D.C.’s music world is stacked with some of the best, and we highlighted a few multihyphenates setting the scene.
D.C. has some of the most beloved concert venues around and a constant stream of artists from around the country (the world, even) pouring into other spaces. This kind of musical infrastructure is only possible due to the network of locals who make the music happen. There are countless producers, promoters, bookers and other musicians (many of whom are multihyphenates) who make these shows and performances possible. While District Fray has covered some of them at length, there are always more movers and shakers on the scene who we want to spotlight. Here are six you should know.
Vocalist, manager and activist Shady Rose flits in and out of musical circles in multiple roles. They sing and write lyrics for the psychedelic alt-rock group Endlings, manage Wammie award-winning D.C. emcee Riz Tha Great and served as co-executive director of Girls Rock! DC, which teaches female-identifying and nonbinary youth activism and empowerment through rock n’ roll.
Music and performance have been in Rose’s DNA since they were young, whether it was drumming and singing in Ghanaian festivals and celebrations with their mother or playing berimbau at capoeira — a kind of martial art performance in Afro-Brazilian culture — with their father.
As a musician with all kinds of connections across the city, Rose has a few artists they thought people should know.
“Some artists need more love thrown their way: Liability, a psychedelic punk opera duo; Black Folks Don’t Swim?, an incredible group that takes you to outer space. I’m a big fan of Outerloop, post-hardcore-Latin-jazz-rock; The Red Fetish — currently a one-man operation pouring out some post-industrial dirges; Ardamus, a rap artist and emcee with a hell of a spirit; and my pals in Sorge, heavy doom metal with an esoteric spine.”
Dana Murphy is a booker and talent buyer for Songbyrd in D.C. and Ottobar in Baltimore. She also books shows at a variety of other venues around the DMV and runs a promo company called Unregistered Nurse Booking to highlight a curated selection of her shows.
She says she respects the D.C. music scene for its wealth of musical talent and creativity.
“There are great things like the Joint Custody newsletter, which I enjoy every time it pops up in my inbox, and Eaton Radio. And all the excellent promoters like Red Brick Presents (run by our assistant booker at Songbyrd, Ray Brown), Valentina Booking Presents, Open Gem Presents and Rediscover Fire. There’s also a lot of camaraderie here. People really support each other.”
At Songbyrd, she tries to take a thoughtful approach while booking artists, striking a balance between shows proven successful and the new and interesting.
“I do a lot of research and genuinely try to listen to everything that pops through my inboxes. It’s important to me that there’s something for everyone. There’s also an element of knowing when to gamble. It doesn’t always work out, but when you take a chance and a show goes crazy it’s a great feeling.”
Guitarist, producer and booker Zach Cutler has been a mainstay of the city’s independent soul, R&B and jazz since he moved to D.C. in 1999. While a constant presence around the city, he’s also been a successful touring musician for the likes of Melanie Fiona. Additionally, he was musical director for the iconic vocal R&B band The Impressions, where he takes on the guitar parts of the late and great Curtis Mayfield. He also books for venues around the city — notably St. Vincent Wine, a hotbed for young jazz musicians.
“As a booker and curator, I try to work with venues to provide a platform for local musicians who honor the city’s rich musical history — helping them highlight more jazz, funk and hip-hop,” Cutler says. “As the city expands with bigger businesses in increasingly gentrified neighborhoods, I want to keep D.C. funky, weird and flavorful like it was when I first started playing here 25 years ago.”
He’s watched the city change socially and economically over the years.
“I think we all need to continue investing our energy in the scene by realizing our worth and keeping this city great,” he says. “We are preserving the soul of this city by having local musicians who can make a living creating art that honors D.C.’s powerful musical history.”
Violinist, booker, and founder and organizer of District of Raga, Nistha Raj has been providing a space to celebrate South Asian performing arts in D.C. for years now. As the founder of the volunteer-run presenting organization District of Raga, Raj has helped carve out a notable space for South Asian singers, dancers and musicians to perform on some of the largest and most respected stages in the area, like Wolf Trap, the Kennedy Center and Strathmore.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, you could find her cultivating a regular performance space and community at Bossa Bistro and Lounge in Adams Morgan, which often featured some of the top emerging South Asian artists from around the country in an intimate setting.
While it is not a specific condition for D.C. musicians, Raj thinks taking on so many different roles in the community is the way most make ends meet.
“It’s a hustle, and I think most musicians have to be multihyphenates in order to make it work,” she says.
Still, Raj loves most “the power to connect through music, express emotions and create beauty. [To] be a part of something bigger.”
Herb Scott is a saxophonist, bandleader, festival producer and advocate for jazz in the District. As the executive director and founder of Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation, Scott is on the front lines of pushing policymaking in City Hall and Congress to pass legislation that supports jazz musicians, venues and education in D.C. He also hosts the weekly Capitol Hill jazz jam at Mr. Henry’s and throws the annual Hillfest, a live music festival and professional conference for working musicians, when he’s not showing off his sharp chops on his saxophone at gigs around town.
Scott will tell you the jazz scene is strong here with a rich history — successfully producing Grammy winners, nationally-recognized artists, music directors, producers and more — but thinks D.C. could do more to cultivate a musical climate that keeps top-flight talent here. Though Scott says D.C. has its strengths, too.
“The city has committed to more performances in diverse venues like rooftops, parks, restaurants, festivals and series,” he says. “Musicians are working a lot if they are capable and choose to do so.”
Layne Garrett plays guitar and other objects in the experimental improvised duo Weed Tree, as well as guitar with the new wave-y trio Drawn on top of serving as the program director at Rhizome. The space is one of the most important homes for experimental, underground and noncommercial music in the DMV region. Garrett helps book shows featuring musicians from up and down I-95 as well as icons of the avant-garde in classical and jazz like members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians or musician David Murray.
Garrett says he’s excited about the number of younger musicians who are creating new and interesting works, especially across styles.
“There are young people with a lot of energy, interdisciplinary collaborations,” he says. “It makes me excited when new people come out to see weird shit they might not know much about, and I feel like that is happening more at Rhizome lately. The number of people making amazing, singular mind-blowing music right now is kind of hard to fathom.”
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