CapitalBop’s Jazz Loft MegaFest @DC Jazz Festival

Today begins a ten-day, multi-venue celebration of jazz in Duke Ellington’s hometown. Consisting of over 100 performances, from elegant presentations at the Kennedy Center to outdoor family festivals to late-night club parties, the DC Jazz Festival offers enough choices to make a music lover’s head spin. But there’s one offering that stands apart from the rest: CapitalBop’s Jazz Loft Series, culminating in the Jazz Loft MegaFest. A unique, multimedia experience of the creative community of jazz, the Jazz Loft MegaFest, June 9 from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., also presents an exciting opportunity to listen local.

CapitalBop, founded in 2010 by Giovanni Russonello, aims to unite and highlight the vibrant jazz scene that calls DC its home. “I’ve always been a huge fan of jazz,” says Russonello. “But when I was going out to jazz shows as a kid, what I noticed was, no one was at them! There’d be these amazing shows with just very small audiences… CapitalBop was founded on the premise that the DC jazz scene itself has never lacked for impressive experiences, high-quality art, and exciting personalities. What people don’t understand, especially in this town, is they think it’s this historical art form that loses relevance as time passes. But for all the tropes, it’s not dying, and it never will die. It’s improvisatory, and it changes with the times. Because it’s made in the moment, you experience its creation, and that’s why live jazz shows are so thrilling…I thought of magazines like Time Out New York and the Village Voice, or the City Paper here in Washington. They serve an important purpose just by letting people know what’s going on around here. So I wanted to create something like that: an online home for the DC jazz scene.”

Soon after the CapitalBop site launched in 2010, Russonello’s friend and collaborator Luke Stewart joined him as an editor. Stewart’s band, Laughing Man, rented space at Gold Leaf Studios (a.k.a. Red Door), which became the home for the DC Jazz Loft Series starting that December. Russonello calls the Loft Series “unmediated spaces for unmediated music.”

“DC jazz performers and audiences needed not just an online resource, but to experience different presentations of the scene, get it out of the club circuit and give young people—and everyone else who may not have known about what’s happening here—a chance to participate in the jazz scene.”

The site launched in September 2010. The first project was a calendar of jazz events all over the city, which exists today as a complete, monthly catalog of every single upcoming show in DC. Beyond basic event info, the calendar contains previews, descriptions, and editor recommendations regarding each event, “so that you’ll know what you’re going to get out of every show,” as Russonello said. But there’s more to building a music scene’s online home. “The site itself is built around being most utilitarian to those who don’t know the scene,” said Russonello. As such, it also hosts a guide to DC’s jazz-friendly neighborhoods and the bars and clubs where jazz cats play. Its front page and blog are home to a wealth of articles, videos and photos. Posts may be video previews for shows, profiles of dynamic local artists, or info on the city’s weekend lineup.

The concert series known as the DC Jazz Loft Series, on the other hand, gained prominence at last year’s Jazz Fest. Russonello considers working with an organization as large and respected as the DC Jazz Fest to have been a major taking-off point for CapitalBop, which presented four Loft Series shows for Jazz Fest last year. “For every show, we paired really renowned bands from out of town—last year they were all from New York—with local bands. It both gave the most innovative musicians in the country a home right here in DC, and gave the local bands a lot of really good exposure as the openers for nationally renowned groups.” Among CapitalBop’s local collaborators are two of Listen Local First’s featured artists for the month of June, Donvonte McCoy and Kris Funn, who headlined CapitalBop’s section of Lumen8Anacostia earlier this year. Russonello said that the success of last year’s Loft Series also greatly increased traffic to the CapitalBop site. “It’s interesting, because we started the site as a tool to get people out to the live shows, but it turns out to work the other way around as well.”

This year, CapitalBop is presenting some similar Loft Series shows to last year’s: nationally renowned groups paired with local jazz bands. The Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra, unique in that it is led by a bass clarinet, headlines with Christie Dashiell Quartet tonight (6/1/12) at The Dunes, and Kris Funn & Corner Store—one of LLF’s June featured artists—open for “absolute star” group Tarbaby on Saturday 6/2 at The Fridge.

