Defining Local in the Name of Music

by Listen Local First contributor, Ann Margaret Millspaugh

Listen Local First DC — The premise is a noble one: pick six to eight DC bands (not genre-specific), partner with any establishment that draws a decent crowd and has a sound system, then stream local music during designated time periods for four weeks. Next month, new bands. The only prerequisite? Being local.

Since our beginning in October 2011, we’ve endorsed musicians, we’ve subsidized coffee shops and bars, we’ve worn flannel shirts, Toms, and a second-hand leather backpack, all while sipping DC Brau, because we’re local. It’s a city-wide stopwatch for listening, eating, drinking, consuming, outside of our normal defaults. Hundreds of people have come to attend various LLF events around the city – an opening event at the Dunes, Local Music Day, a Holidayfest at Wonderland. And then there are those hoards of unknowing bystanders weaving in and out of the city – bumping, grinding, or muffling in unison to mainstream frequencies with local bands.

So, we love local. We listen local. But, what does it mean to be a local musician? How do we define local music and how is a local music community cultivated?

As someone who shies away from religion, I was skeptical when a friend of mine sent along an email with the subject line “parable”, but as time passes, and the impression it left grows, I can’t help but draw a parallel to the ever-changing face of what is local, and the reasons why localism can never be authentically defined outside of its unique community.

There was a boy wandering around the woods near his new home. His father asked what he was doing, and when he said, “I’m looking for God,” his father replied that God is the same everywhere. To that, the boy responded, “I know. But I’m not.”

For me, this story serves as a reminder that we are always moving through versions of ourselves, layering and morphing as individuals, and subsequently as communities. When we try to concretely define ourselves, we seep into the myth of closure – where our lives span across a linear trajectory of milestones and accomplishments, events are measured through attendance, and relationships are gauged by timespans. (No, Facebook doesn’t help here.) These markers and rites of passage inevitably overshadow the gaps – those pervasive, yet anticlimactic in-between periods that come and go, unmarked and unnoted.

Music is a way to chronicle this journey. It’s our belief that music, like other mediums, cultivates a community that empowers the rich contradictions of time and place. Over the next few months, we’ll be highlighting and interviewing the community around DC music – bands, fans, places – in hopes of discovery and reflection, and most of all, personalization. Bringing faces to a movement, but also looking at the community as a boundless entity, a fluid action and reaction, a microcosm of age-old questions both in and around the music.

For all those who can be buried in the frosts of winter, we hope this quest to unearth what comprises local music will bring warmth in the words of the individual and the song of the people.

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