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For 41 years, City Lights has been grabbed, annotated, and bookmarked by local residents, then chucked in the recycling when the next issue of City Paper comes out. The back of the book has been a beacon for those looking for interesting, alternative ways to spend their days and nights in this city. And it wouldn’t be anything without the people who pour every ounce of their time and energy into creating those interesting, alternative ways for the rest of us to spend our days and nights. Here at City Lights, we just get to write about them.
So here’s a small sampling platter of D.C.’s arts community for you to feast on. It’s by no means comprehensive. Rather, it’s a full-hearted endorsement of a handful of the lesser-known people and places who actively dedicate themselves to uplifting local, underrepresented artists in our city. Folks like this existed before City Lights, and they’re not going anywhere. So give them some love, some cash, and a good crowd. They’ll certainly return the favor.
Frankojazz Porch Concerts
Already missing Porchfest? Every Saturday is like a mini-Porchfest at the home of Frank O. Agbro. At the start of the pandemic, the Mount Pleasant resident (who City Paper nicknamed “the Mayor of Mount Pleasant” in our 2020 People Issue) began throwing a weekly “6 ft. Aparty” on his front porch. The event consists of two segments: At 10:30 a.m., there’s a “Children’s Hour,” which features family-friendly entertainment. At 2 p.m., the microphones open up for musicians. When the porch concerts started, they were crucial for music-makers and music-enjoyers alike, as traditional music venues were forced to shut their doors to the world. Two years and multiple rounds of vaccines later, venues like the 9:30 Club and Union Stage have sprung back to life. Agbro’s porch concerts, though, haven’t gone anywhere. There’s just something that can’t be beat about lounging in a lawn chair, breathing in a little fresh air, and listening to your neighbors sing you songs. Frankojazz Porch Concerts take place on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 17th St. and Kilbourne Pl. NW. @frankojazz on Instagram. $10 suggested donation.
Sandra Basanti always loved going to shows on H Street NE, she tells City Paper. But many of the venues she frequented back in the day—Rock & Roll Hotel, the Red and the Black—no longer exist. Basanti is keeping the street’s indie legacy alive with Pie Shop, where she sells sweet and savory pies, and hosts an eclectic roster of musicians—many of them punk, many of them local. But the quaint shop has got something for everyone, from folk to pop, rock, and punk, to strawberry rhubarb and mushroom Gruyère. Buy some pies, dance to some live music, and help keep H Street alive. Pie Shop has multiple shows per week at 1339 H St. NE. pieshopdc.com. $12–$15.
Would you pay $20-ish for a concert ticket, if the only information you had about the show was the neighborhood it would take place in? No lineup. No address. Just “Petworth.” Or “Navy Yard.” I wasn’t sure that I would. Then I received a press invitation from Sofar Sounds, a London-based international music event organizer whose whole thing is secret shows. I got the address to the Dupont Circle concert I was attending the day before it took place. On a Friday night in April, I showed up, and was charmed to find myself at a multistory, old-school house on P Street NW. My friend and I sat down on blankets and pillows in a stranger’s living room, sipped from the bottle of white wine we’d been encouraged to bring, and proceeded to receive an intimate, beautiful show from two musicians and one poet. Progressive folker Baerd wooed the small crowd with his airy voice. Howard University junior Nyah Terrilyn, who recited emotional slam-style poems, made us teary with works about heartbreak and police brutality. Sofar may be global, but their events are designed to be hyperlocal—they make a point of hosting local artists, in intimate community spaces like small bars and backyards. I’ve since changed my mind—$20-ish is a small price to pay for that kind of experience. Sofar Sounds concerts take place multiple times every week across D.C. sofarsounds.com. $20–$25.
Angela María Spring spent 17 years working in bookstores around the East Coast and Southwest U.S. But the work was always a little frustrating, they tell City Paper. As a nonbinary Puerto Rican Panamanian, María Spring felt firsthand how popular bookstores overlooked booksellers and authors of color. Duende District, the book pop-up she established in 2017, does the exact opposite—their mission is to elevate and celebrate Brown and Black folks in the literary world. Duende does not have a permanent brick-and-mortar location, but for the time being, they’re curating books for sale at Shopkeepers on Florida Avenue NE (and at Red Planet Books and Comics in Albuquerque, New Mexico, if you ever make it over there). Duende District is currently selling books at Shopkeepers, 1231 Florida Ave. NE. duendedistrict.com.
