We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
It was the first official day of the SXSW music festival, but the Interactive crowd had not yet left. As such, the D.C. government-funded WE DC house, located conveniently next to the Austin Convention Center, had not yet shut its doors, and it had another free brunch left in them. In addition to organizing tech meet-ups and showing off the District’s start-ups, the house offered free food and free booze to everyone that walked inside. If the intention was to attract attention from outside of the District, that seemed to work based on the locations on the badges. Urbana, Ill. Brooklyn, N.Y. Austin, Texas, of course.
That said, Tuesday’s event was all about the food. Rock the Vote, which co-sponsored the brunch, had brought a DJ but not much in the way of reading material. There was, however, a corkboard to the left of the brunch line covered with small notecards on a table littered with hundreds of more cards and a dozen markers. The cards had the “WE” part of the WE DC logo in the corner and directions to write down on the cards how the writer does D.C. While there were shout outs to D.C. Loves Dilla and SXSW on the board, there was also one where someone had written “WE LOVE LA.” OK.
Away from the crowd of happy brunchers, the music acts of the night’s WE DC showcase congregated in a separate room and enjoyed each others’ company with their own trays of tiny burgers and fish sandwiches. Black Alley’s manager Omar Kashif conversed happily with a friend wearing the band’s t-shirt and one of the government employees working the house. The members of Black Alley, which describes itself as a “hood rock” band, were clearly happy to be at the festival even though the night’s official showcase and the previous night’s preview show at the WE DC house were their only performances. Kashif said that of course they would like to get on more shows, but that the band had been trying to head down to SXSW for several years, so given the opportunity, they just jumped. They didn’t tour down and back—-they just came.
On the flip side, the members of Paperhaus seemed determined to get all that they could out of their SXSW experience. Guitarist Alex Tebeleff already had a rough idea of the bands he wanted to catch on their two days off and the band left the house promptly at 1 p.m. to shoot a video.
But the real story of the night was Rare Essence. The group was the first go-go band to have ever been accepted into the festival, and the news had attracted enough people to form a short line outside the Bungalow, which had a rather sizable outdoor stage. The front half of the stage may not have been entirely filled with D.C. people, but it sure felt like it. There were lots of curly W’s on hats and when DJ Kool shouted out the Washington football team during his mic check (and denigrated the Dallas football team in the process) he actually got a positive response. Fun fact: nobody at music festivals (and I have been to festivals in New York, Chicago, Austin, Louisville, Raleigh, and Tennessee) wears Washington football team gear. Nobody. Except at this show. One girl even wore a Ben’s Chili Bowl T-shirt.
After complaining about the state of the microphones during sound check, Rare Essence initiated what, at 30 minutes, may have been the shortest go-go show on record. That DJ Kool did a rendition of his hit “Let Me Clear My Throat” was a nice Easter egg, but it wasn’t what got the crowd moving. The band’s stage crew had been holding up signs asking for crowd participation from the start, and they sure got it. Chants of “R-A-R-Double E-S-S-E-N-C-E” reverberated throughout the venue before the music even started and once the percussion kicked in, hands went up and feet started moving. It was a stunning moment of realization at how lucky D.C. audiences are to have this band in their backyard—-Rare Essence didn’t just rule the night; the band set the bar for the entire festival.
Oddisee and the DC Loves Dilla party wrapped up the show, and Oddisee only performed for 15 or 20 minutes, which is apparently the norm down here for SXSW’s hip-hop acts. (Cue my complaints about how I missed Shy Glizzy on Wednesday because he only did three songs. Three!) In Oddisee’s case, though, it wasn’t entirely a slight since he took the stage again during the DC Loves Dilla tribute. DC Loves Dilla managed to fit in two DJs, two backup singers, a host, a horn section, a keyboardist, a drummer, and a couple of guitarists. This full-band version of the tribute showcased a side of the D.C. hip-hop community that does not quite get the attention of individual MCs. Those familiar with the U Street Music Hall iterations of DC Does Dilla know full well that those parties can start popping late and run as long as the city will allow. In this case, the James Yancey grooves that the collective highlighted were so smooth that it actually proved to be a good way to wind down the night.
Photos by Valerie Paschall