SAW members, or whatever else the organization is trying to promote at the time. For once, I was seeing a group of people brought together by Margot just because Margot wanted them to play that night, and it was amazing. Experiences like this one make me lament the death of the weekly, star-fronted television variety show, as I could totally imagine Margot hosting a super-cool modern version of something like the Sonny & Cher Show. Musings aside, Margot & Friends was a huge and unanimous success. If you'll forgive the slight violation of ground rules for this blog, I am so looking forward to attending Margot & Friends 2012!

Ten Margot highlights of 2011
  I realize the title for a list like this one would normally read "Top" Ten, but I'm not feeling quite that pretentious right now. Margot does so many amazing things for such a variety of people, that any one of her beneficiaries could probably contribute a new story that would easily top some of these or at least expand the list to two hundred or so. Even my own list would probably be different from day to day as I remember new things--some as simple but precious to me as one of her off-stage smiles; so, no, not strictly the top ten--just ten pretty darn special happenings that make me excited about spending the coming New Year in the audience of this artist I can't help but love. I will stick to ten, David Letterman style, and try to keep them in some type of order--inverse order actually--to build a bit of suspense. Since this is a cooperative effort, if you remember something particularly touching from your year with Margot, you got it, that's what the comment field at the end of the blog is for. You can also always leave related posts on Denuine's Facebook page.

10. New Surge of Excitement for "Retro" Margot MacDonald Rock
  In my debut blog here on, Margot MacDonald: RECYCLING SOUND, I discussed the sea change in Margot's music that accompanied the incorporation of her looping. In fact, I was delighted to note subsequently that the business card Margot included in the box for her Made-by-Margot Christmas ornament actually listed loopist among her core skills. What I didn't anticipate was that while new and old fans alike were enjoying Margot's great new loop pedal songs like favorites original "Speed of Sound" and cover "Teardrop," there was a growing new wave of fans led by music blogger Gina Jordan and others on Facebook, Twitter and particularly the new Google+ social networking platform who were just discovering and getting excited about Margot's earlier rock covers--great classics like "Immigrant Song" and "Paint It Black" either of which is an excellent reason to buy or keep spinning your own copy of Margot's current album WALLS (or even go look for a copy of TORN!)

9. HDSLR Video
  If you can forgive the geek in some of these earlier 2011 milestones, I'll share my excitement with some of the technical innovations helping improve the back-end work of presenting Margot's music to you. High Definition/Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (the big black Nikons you might see me wearing, along with my gilded pick Made-by-Margot necklace at Margot's shows) have been bringing broadcast quality video within reach of those of us who capture live shows for later viewing on YouTube. Margot herself took the lead in this area for her music by employing the technology in her Floor Sessions cover series. You've probably also noticed some particularly cool looking segments in the video (linked above) from Margot & Friends, the first live-Margot video series to include HDSLR footage. These cameras have a much bigger sensor than the prosumer camcorders we've had access to up to this point. You'll notice the superior low-light performance and increased detail capturing things like Margot's awesome red hair. Technological innovations like these are just one small part of the race to try to keep up with Margot's tireless pursuit of excellence. It's an impossible task but always fun to try. Stay tuned for even cooler technological advances in the future.

8. Loop Station Upgrade
  Geeking again, but I should probably also briefly mention Margot's new loop station. I'll leave the details to Margot and her merch table chats, but if you're interested in the looping technology you see in her shows, do ask her about it. She shares a simple introduction prior to the first loop pedal song at her live shows just to ward off total confusion among some of her audience members about precisely how she employs the pedal. No, there's nothing up her sleeves--at least nothing prerecorded on the device before she starts to play. Understanding that all the sound exiting the device is added in real time by Margot right there on stage makes the performance all the more spectacular. In addition to the new loop station itself, she's been experimenting with alternate positioning, elevating the pedal up off the floor to operate it with her hands rather than her feet. She seems to like it there for now, but I do miss the mesmerizing dance movements she had integrated into her pedal stomps on some songs.

