Down in the Reeds is cool in the most classic sense, the way you need a music festival to be cool — especially one you go to seeking some sense of fulfillment. The D.C. festival started in 2019 to promote healing through music across genre and culture, and the source of its effortless swagger is obvious after speaking with Chris Naoum, the co-founder of the festival.
“The idea of healing always comes up,” Naoum says, who is the founder of Listen Local First DC. “The idea of the festival is how do we bring that out, how do we focus on that in a meaningful way. Because no matter what culture you’re from, no matter what background, race, whatever genre of music you play, there’s some sort of aspect of healing involved in the music.”
Their vibrant classic rock-styled turquoise and blood orange lineup poster caught my eye. The poster — which in all honesty I’d like to frame — names over 20 artists and groups who will gather at The Parks at Walter Reed, the 66-acre redevelopment of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 11 a.m.
These artists make up a diverse group, touching on an array of sounds and genres. The Parks will echo with traditional African drums, blues jams and Caribbean and Colombian rooted music. Along with the stages, the festival will feature local artisans, breweries, food trucks and activities for the whole family, including a scavenger hunt, instrument exploration station and lawn games hosted by DC Fray.
“The great thing about D.C. is there are so many talented musicians from so many different backgrounds and so many different cultures, so there’s no shortage of artists that bring a unique perspective to this topic,” Naoum says, then proceeding to name the artists and their specialities from memory.
Down in the Reeds started in 2019 as part of Listen Local First DC, which focuses on collaborations between D.C. businesses and musicians, with the purpose of healing through music through the lense of different communities and experiences. Their theme recognizes that throughout history, humans have sought music and art to give them something — whether that be joy, clarity, unity or strength, music has been there for us. And now more than ever, it’s a time for D.C. to heal.
“I think that’s something that is resonating much stronger right now, after the last almost two years that we’ve been through,” Naoum says.
There’s no right or wrong way to heal, and Down in the Reeds is about creating a space to do whatever healing means for you. So it’s fitting this space be created on an old hospital property.
“The importance of the place is not is not lost on us and is important to the purpose of the event,” Naoum says, acknowledging many community members are veterans. “The beautiful natural amphitheater, the great lawn at the Parks of Walter Reed is also an amazing place for music — there is amazing acoustics in this space.”
Down in the Reeds is asking festival goers over the age of 12 be fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative Covid-19 test 48 hours before attending. Masks are also expected to be worn throughout the day when not eating or drinking.
“It’s really been a struggle,” Naoum says. “But this is an outdoor event. And we can come together safely to enjoy each other and enjoy each other’s music, and spend some time distanced and begin to bring back some sort of semblance of normalcy.”
Naoum puts a lot of himself into his work. And when I pointed this out, he laughed, as any reasonable cool person would do when faced with such a statement.
“I mean, it’s hard not to — you try to keep yourself out of it but I personally am such a huge music fan,” Naoum says. “I’ve gotten to know so many amazing artists.”
He’s spent over 10 years dedicated to D.C.’s music and art scene, promoting music exploration and establishing alternative opportunities for local musicians and artists. He’s witnessed music help family members heal, and firmly believes there is something at Down in the Reeds for everyone, no matter where or how you are in life.
“It’s just been amazing to see people come together and how excited they are about this,” Naoum says, emphasizing it takes a community of support to make this festival possible. “And if we all can come together and provide this opportunity, we’re just laying the groundwork to continue to grow something and support artists, and that’s what’s most important.”
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