Wednesday, December 14, 2011


  Tradition says if you’re good all year long--or at least in the final few days before the big event (just like performance reviews at work), you’ll find what you always wanted under your Christmas tree. As we grow older and hopefully a little wiser, we learn it’s not so much the presents under our own trees that make the holiday special, but rather what we leave for others under theirs, and the greatest gift of all is something as free as the air we breathe, at least as precious, and just as out there for everyone to enjoy. It’s the real-life thrill factor of this mix of new and old traditions that comes with its own soundtrack and gently illuminated by the twinkly sparkle of lights, glitter and tinsel. It’s a mosaic of memories of everything we have ever done during the holidays to make someone else smile and everything anyone else has ever done for us. Its playlist might easily include Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” playing on the radio or live music club PA system between sets, followed by something as refreshing as "Just for Now" performed by Margot MacDonald live on her loop pedal. Music families of fans grouped around their artists (where lots of members are both fans and artists) who have hung out together on and off all year at countless shows in bigger or tinier venues, gather together one last time for holiday food, drink, songs, and hugs. Welcome to the holidays, DC-syle!

  While Margot’s shimmering red hair, Christmas morning catch-lit eyes, and glowing gilded-guitar-pick jewelry could easily qualify her as a living, sparkling holiday symbol, Margot’s fans have always had much of substance from her to celebrate this time of year, with a timeline beginning seemingly impossibly long ago for an artist who is barely beyond her teens. It's something of a paradox for the music of someone this young to have played such a storied role in DC holiday tradition, but her rich, multi-octave, classically-trained voice and expressive delivery have made her an early and sought-after natural at performing holiday music. She demonstrated her rapidly developing skill set, feeding the demand for classic Christmas songs, all the while finding it increasingly difficult to hide a decided preference for the unconventional. Things were about to get really interesting!

  The more modern period of Margot’s holiday presence began almost exactly two years ago when this already awesome artist coaxed a loop pedal from Santa early enough to be able to add Imogen Heap’s far from conventional holiday tune “Just for Now” to the acoustic set she was rehearsing to play on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. When the time came, MacDonald dramatically cleared the stage of band members to debut the new addition. Still deeply enamored of Margot’s vocals, and guitar and piano accompaniment, fans were mesmerized by the performance, intrigued by the possibilities of the new device, and quickly falling in love all over again. It was a moment that did not go unnoticed by those who watch for important happenings on the DC music landscape. On December 18, 2009, Washington Post writer Moira E. McLaughlin was moved to mark the event with this review: Teen singer-songwriter Margot MacDonald is seasoned beyond her years.

  Last Christmas, Margot joined Modern Times friends at DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel for their first
annual Christmas show. That event's pre-show promo captured the attention of respected music writer David D'Agostino, author of the My Music Thing blog. Since then, Margot’s fans have enjoyed his expert commentary on Margot's music activities so often that she has become one of the blog's designated featured artists. That inaugural MMT feature, Margot MacDonald: Using Electronics for the Forces of Good, was the definitive introduction to Margot’s music for countless new fans as well as bringing many long-time fans up to speed with Margot’s new-found creativity, the more general application of the new tool to her newly penned original music, and the point of no return for its integration into her core musical style. Not long after, Margot was crowned by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) as their Artist of the Year.

  The current holiday season began just as Margot’s campaign to fan-fund a new album via IndieGoGo, a website dedicated to facilitating donations to causes like Margot's, was winding down, adding the prospect of a new Margot record to the anticipation of the new year. Support for the campaign and excitement about the new album inspired a virtual army of bloggers to take up Margot's cause and help spread the word. Leading the charge was once again My Music Thing who introduced Margot's campaign to the world in July with a blog entry of the same name Margot MacDonald & the Audio Conundrum. The next month, Margot music convert Break Off the Chains followed suit with a glowing report of their own. October, by far the most active month for Margot-excited bloggers, started with the Vinyl District's week-long series on Margot, her music and campaign. Margot MacDonald: The TVD Session ended with an original video of Margot's new "Speed of Sound" produced just for the series, but there was still more to come. The month of October finally drew to a close with not one but two blog entries on the last day of that month: Chestnut Orange's Say It Loud: Margot MacDonald and a reprise by MMT, Bust Out Your Inner Cee Lo As the Executive Producer of Margot's New CD. The final feature on the campaign, posted just last month, was our Margot MacDonald: RECYCLING SOUND in which we explained why it's vitally important for Margot to release a new album now. When the dust settled after an eleventh-hour frenzy of activity, MacDonald's IndieGoGo site was reporting over $15,000 in contributions toward the completion of her new album.