7. Floor Sessions: World-Class Covers

  I've spoiled the surprise several times already in the current blog, but that just underscores the importance of this innovative series of cover songs Margot performs in her own basement, often on the floor, in such a down-to-earth, unassuming way. The video is recorded by Alan Kayanan her drummer and also one of the many photographers happy to point his lens in the direction of this lovely young woman. (His most memorable photo of Margot is probably his shot of her playing that great acoustic piano at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC). Such a simple presentation of something ultimately so enticing makes the result all the more impressive. The videos we experience in this series boast no credits to the acoustics of Carnegie Hall, a good night among storied session musicians, or the nimble fader fingers of producer Quincy Jones. No, it's just a girl rocking out in her basement and being OMG amazing! The chance to enjoy these covers is particularly fortunate for Margot's fans, because adding cover songs to the mix hasn't come natural for her. The reason is her intense independence and creativity. Redoing something already done by some other artist simply didn't originally make sense to her. We now enjoy the best of both worlds, with Margot attacking these songs with the degree of fresh effort she normally reserves for writing new originals. A fan at a Wheaton, MD festival headlined by Margot described it this way: "With singer/songwriters, I can always tell a cover song--even when I'm not familiar with the original recording--because it’s professionally written. These songs just have that something originals do not. When Margot performs, I don't hear a difference. Her originals are extremely well written, and she makes the covers her own also; so, I can just kick back and enjoy it all."

  Margot maintains a playlist, Floor Sessions: Margot MacDonald, for her Floor Sessions videos; do not miss them! Remember fans can request their own favorites according to a monthly theme Margot publishes online; so, keep an eye out for that opportunity!

6. Maker of Made-by-Margot
  Things that Margot makes with her own hands are important for numerous reasons. Some artistic, as in the contribution other otherwise unrelated pieces, like a Margot MacDonald painting in an art museum, might make to the overall understanding of this woman as artist. Others are more personal, providing a physical, tactile something fans can take home and live with or wear to feel connected.
The works themselves are way cool, all of the above and more. The Made-by-Margot necklace I wear is particularly special to me. I feel closer to Margot, her art and music when I wear it, and wearing it helps others see how important they are to me. People comment on how unique the artwork is, how cool it is as jewelry, how great it looks on me, where can they get their own?—always accompanied by an opportunity to enlighten a fellow human being about my favorite artist and what she does. I've even had silent compliments. A woman walked up to me on Metro, picked up the gilded pick with her fingers to get a better look, let it fall back down again, smiled at me and then walked away. Yeah, I did feel a bit like a Macy’s mannequin, but I appreciated her interest. Finally, there's a style and harmony that results when the artist who gives my spirit wings with her music also designs the key accents to my persona.

  At Margot & Friends the star Made-by-Margot item was her unique holiday ornament. This was by far my favorite thing on or under the tree this year. As I mentioned to Margot, non-musicians won't fully appreciate how much skill and engineering must go into creating one of these. They lay perfectly flat in the gift box that holds them but open up mobile-style into a perfect minimalist sphere when fully deployed. The thing that really blows my mind about them is they're made from guitar strings (apart from the gilded pick theme that carries over from Margot's necklaces). My amazement comes from my own experience changing strings on my Gibson guitars. While Margot recycles her strings, it's all I can do to successfully transport them to the trash can. My plan is to coil them up to the point where they'll fit inside the can's opening. When I open my hand to release them, however, they quickly spring back to their former shape and size, falling to the floor outside the can's rim. Okay, so I'm not Margot MacDonald!

5. Margot MacDonald, Photographer
  It's ironic that this woman who lives in the preferred critical area of focus of so many great photographers (see the next section, #4), is herself personally responsible for so many of my
favorite photographs. I'm fond of saying it was a generous gift of physical circumstance that it's considerably more difficult for photographer Margot MacDonald to photograph sought-after model Margot MacDonald, than for the rest of my peers and me. Otherwise she wouldn't need any of the rest of us at all! Subject aside, Margot has a gift for capturing images that literally leap off their emulsion with a timing that must be related to similar forces guiding her as she flies down the staff of songs like "Speed of Sound" on her loop pedal. The only thing tripping in either case is shutters, and the images captured through Margot's lens are breathtaking. Many of Margot's still-life photographs belong in museums, but I have a particular affinity for her efforts in my own world of live concert photography where Margot is more often than not the subject of my work. This picture is particularly humbling to me personally, because I was at that same OK Go concert at the Kennedy Center the night she shot it, seemingly with an equal opportunity to shoot the same scenes she did, but nothing in my set is anywhere nearly as cool as this!