But the big event, the Jazz Loft MegaFest, is in a whole other league. From 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., visitors to the three-floor “loft” at 629 New York Avenue will experience music, film, food and fun as only DC could do it. MegaFest will feature:

-Concerts all day, leading up to a two-set headline show by Marc Cary’s Cosmic Indigenous
“Danceable, futurist, roots-exploring but also totally experimental jazz”

-Spotlight of up-and-coming high-school all-stars of the Jazz Academy, under Paul Carr

-Screening of “Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense,” a film about the living jazz scene

-Panel on the cross-pollination of jazz and hip-hop by Shaolin Jazz

-Pop-up shop of vintage clothes and records, plus “floating art gallery,” by SHAM

-Catering and drinks by Taste of DC‘s network of local chefs

Russonello says that the diverse multimedia format of MegaFest “stresses the idea that jazz is a way of integrating thoughts, feelings, and experience into a real-time form of expression. It’s music that really knows no bounds, because you can create what you want, and create with your heart, and have the musical vocabulary to do that…It’s really about creating a community around an art form, or around the shared experience of art being created in front of you. The most exciting thing is how much of an experience it will be.”

Saturday, June 9 / 3 p.m.-2 a.m. / 629 NY Ave. NW / $10-12 online, $15 at the door. Tickets & Schedule


Live Showcase & Panel on Web Streaming

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UPDATE: Listen to the Audio from the panel discussion HERE

PANEL DISCUSSION – Web Streaming and Tech Development for a Local Music Community

In order to develop a thriving cultural community, artists musicians and fans must explore and adopt new technologies and platforms that enhance promotion and distribution of the arts. Join us on Thursday May 17th to hear from DC developing media and technology platforms who are striving to better the local cultural community.

Suggested Donation $5-$10 is encouraged though Tixelated:

(check it out – the ticketing platform of the future, space and beyond)

Presentations and Discussion Panel 7:00pm – 8:00pm :

Jennifer Vinson – DC Setlist – Moderator

Philippe Chetrit – Tixelated
Rob Connelly – ESL Radio
Paul Vodra – Hometown Sounds
Alex Sleighter – DC Decibel
(More Speakers TBA)

LIVE MUSIC SHOWCASE: 8:30pm – 11:00pm

Adrian Krygowski –
Teen Mom –
The Grey Area –
Redline Graffiti –

DC’s Music Scene Gets Flashy

Dynamic female trio “Special Dish”, featuring Rachel Lord, Catherine Woodiwiss, and Jaclyn Zubrzycki, draws an eager crowd.

Two months ago, Neal Humphrey, avid fiddle player and project manager at an energy efficiency nonprofit, was itching to connect with other musicians. For over a year, Neal had been part of a bluegrass band (The Family Hammer), but when two band members moved out of the city, he was left band-less and anxious to start something new. He added, “After four years in DC, I knew about twenty-five decent musicians that I could call up to jam with, but most were of the folk or bluegrass genre. I wanted to experiment with some new styles, and find people that I really connected with musically.”

Dubstep Prayer (Caleb Astey, Adam Stern, William Cody, and Alex Mills)

Good ideas move quickly. Within a few weeks, a cohort of musicians, eager to experiment with new sounds and new people, had devised a plan. Brannon Walsh, EPA environmental scientist and guitar/harmonica player, offered to host the event. Another person offered to provide professional recordings of the performances. With a location set, the recruitment process began. Neal described his community-based outreach strategy – “I told all the musicians I knew to tell at least three other musicians. Pretty soon we had forty people signed up.”

At the end of February, a swath of DC musicians with an array of musical backgrounds came together for a meet-n-greet that strayed far from the normal business card schmoozing. After six hours of high-energy trial and error, nine bands had formed with one month to prepare, practice, and perform a fifteen-minute set of their choosing, including at least one original song written since the bands’ inception. This past Saturday, April 14, marked the culmination of Neal’s labor – over 30 musicians who were previously strangers churned out a one-time, four hour performance as “flash bands”. If you didn’t hear about this event, there’s a reason. No facebook invites, no emails. Strictly word –of-mouth hype for a night of genuine musical talent and genre exploration. Over one hundred people came out for a fusion-filled night of everything from dubstep hip hop to indie bluegrass to punk(ish) rock.