  To add yet another chapter to her holiday tradition, December 22nd Margot will take a quick breather from studio work on the new record to headline her very own holiday show, this year at IOTA
Club and Café in Clarendon (Arlington) Virginia. She always seems particularly "at home" playing this venue, and it’s the stage for so many memorable live recordings of her new body of work. At this show, Margot will unveil her new made-by-Margot Christmas ornaments (pictured right); so, fans will have a chance to leave with a nice reminder of their star to hang on a home Christmas tree. In MacDonald’s quiet, humble, “just Margot” style, that ornament will probably hang close to the tree's heart rather than atop it where a star or angel might otherwise seem to belong. The ornaments are similar in style to Margot's gilded pick necklaces, and both serve to remind us that Margot is an artist in the truest sense of the word. As amazing as they are, the music she composes and performs, her photography and these delightful things she makes with her own hands, only seem to scratch the surface of her creativity.

  The really cool thing about this latest holiday happening is that you can come and be part of it--
rather than just read about it or watch it after the fact in a newspaper, blog or YouTube video. Fans who have attended performances first-hand know there are few things as exhilarating as experiencing Margot MacDonald live. The 2011 edition of Margot's holiday show series is billed as "Margot & Friends," as she is joined not only by her own excellent Margot MacDonald Band mates, consisting of lead guitarist KC Hatton and percussionist Alan Kayanan (with, for this special show only, Margot's petit frère Remy) but also (as appropriate for a holiday gathering) by a full roster of exciting musical guests. The lineup will include Matt Hutchison and brother Tim from Baltimore's legendary band Fools & Horses, Maureen Andary from the Sweater Set, Phillip Noss Band, Derek Evry, bubbles, cookies and more! The show starts at 8:30 PM, is 21+ and $10 at the door. IOTA Club and Café is the coziest, most relaxing live music venue in the Washington, DC area and is located in Clarendon, a neighborhood of Arlington, VA. It's hands-down my favorite place to listen to live music. There's always an imaginative new beer on tap, and the food would bring you back even if the music and atmosphere weren't as habitually delicious as they always are. IOTA is Metro-accessible via Clarendon station on the Orange line. I can't think of a better place for such an awesome night of holiday music and fun; I really can't wait!

  As we anticipate Margot's final show of the year and the prospect of another new year of the music that has come to mean so much, I'd like to add my own personal holiday greeting to you and
yours. Thanks for taking the time to check out what I’ve shared—-both this current feature as well as the other blogs, photographs, live music video, Facebook posts, tweets and Tumblr pieces throughout the year. Thanks especially for attending some of the shows I've invited you to or blogged about. It’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed your company. Thanks finally and most obviously to the reason for my own inspiration and the crumbs of creativity that sometimes rub off on me, my favorite person, Margot MacDonald. No, we’ll never be able to repay her for all those musical gifts she leaves under our trees without ever seeming to realize how much it means to us. She’s made life special just by being a part of it, and exciting just wondering what’s she’ll do next. If anyone cares to speculate where we’ll find this stunningly beautiful, insanely talented young artist this time next year, feel free--space available below; all comments welcome. Margot’s imagination in the direction of innovation seems light years beyond our ability to predict--even near-term; so, I’m not even going to try. I’ve learned it’s much more important to treasure the here and now, surround myself with as many of my dear friends as possible during this holiday season, and enjoy every moment of this wonderful DC tradition. I love music, and during this most important time of the year for me, I won’t settle for less than the music I love most of all. Yes, I do want Margot MacDonald for Christmas; and if you're reading this, I'm guessing you do too--if not for Christmas, then to help complete your Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or whatever else brings you. See you there!