4. Margot Press/Blogs/Photos
  I was at one of the showcases Margot hosts for SAW recently and was pleased to see fellow super fan Tom there. I walked over, shook his hand and told him how good it was to see him. I'm fond of saying Margot's fans form what feels like a family, and we're almost as happy to see each other as we are to spend time with our star. I asked him how he'd been, and he answered, "Well, you know--Margot withdrawal. I just had to come hear her sing." Yeah, I did know. Nightly Margot wouldn't be too often for me but taxing I'm sure for her, particularly considering all the other things she needs to do (like writing the much-loved music she shares). It helps that there's an army of reporters, bloggers and photographers helping capture these precious performances, related happenings and irresistible facets of her being that give us innovative ways to feed the Margot fix while she's in recluse mode creating new art. One of my very favorite such 2011 articles was The Deli Magazine's Margot MacDonald: A Modest Introduction. Reporter Jarrett was lucky enough to accidentally attend one of the many festival shows Margot participated in this past summer, literally lured to the stage from afar by the sound of her amazing voice in the distance. This same piece contained my favorite quote of the year: "There were at least three photographers with expensive, telephoto rigs photographing her performance as if this Reston festival were Lollapalooza." 2011 was to provide many such photo opportunities--both live shows and planned shoots--so that the traditional ranks of photographer favorites like Brandon Wu and Kenny Reff swelled to include the talents of Francesco Sapienza, Jonathan Timmes, Stephen Gosling and Francisco Campos-Lopez. Timmes' excellent shoot with Margot was to illustrate Robert Fulton's slick-paper-printed feature Girls Rock for Northern Virginia Magazine's Musical Elite: Artists Who Have Transcended the Region series. I've become a fan of Jonathan's work and am looking forward to seeing more treasures from his shoot with Margot as she reveals them piecemeal as profile pictures on her Margot MacDonald Music Facebook page in the New Year. I'm also looking forward to seeing and reading new contributions from these and still other artists who find themselves inspired by Margot in the future, as well as continuing to contribute whatever I can to the cause.

  What could possibly be better than all that? How about hearing what's on Margot's mind in her own words once a month directly from her--complete with a great picture and a list of what's new and exciting including her upcoming shows? If that sounds awesome, you want to make sure you're on her mailing list to receive Margot's High Notes, her newsletter. It was established the year before, but every 2011 issue was it's own highlight. It's the most entertaining periodically-published piece of prose on the planet!

3. WAMA Artist of the Year

  I always enjoy road trips to Margot’s away performances, as well as my previous scouting missions to LA for the GRAMMY Awards to ID a good set of seats for when the time eventually comes for Margot to pick up her own statue. There is, however, no greater pleasure or convenience than spending time with my favorite performer right here at home. To help ensure the area continues to support a vibrant music scene, we have organizations for musicians, their music and their prospects for being able to make a living at their craft. In addition to the SAW organization already mentioned for songwriters, the more general group for musicians is the Washington-Area Music Association (WAMA). At WAMA's 2011 awards presentation, the Wammies, I was thrilled to hear the name "Margot MacDonald" announced as the recipient of the Wammie for Artist of the Year. The really cool thing about the distinction is that it's a peer award. It's nice to be loved by fans but quite another thing entirely to know your fellow musicians think you're pretty special too.

  Speaking of awards, around this same time (still early in 2011), Margot was the recipient of a Power 30 Under 30 award, recognizing those who accomplish great things sooner than later in life.

  One of the frustrating but exciting things about writing a blog about relatively recent events is that while I'm reminding us of all the great 2011 happenings we love to relive, 2012 won't wait until I finish; cool new things keep happening! The most recent case is Margot's just-announced nominations for Artist of the Year, WAMA/SAW Songwriter of the Year and Modern Rock Vocalist for the current 26th annual Washington Area Music Association Wammie awards. Let's do what we can to turn these nominations into wins for our star. WAMA members can vote here. A bit later, everyone will have a chance to vote for Margot in WAMA's special Fans' Choice category. Keep an eye out for the announcement and link!

