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For the second year in a row, R&B, soul, jazz, and more is coming to the Washington Monument.
This evening, former New England Patriots football player Darryl Haley kicks off his second annual Music at the Monument at the Sylvan Theater, situated on the National Mall all near the Washington Monument. The free show, which will take place between 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., features a bunch of local musicians: Howard University alum R&B singer Kia Bennett, rapper Konshens The MC, and R&B band The Fix.
Haley, who provides fitness advice on WHUR’s Friday morning show and has been involved with the National Park Service’s “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” program, will be presenting mostly local musicians at the Sylvan Theater on the first and third Fridays of every month from May through October. A D.C.-area resident since 1990, Haley has engaged in a number of projects to assist veterans and youth and says that “most of the bands have a military veteran, family member of a veteran, at-risk youth or someone who has changed their life through music.” This year, Haley will also be booking musicians, including some of the Sylvan Theater acts, at the Carter Barron Amphitheater, on the first and third Saturdays of every month from June through September. The musicians for both venues are largely neo-soul, gospel, smooth jazz, or positive rap. The list includes rapper Javier Starks, the polished R&B of the Foundation Band, and gospel singers including Terrance Richburg and Dave Bass.
The Sylvan Theater stage, near Independence Avenue and 15th street, is rarely used nowadays, but over the years, it’s hosted the likes of Roberta Flack, Celia Cruz, and Fugazi, not to mention orchestras on the 4th of July. Haley wants attendees on the Mall to look around at the monuments when they’re there and think about the symbolism. He notes “the Monument was built in 1848 when slavery was going on. It’s not just about having a show. The goal is showing people that freedom is not free and that sacrifices were made. It’s about allowing people to stand in one spot and see all the things that have happened—the Holocaust museum; the African-American; the Native American; the Vietnam Wall.”
Despite the prime location, the first year of Haley’s series didn’t attract a lot of attention, in part because a lot of the musicians who performed aren’t well known. The enterprise operates with a limited budget and the musicians are only paid nominal amounts, he says. Haley sometimes receives help from WHUR and from the Veterans Administration. But Haley isn’t always best at promoting the series, which is why it doesn’t always garner much media attention or attract a large number of attendees. Last year a Friday evening show I attended featuring go-go legend James ‘Jas’ Funk leading the band Proper Utensils barely filled any of the vast lawn space, with around 100 people in attendance. Haley says Proper Utensils may be back this summer, but they have yet to be posted in the advance schedule he provided to Washington City Paper.
Haley, who also operates a bed and breakfast in Luray, Va., wants to help refurbish the Carter Barron Amphitheater—originally built in the ’50s—and the nearby trails in Rock Creek Park. He hopes to have his planned gigs there with low ticket prices, with funds going to Carter Barron and the Park. The National Park Service has yet to provide any further specifics other than confirming that they are working with Haley. With the Washington Post no longer sponsoring shows there, and the Park Service offering less events itself or through contractors in recent years, Haley’s gigs, and the DC Blues Society’s annual Labor Day Weekend event, may be the only times the prized amphitheater will be used for concerts this summer.