It’s easy to develop a superficial feeling of what music DC has to offer. The city receives a lot of criticism for its deficit of authentic music; most recently, Slate magazine aggressively asserted, “The fact of the matter is, however, that DC is not ultra-hip no matter how many young people have moved here.” The Atlantic responded with a seemingly medical rebuttal, looking at economic indicators of various artistic careers to conclude that DC is “a not-so-great place for visual artists, a slightly better than average place for musicians and a pretty good place for writers and editors.” While the District may not be seeping with the 24/7 isolated bo-ho types, it’s far from the visionary vacuum the media often projects. No, most of these “Flash Band” musicians aren’t part of the starving artist routine. They’re lawyers, teachers, analysts, consultants, policy wonks, researchers. Hill junkies. And the term musician usually isn’t synonymous with “job”. But it doesn’t make the city a void of creativity and musical talent.

Red Ted and the Smoking Loons (Nick DePrey, Ted Collins, and Kyle Deane Stewart)

In DC, we see the rise of the hobbyist. Many local jobs don’t have the cut-throat, 16 hour work days of faster moving cities like New York or Chicago, allowing time to cultivate and pursue interests. In many ways, DC has a uniquely creative environment where people aren’t necessarily interested in having their hobby become their career. Since people aren’t trying to “make it” in the music industry, it fosters an authentically collaborative atmosphere, especially evident in the “Flash Band” performance this past weekend. Admittedly, this crammed house concert, with backdrops of Diego Rivera-like murals and LED certified Christmas lights, at times felt like a college party revival (and will undoubtedly be snubbed by some as a byproduct of pervasive gentrification of Columbia Heights). But, the energy, attitude and talent are a reminder that DC can be both a straight-laced policy grate and a creative hub.

The next Flash Band event will start at 5 PM on Saturday, July 14 at the Half Street Fairgrounds beside Nationals StadiumCheck out the newly updated for up-to-date information about future events and recordings of Flash Band performances

If you’re interested in participating in the next Flash Band event, or are otherwise interested in creative ways to grow the local DC music scene, please contact Neal Humphrey at

Listen Local First Press Release for SXSW

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Listen Local First Mobile Music Venue at SXSW
Chris Naoum

March 12: Austin, Texas (or) Washington, DC.  Listen Local First(LLF), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting local music is bringing their message to the national stage this year at the SXSW Music Conference.  SXSW already brings over 2,000 artists performing at over 90 venues: LLF will now add a “Mobile Music Venue” to showcase some of the 30+ bands from the emerging music scene in Washington, DC.

With money raised from a kickstarter campaign, the group purchased a Van and had it painted by local artists.  Sound equipment will make it into a pop-up venue, which will have shows throughout the week.  Listen Local First will be producing an online web series and blog documenting the process, adventure, and music of this epic road-trip.

On Wednesday, March 14, there will be three separate showcases highlighting local, Washington, DC bands, all within a few blocks from each other.  The events are:

DC Does Texas, sponsored by DCist, at Lovejoys at 604 Neches: Noon-6pm
Way Out West, sponsored by Pop Up Shop Records Showcase, at The Bayou 500 E 6th St: Noon- 6pm
Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Showcase at Casa Chapala 101 San Jacinto Blvd: Noon – Midnight

Coverage, which includes video and photography, will be updated live and regularly throughout the week.  It can be found on the blog and through the following:
#MobileMusicVenue #ListenLocal #SXSWDC

Sockets Records: Making DC Music Just a Little Bit Weirder Since 2004

by Steph Mitesser, LLF contributor and blogger at Rhythm Without Representation

If you analyze what influences a city’s artistic growth, you’ll inevitably discover the reasons are numerous, inextricably intertwined, unpredictable, and somewhat random. An A + B = C formula for an excellent local music scene will never emerge, but certain factors always come into play—i.e., creative people, enticing venues, etc. A less visible factor, however, is effective channels for local musicians to produce, distribute, and promote their music.

In DC, those channels strengthened significantly as a result of Sockets Records, a label founded by DJ/ local music maven Sean Peoples. Sean and his cohorts have established a community of talented artists—many of them friends—who create some of the most exciting and innovative music to come out of the District in recent years.

So how did it happen? How did Peoples take a humble CD-R-pressing operation to a real-deal label in just seven years? Well, an insatiable appetite for music, an expert pulse on all things creative in DC, and just enough insomnia to fuel the inevitably sleepless life required to balance it all…those all help.