2. Margot MacDonald live
  I've already mentioned Margot's awesome 2011 holiday party, itself a strong contender for most entertaining show of the year. Simply put, experiencing Margot MacDonald live is exciting--no
surprise for anyone who was there beside me at Margot’s shows this past year. Fans were blessed with a multitude of memorable 2011 events--some firsts for their venues, itself hard to believe once you've seen the impressive list of venues Margot has played during her career as a professional musician. BlackRock Center for the Arts stands out in my mind as a particularly huge date on Margot's 2011 calendar, but you might have already guessed that from its vital signs: It was a full-length, sold-out Margot show on one of the newest, nicest, best-lit stages in the area. Margot was strikingly beautiful that night, uninhibitedly graceful, sounded particularly amazing in this great space, was able to present a show that was long enough to appropriately showcase the breadth of her amazing talent and was reluctantly bid adieu by standing ovation. An unexpected pleasure (first noticed by Brick) was seeing Margot's name up in lights on the venue's marquee! I was moved to try to share some of the excitement in my first blog of any sort, a Facebook note: Margot MacDonald @ Blackrock 2-17-11 Yes, it was still only February when that show occurred; so, Margot’s impressive year of important live concerts had barely begun!

  Margot found time to tour in 2011 with away dates in Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Philly and a
 return to New York City where she had previously wowed her audience at great live music club The Bitter End. This time she played Rockwood Music Hall, sharing a bill with such favorites as Jace Everett of “Bad Things” fame and addictively quirky Ali Eskandarian (pictured) of Iranian import band Yellow Dogs. In addition to taking pictures like the one of Ali illustrating this paragraph, I was moved to write my second blog in honor of this show as a contribution to NYC club scene chronicle The Pat’s District Blog. As dedicated as I am to DC venues, I really love the vibe of NYC's live music scene--especially when I can take my favorite artists with me! Frank Sinatra wasn't lying when he sang about NY, NY being the "city that never sleeps." Shows don't ever seem to wind down there, much less end. Time's one cruel trick this trip was to have Daylight Savings Time spring forward while I was there, robbing me of what would otherwise most certainly have been another precious hour of awesome live music. Margot, my camera bag is always packed; I'm hoping you can make time again soon to delight all your great NYC fans, as well as give some of your biggest fans here in DC an excellent excuse to explore that scene some more. I would also particularly love to see you play a future date at NYC's The Living Room; it just seems such a great place to showcase the amazing things you do!

  Yet another particularly memorable performance occurred at Arlington, VA's Lubber Run Amphitheater. This great outdoor venue had been newly renovated back to productive life just in time
for the 2011 concert season. There was something magical about the sound waves of Margot's enchanting voice mingling with the long rays of the setting sun, the show’s bubble-machine finale, and all the love in the air for Arlington's favorite daughter Margot MacDonald. I was once again only one of many photographers in the audience that evening and proud to have the photos I took displayed as an album on Margot's music page: Lubber Run Amphitheatre 2011 Margot participated in a ton of other great concert series and music festivals including Live! at Woodrow Wilson Plaza (held at the Ronald Reagan Building), the National Cherry Blossom Festival, National Freedom Festival and similar summer shows throughout the area and beyond.

  These are just a few highlights that come to mind. All Margot's shows are precious, and not being in the audience of a single one of them would make me uncomfortably curious about what I missed; so, I try not to let that happen too often. Also high on the must-see list are Margot's performances in the huge Bandhouse Gigs tribute productions at Strathmore Music Hall, Wolf Trap or wherever else they might be held. I don't have words to describe Margot's voice backed up by a full string section, but that's just one example of the surprises that can occur at these shows. It's the kind of experience you'll want to enjoy in person. Margot doesn't tend to add the songs she performs for this series to her live playlist; so, it'll be pretty much impossible to make up anything you miss here. This is video from Margot's most recent BandHouse Gigs performance, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her"--part of their Simon & Garfunkel tribute concert:

  All the wonderfully entertaining shows at relaxing IOTA (like Margot’s much-blogged-about tag team with fellow Strathmore Artist in Residence Ted Garber, her participation there in Justin Trawick's The 9 Songwriters series, and once again, Margot & Friends) belong among the brightest highlights. There's nothing quite as rewarding as having your spirit lifted up by Margot's soaring soprano, followed by the chance to walk over to her merch table, tell her in your own words how much the experience meant to you and maybe have Margot autograph a CD or two to take with you.