Before it was cool (before the pandemic started), family-owned MahoganyBooks was wielding the powers of the internet to host virtual literary events, with a focus on books written by, for, and about members of the African diaspora. They existed online only from 2007 until 2017, when they opened up their first shop at Anacostia Arts Center. In a delightful inversion of the typical COVID’s impact on a small business story, MahoganyBooks actually grew during the pandemic, opening a second location at the National Harbor in 2021. Dubbing itself “the place where Black books matter,” the bookstore sells a grand collection of books by Black authors, and regularly hosts those authors for events, both in-person and virtual. Treat yourself to a new read—or a “Black Books Matter” crew-neck. MahoganyBooks is located in Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE. mahoganybooks.com.
For most of its tenure, local comedy production company Underground Comedy existed exclusively in other people’s spaces—namely, at divey bars like Big Hunt and Wonderland Ballroom. When Big Hunt shut its doors for good in 2020, the company was left without a home base, according to founder Sean Joyce. So he made one. Hotbed lives on 18th Street NW, in the building that Songbyrd Music House occupied before they moved to Union Market. “The big difference between Big Hunt and Hotbed is that Hotbed is set up for comedy, whereas Big Hunt was a bar,” Joyce told City Paper in February. That distinction, he said, lends itself to the best possible environment for hilarity. Local comics are Hotbed’s bread and butter, with occasional visits from touring up-and-comers. Hotbed hosts stand-up Wednesdays through Saturdays at 2477 18th St. NW. hotbedcomedydc.com. Underground Comedy shows are free. DC’s Best Showcase is $20.
Following the pandemic closures of comedy venues like Big Hunt and Drafthouse Comedy Theater, local comics were aching for new stages to perform at. Comedian Martin Amini, born and raised in Silver Spring, brought one to Petworth. Room 808 is a cozy comedy and jazz venue that offers stand-up, accentuated with live music, throughout the week. The BYOB shows sometimes include free food, and feature a mix of local comedians and occasional out-of-towners, like Marcella Arguello, who stops by to co-headline a show with Amini on May 19. Room 808 hosts shows throughout the week at 808 Upshur St. NW. room808dc.com. $0–$20.
Dance and Performance
The primary photo on darlingdance’s website tells you everything you need to know about the company. On the home page, a saturated image shows two women smearing what appears to be frosting and sprinkles across each others’ faces, their expressions deadpan. With a roster of entirely women and nonbinary performers, the local dance company specializes in bizarre compositions, focused on “making rad feminist dance in surprising spaces,” according to their Instagram bio. The group is currently working on All My Friends, a site-specific performance that will take place at the Kennedy Center in September. On their latest Instagram post, they asked the public for donations to keep them alive. And, in adherence with everything they stand for, they went back and edited the post to ask people to take half of what they wanted to donate to darlingdance and instead give it to an abortion fund, following the leak of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade reversal. darlingdance company performs All My Friends in September 2022 at Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. darlingdance.com. Price TBA.
The work hausofbambi does transcends categorization, but we’ll put them here for organization’s sake. In their own words, hausofbambi is “a movement-based company that produces genderless and gendermore fantasies for the stage, screen, and club.” In real life, that has meant directing experimental films, putting on dance performances at the Kennedy Center, and producing a podcast about D.C.’s sometimes cutthroat queer scene. Right now, you can find hausofbambi throwing queer dance parties in the secret bar behind Shaw’s Capo Deli, and organizing ballet class happy hours at Trade in Logan Circle. But keep an eye on the company, and its director, Robert Woofter. They’ll probably surprise you. hausofbambi hosts monthly parties at 715 Florida Ave. NW, and ballet classes at Trade, 1410 14th St NW. hausofbambi.com. $0–$10.
