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 VĂ©ronneau 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.

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