Peoples founded Sockets in 2004 as an offshoot of his weekly radio program, and his proactivity couldn’t have come at a better time. The city struggled to recover from the break ups of some crucial hometown acts like Q and Not U and Black Eyes; weird music surely existed, but it needed a bit of cultivating and a lot of exposure. “Bands were breaking up, bands that had a lot of young people following them,” Sean recalls. “That really dealt a blow. I was doing anything I could to make some noise during an otherwise quiet time.”

And noisy it grew. Under the pseudonym DJ DLX, Sean began pressing CD-Rs of his favorite local artists, with a heavy focus on all things experimental and underground. In 2005, Sockets released its first official compilations, Audiozines 1 & 2, and held its first live showcases.

Despite this initial momentum, the label wasn’t immune from the ebbs and flows of DC music, and Sean hit the pause button on Sockets for a full year in 2008.

When the label returned in 2009, it returned to a changing city and a rapidly evolving musical landscape; Sean and his friends were ready to capitalize on both. Thus, some changes were in order: the label began to produce CDs and vinyl LPs instead of CD-Rs, and they used a blog to promote new acts that were coming on board and generating buzz, such as DC punk outfit Imperial China.

Sean also joined forces with a friend in New York to represent Fly Girlz, a project involving middle school girls from rough Brooklyn neighborhoods rapping over remixes from underground DJs. Unsurprisingly, the resulting tunes turned some heads.

While the project diverged from Sockets’ exclusive DC focus, Sockets’ number one concern remains sound, not geography. “I just want to promote amazing music, and amazing music is being made everywhere,” Sean states simply. Not to mention that the buzz from Fly Girlz inevitably benefited each and every band on Sean’s label.

“It was an exciting time,” said Imperial China’s Brian Porter. “DC’s scene had always been a collaborative, tight-knit community, but now we were experiencing some healthy competition. I witnessed Hume, another Sockets band, playing some amazing music, and I thought, ‘Wow. I want to put out something like that.’ It’s inspiring.”

Another wave of momentum came with the success of DC-based hip-hop group Cornel West Theory, who had been part of Sockets since the Audiozines—and friends with Sean since their days at American University. The band’s first full-length album, 2009’s Second Rome, received plenty of both critical acclaim and commercial buzz, even leading to Chuck D of Public Enemy to dub Second Rome one of his favorite albums of the last five years.

This communal, DIY attitude of DC music completely infiltrates the label’s operations, and it inspires musicians and friends alike to get involved. Patrick Wixted, Peoples’ longtime friend and now partner at Sockets, lists this as his motivation for taking a leading role at the label.

However, perhaps an even greater indicator of Socket’s success comes when artists work with Sockets not solely because of an attachment to DC or friendship with the owners, but simply because it makes sense as a working musician.

Take, for instance, Deleted Scenes, arguably the most well-known group on Sockets’ label, currently rocking a 7.8-Pitchfork-rated album and a nationwide tour. The band released their first full-length album, 2009’s Birdseed Shirt, on a small Brooklyn-based label, but for their milestone 2011 album Young People’s Church of Air, they looked to the District—and not necessarily due to any sentimental attachment to their hometown.

“Sockets picked up steam around the same time we did as a band,” says Deleted Scenes’ bassist Matt Dowling. “Sure, it’s great that we can work with our buddies in DC and that we are fans of the other bands they represent. But ultimately, Sockets offers crucial resources for local musicians to widen their footprint; they have the plug ins to get our music out there, and that’s what musicians in DC need—exposure.”

Looking at Sockets in 2012, we see a local music initiative truly hitting their stride. With a bevy of fantastic local artists gaining steam under their watch, a successful artist showcase at Black Cat last week, and a hidden gem of an artist releasing an album with them this year  (Cigarette—check them out, you won’t be sorry), Sockets shows no signs of slowing down.

Owner Sean Peoples, whether through his label, his DJing, or his legendary party hosting (Fatback, anyone?), offers a fantastic example of how to move beyond appreciating local music to truly taking a personal stake in the success of local artists. Whatever success Sockets achieves, the label has proven it won’t lose sight of one simple, admirable goal: to help the DC community produce great music, and to help we, the fans, rock out to it.

Dig a bit deeper into Sockets’ artists with this Spotify playlist: Sockets Records, Past and Present. Please note that not every track was released on Sockets, nor could all Sockets-affiliated artists be included on the playlist (Spotify has its limits).

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.