When The Ethel Waters Show premiered on NBC in 1939, Ethel Waters became the first Black person to host her own television show. That event inspired the name for Baltimore native Shalom Omo-Osagie’s film production company, which she founded in May 2020. Black artists telling Black stories is at the heart of everything 1939 Studios touches. Their 2021 short film, Tale of Tarot, was selected for multiple short film festivals. This summer, the studio is going beyond just producing movies—they’re hosting a short film festival intended to uplift underrepresented local Black filmmakers. (Editor’s note: the festival was originally scheduled to run May 11-14, but the new dates and ticket price have been added here.) The DMV Short Film Festival runs virtually from May 16 through 21. 1939studios.com. $9.39.
Who needs a Criterion Collection subscription when you have Suns Cinema? The quaint bar and movie theater sits in a townhouse on Mount Pleasant Street NW. Every month, its owners hand-select a lineup of films that are tied together with a theme. February was cats (Kedi, Cat People, and Cats, duh), March was martial arts (Kung Fu-Hustle, Miami Connection), and May is dedicated to celebrating Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. The same amount of thought goes into the Suns drink menu—cocktails include a “Heeere’s Johnny” (Johnny Drum bourbon and bitters), and a “Pineapple Express” (with gin, cinnamon, and, of course, pineapple). Suns is currently closed for renovations, but they’ll be back in mid-May with a Women in Film and Video D.C. showcase. Suns Cinema reopens May 17 at 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW. sunscinema.com. $10.
Museums and Galleries
You can go to a host of art galleries in D.C. to see today’s big name artists. Or, you can visit Hamiltonian Artists on U Street NW, and find the work of artists who might be big names tomorrow. Established in 2007, the gallery serves as an incubator for the next generation of visual artmakers. Five young creatives are selected annually for a two-year fellowship with the gallery, in which they receive guidance, support, and exhibition opportunities. Creations from Baltimore-based artist Amber Eve Anderson, whose work is grounded in the concepts of home and displacement, will be on display starting on May 21. Hamiltonian Artists is open Tuesdays through Saturdays at 1353 U St. NW. hamiltonianartists.org. Free.
When Honfleur Gallery opened its doors in 2007 in Anacostia, it was met with skepticism from the neighborhood. Concerned residents wondered: Was an art gallery really the best use of space and resources in Anacostia? Over the past 15 years, Honfleur has made a case for why it was, and has displayed a deep level of care for its surrounding community. Though the space welcomes artists from across the country and around the world, the gallery hosts at least one exhibit every year from an artist based in Ward 7 or 8. This month, you can find the work of Elena Volkova on display. In Anacostia Portraits, the Ukrainian-born artist captures residents of Anacostia in tintype photography. Anacostia Portraits runs from May 6 through June 18 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. honfleurgallery.com. Free.
First there was H Street Playhouse, which opened in 2002 in Northeast. In 2013, they reopened on Shannon Place SE as Anacostia Playhouse. Since then, the theater has been home to an enticing mix of plays, performances, storytelling events, and concerts. Anacostia Playhouse collaborates with companies working across the city, with an evident dedication to putting the spotlight on local playwrights, actors, and crew members. Stephawn Stephens was promoted to artistic executive director in April, and he said in a press release that he’s committed to making theater that is “engaging” and “transformative.” He has the chance to do that with Theater Alliance’s Do You Feel Anger?, which starts a run at the theater later this month. Do You Feel Anger? runs from May 18 through June 11 at Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. anacostiaplayhouse.com. $40.
It’s hard not to completely lose yourself in a show at Keegan Theatre. With an intimate, 120-seat blackbox, even the nosebleed seats are pretty damn close to the stage. Since 1996, the Dupont Circle theater has brought to the city plays you know and love (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was its first show), indie plays you may not know about (Dipika Guha’s Yoga Play just finished its run), and plays making their world premiere (last winter’s Trans Am). Catch the theater’s Boiler Room Series happening this month. The collection of events pulls the curtain back on how plays get made, with staged readings, interviews, and audience talkbacks. The Boiler Room Series takes place between May 13 and 22 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. keegantheatre.com. Pay what you can.