Made-by-Margot Christmas ornament photo by Alan Kayanan. Photo of Margot holding her microphone is a frame from Margot's Floor Sessions video of her loop pedal cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" videographed by Alan Kayanan. Official show poster for Margot & Friends holiday party by Margot MacDonald.
Other photos in this feature by Den Hollinden.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Songstress Margot MacDonald has already won over her live audience with impressive vocals, guitar skills and often piano by the time she points to an electronic device at her feet and explains: “This is my loop pedal…” Few musical instruments are so new and unfamiliar they need their own introductions--complete with a mini lecture on what is about to occur. What does happen as MacDonald throws herself into the arrangement still catches onlookers unprepared.

  The loop pedal concept is simple. As Margot explains, the device plays back whatever enters its attached microphone so that previous sounds join current ones on the house speakers--all in real time--as if performed by an army of Margots working the same groove together on stage. Absolutely nothing is pre-recorded. The arrangement might start with Margot doing "beat box" (vocal percussion) into the microphone and then thumping its pop screen with the palm of her hand to create an awesomely credible kick drum beat, all with MacDonald's wonderfully precise timing and ultra-refined sense of what works musically. The result is extremely cool and delicious, but the jaw-drop main course arrives when Margot opens her mouth to sing. Much has been written about this artist’s vocal prowess, range, and clear, mesmerizing tone, but the experience of hearing it first-hand is one that language finds itself inadequate to describe.
Yes, Margot’s voice really is that special, but something particularly magical happens when she layers it on top of itself from guttural growls to soaring soprano. It is this ability to provide these breathtaking Margot-on-Margot harmonies that assures the device she lovingly calls “Pete” (after a fan’s naming suggestion) worthy of occupying its essential role (along with "first love" piano and "George" her guitar) in her art. Exceptionally beautiful new song "To the Ground" actually finds MacDonald performing simultaneously on vocals, loop pedal, and guitar. Margot's race to experiment with new ideas and incorporate the results is relentless, with a pace that seems to accelerate rather than allow her to settle into a comfortable place. There always seems to be just one more new thing she can't wait to try.

  Margot received her original loop pedal as an early Christmas present, and she quickly put it to use in her live act, debuting it on Imogen Heap’s unconventional holiday song “Just for Now” (available for download from Margot here) for the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Although she described herself then as a loop pedal novice, her performance was extremely polished and impressive. In the nearly two years since passed, MacDonald has mastered the instrument, offering consistently accomplished and progressively more complex arrangements that include such odd, found instruments as partially-filled bottles of water. The excitement when Margot launches into a new loop pedal song is akin to that of a trapeze artist swinging out to perform some intricate maneuver high above our heads without a safety net. The thunderous applause punctuating her final note is as much a sympathetic sigh of relief at another safe landing, as a nod to both her technical accomplishment and awe-inspiring art.

  The very latest Margot MacDonald loop station creation is a groundbreaking cover of new Radiohead song "Lotus Flower" done completely a cappella for one of her Floor Sessions videos, where Margot solicits suggestions from fans each month in an announced category and then records one of them in her basement rehearsal space.

  What downside could there possibly be in this sonic utopia? An artist as creative and progressive as Margot MacDonald can grow and reinvent herself to a point where her existing body of work is no longer an adequate reflection of the breadth and quality of her current ability.
Although her previous albums are awesome and very much deserve a place in your iPod or CD player, Margot is now amazing in a new direction. Unfortunately, the hefty expense of recording her new music has caused that activity to lag her enormous ability to innovate and create. Margot sorely needs a new album that reflects her relatively recent looping skills and artistic direction. She’s working hard to correct the situation, balancing studio sessions with an IndieGoGo fan-funding campaign to finance them, but she can’t do everything alone. Margot explains in a video on the site ( how participants can help by donating for perks like autographed pictures and made-by-Margot jewelry, setting up corporate sponsorship, preordering the new music, or simply getting the word out. Help this unique rising superstar in as many ways as you can, but please hurry; the deadline to donate is less than two weeks away!

Margot's official IndieGoGo campaign photo by master photographer Francesco Sapienza. Other photos in this feature by Den Hollinden.