  Margot has a special place in her heart for playing with her own band, but contrary to what even she might contend, there really is no such thing as a “small” Margot production. The venue hasn't been built yet that's too large to be filled to the brim with just Margot's amazing voice, particularly when multiplied by her loop pedal. Notice I said multiplied and not amplified. If there ever was an artist on the planet who could get along just fine without a microphone, it's Margot. A personal favorite, recurring girl & guitar (& loop pedal : ) gig is Strathmore Sunday Sounds Brunch which combines Margot's amazing music with a tantalizing meal within Strathmore's feng shui-rich space. Under-the-radar and private performances occurred all over the area, Richmond, and as far away as Boston—-more than a couple associated with photo shoots. When you see a professionally done photograph in which Margot appears to be performing, it’s because she actually is singing or playing guitar on location for the shoot. It’s an important reason why so many photographers who have shot Margot are also such big fans of her music.

  To tell the truth, precisely where Margot entertains us couldn't be less important. When we go to one of Margot's concerts, an involved production at a colossal venue isn't what we're coming to see. The opportunity to enjoy our Margot live is all we need no matter where that happens. Every now and then, however, when it occurs can be pretty special all by itself. The 2011 example that comes most readily to mind is Jammin Java where Margot hosted and performed at a SAW/BMI showcase on February 14, 2011. Yes, we got to spend Valentine's Day with Margot MacDonald! What could possibly be cooler or more special than that?

  Margot's YouTube playlist of her live performances is Live Shows: Margot MacDonald

1. New Margot MacDonald Music
  An original that often starts (well, okay; sometimes ends! : ) Margot's live shows "Colorblind" asks the question "Are you restless too?" Restless is a great word to describe DC music's most lovable overachiever. The resurgence of interest in Margot's ageless classic rock (mentioned in highlight #10) even as her creativity is exploding in exciting new directions hints at how to come to grips with the driving force in this woman's music. As fans, we delightedly assimilate the new as we continue to embrace what we love about what has gone before. Margot herself lives closer to the furnace where these embers of hyper creativity push her to do ever more amazing things for us. It's just one more reason why Margot's fans are so attached to her. Her music is a wild ride. If you don't hold on tight, you run the risk of missing something really special. Embracing the evolution of Margot's music is the best way to try to keep up to ensure you're able to fully appreciate and enjoy her innovative gifts. Being a Margot MacDonald fan is rewarding but not easy for anyone who isn't genuinely into great music. Her fans are much more likely to be called passionate than casual. Margot's music isn't a collection of elevator-destined background tunes you can cue and forget; it’s a reason to get very excited, and we do!

  During 2011, we heard much of Margot’s new music added to her live playlists, developed and refined, and finally settling into what will essentially be its ultimate recorded form. Verses were added. Phrases picked up dramatic pauses. Margot’s moan and other delicious sounds appeared in new places. Wonderfully unexpected things happened. Margot seldom plays a song precisely the same way twice in a row. She delights and teases us with the subtle changes she feels in a song on a particular night, incorporating or never repeating them again--one more reason never to miss a live show! In addition to bearing witness to her road tests of new treasures on stage, 2011 brought us the chance to participate even more directly. We could contribute to her Margot MacDonald & the Audio Conundrum fan-funding campaign via something as simple as pre-ordering her new album or as involved as becoming its executive producer! It's the awesome prospect of Margot's new music and the opportunity to participate fundamentally in its development that's been the salient highlight for me this past year. I've been listening to and loving Margot's music for a lot of years, but didn't dare dream of being able to play even a tiny role in its creation. This opportunity has made 2011 huge!

  A playlist containing live versions of many of Margot's new songs is the one she created for her Indiegogo campaign, Margot & the Audio Conundrum.

  Cut! ...and wrap! How did we do? Well, okay; my high school English teacher (Hi, Becky!) would probably advise me to split this up into at least two independent blogs--the one recapping Margot & Friends that started us off and then a separate one to cover my choices for Margot's 2011 highlights. She and others might make a case for spawning still more separate entries from a few of the numbered items themselves. Yes, the coming year-end report might include a separate, fully-illustrated greatest shows of 2012. My goal here though was simply to satisfy your curiosity mentioned in my intro, organize my own thoughts, and kick off an exciting New Year with my favorite person, that special artist I trust to supply the soundtrack to the life I love to live. I didn't want to stretch that out over multiple blog installments but rather get us all up to speed quickly and definitively so that we can step away from our computer and TV screens, get up, and GO! to the amazing new Margot MacDonald performances of 2012; see you there.

OK Go concert photo by Margot MacDonald. Other photos in this feature by Den Hollinden.