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Beyond The Beltway: A Closer Look At Washington D.C.'s Vibrant Music Community

Tracy Hamlin and Elise Perry

Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images

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Beyond The Beltway: A Closer Look At Washington D.C.'s Vibrant Music Community

Members of the Washington D.C. Chapter Executive Board weigh in on what makes the city's scene sizzle and how they are helping create more opportunities for local musicians

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2019 - 01:47 am

With a rich history and a bright future, the Washington D.C. music scene is truly alive. In fact, new music venues, both traditional rooms and more eclectic spaces, have been flooding the Washington D.C. area of late. Want to hear a band play inside of a pie shop? No problem. Require a sommelier as part of your concertgoing experience? Sure thing. Want to see a show from the inside of a geodesic dome turned giant snow globe in the middle of summer? No sweat.

An exact count is difficult to come by, but earlier this year, The Washington Post estimated roughly 24 new music venues have opened in the region, which includes part of Virginia and Maryland, since 2013. That’s in addition to existing venues—a mix of stadiums, arenas, concert halls, opera houses, amphitheaters, clubs, warehouses, at least one converted Baptist church, and a slew of coffeehouses, wineries, and breweries that also serve up live music. 

The region’s penchant for creating a music venue out of pretty much any interesting standing structure is one of the things that makes the scene in D.C. stand out, says Carl “Kokayi” Walker, artist, producer, educator, and current board trustee of the D.C. Chapter of the Recording Academy.

“We’re not all about policy and politics—we’re about creativity,” Walker says. “From intimate spaces like Songbyrd… to the Anthem when you want to see bands get crazy, to alt spaces, I think those are the things that make a difference in the music community here… This is the place where punk rock originated, the place where our own indigenous music, go-go, comes from, and a place we strive to make sure other musicians live up to their musicianship.”

Carl "Kokayi" Walker

One of the goals, and challenges, facing the leadership of the D.C. Chapter of the Recording Academy is making sure D.C.-based musicians have the resources they need to benefit from changes in the area’s music scene and ensure that homegrown artists always have a platform.

While growth and diversity of performances in the area is a boon for listeners, the impact on area musicians is trickier to parse. The opening of new venues doesn’t always translate into more performance opportunities for locally-based artists. And, amid all the grand openings have been a slew of closing parties for beloved local musical institutions that once served not only as show locations, but places for artists to gather. How does a scene that spans dozens of genres, covers three states, and now plays out at a dizzying number of venues stay strong and connected?

“My goal for the D.C. Chapter of the Recording Academy is really to create a situation of engagement among the professionals here,” says Elise Perry, producer, composer, arranger, film/television director, and vice president of the D.C. Chapter of the Recording Academy. “Whether it’s an entire art and music symposium or just some form of showcasing artistic talent and performance specifically, the more things we do to engage people, the more it helps the community and the more we can be seen as an engaged, connected community.” 

Elise Perry 

Perry, who grew up in D.C., says that a childhood spent performing with the DC Youth Orchestra and playing “desk drums,” to recreate the beat of popular go-go groups, meant “musical experience was absolutely part of what D.C. had to offer me.” As a result, she works to “insist that there’s recognition of the music community here and that there are spaces for our artists, so we can continue to make sure people are being seen and heard.”

Singer, songwriter, music educator, record label owner, and Recording Academy trustee Tracy Hamlin says she sees her role in the D.C. Chapter as working with her fellow board members to “engage, connect, support, and educate” members of the D.C. music community.

“When I first joined the chapter, I was an inactive member,” says Hamlin, who has been on the D.C. board for seven years. “But I said to myself, ‘You need to come closer. You only get out of it what you put into it.’ I encourage [everyone] to come closer.” 

Tracy Hamlin

At a time when the region and its music scene are growing and shifting, Hamlin is pulling people in and building community among artists by creating unique opportunities for performance and connection. In October, she held her inaugural Sweet Jazz and Wine Festival, an event with a charitable component—it raised funds to give two artists from low-income families a year of private instruction in their desired instrument. In a region where rents and the cost of living continue to rise, it’s a much-needed model that brings together D.C. musicians together in support of their fellow artists. Hamlin says the event is typical of the generosity of the area’s music community.

“There are a lot of folks here connecting with people from different genres, people building rapport and friendships and collaborating,” Hamlin says.

Von Vargas, hip-hop artist and producer, and the current D.C. Chapter president, enjoys the challenge of serving the different “pockets” of artists in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and notes that artists seeking community and fellowship should look to service.

Von Vargas

“Being in the entertainment industry, our careers can sometimes be more self-driven,” he says. “Sometimes it’s good to put that aside and try to make a way for others. I think serving others, taking time out to do that is important. Being [an Academy member] is one way – serving in the Academy is a selfless effort.”

Priscilla Clarke, president and CEO of the entertainment public relations firm Clarke & Associates, says that although the Washington area is more than just political ties, artists in the area should take advantage of Washington’s position as a seat of political power to advocate for themselves and others.

Priscilla Clarke

“Know what opportunities and resources exist,” says Clarke, who has been involved in the D.C. Chapter of the Recording Academy for 16 years, and is its current secretary, “Learn more about the chapter…and get involved in other groups with other music markers to learn what’s going on in your city. It’s important to know that you do have a voice and you can utilize it to make a change.”

Walker says that no matter how many new venues crop up, or how much the music scene in D.C. changes, a tight-knit network of dedicated artists will always be a strong, consistent presence.  

“We’re a specific, special community that watches out for our own,” says Walker. “For our creators and creatives, and people who are involved with music, and have a love of music and the business of music.”

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Glenn Danzig

Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2017 - 05:28 am

There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.

The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.

This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.

"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."

Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

Lady Gaga

Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.

Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.

"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.

"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.