NEXTfest 2021
NEXTfest 2021; (c) 2021 Viva Ventura/Darnell Smith @viva_ventura

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For CapitalBop, NEXTfest had become inevitable. The D.C. organization dedicated to presenting, promoting, and advocating local jazz had, by 2021, spent nearly a decade doing exactly that. After creating a regularly updated calendar of concerts, publishing articles about the scene to its website, and producing dozens of its own performances—including its own leg of the D.C. Jazz Festival—there was no other logical next step but a self-contained festival of its own.

The real question is, what took them so long?

“We as an organization needed to grow into this,” says Giovanni Russonello, CapitalBop’s co-founder and editor in chief, and a jazz critic for the New York Times. “By the time we did [our first edition] in 2021, we were really just barely ready.”

Even that required a lot of work. CapitalBop had long been a small, grassroots operation; for much of its existence, Russonello and co-founder/director of presenting Luke Stewart had done most of the heavy lifting. More recently, managing director Jamie Sandel, listings editor Jackson Sinnenberg, and a few other contributors beefed up the ranks. But to create a daylong, two-stage free summer 2021 music festival in Malcolm X Park, the organization would need some real pros.

In came a social media director, a person to handle licensing and permitting compliance, stage managers, a contracts and vendors consultant, and a volunteer coordinator. None were full-time hires (although the consultant, Kelsye Adams, subsequently became CapitalBop’s permanent presenting associate), but they still added up to a seasoned team of administrators who could assemble a big city music festival. In the process, CapitalBop also got more connected with city agencies and institutions that could help them realize their ambition.

“NEXTfest itself became this moment for us to really grow a ton in terms of our infrastructure, our position, and just our capacity to do stuff in the future,” Russonello says.

Held in late September last year, NEXTfest didn’t exactly go off without a hitch; in particular, a vendor mistakenly provided one stage that was smaller and lower than the other, creating the impression (which CapitalBop was trying to avoid) of a main and second stage. But the crowds were impressive and the music was spectacular, with a lineup that included go-go (TOB Band & Show, Marc Cary’s Go-Go Project) and funk (Mumu Fresh, Plunky & Oneness of Juju) in addition to the more traditional jazz of Nasar Abadey and the Akua Allrich/Kris Funn duo.

In short, it’s not a jazz festival for bebop purists. 

“I think if you’re going to make a festival that pays tribute to D.C. culture writ large, then you’re gonna be dealing with a diversity of music,” Russonello says, “and you’re certainly going to have go-go at the core of it.”

For its sophomore outing, again at Malcolm X Park on Sept. 24 and 25, NEXTfest broadens the palette even further. Expanding to two days, the lineup includes genre benders Raw Poetic & Damu the Fudgemunk, the Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers, and three go-go bands (TOB, UCB, and New Impressionz). Then there’s a variety pack of jazz offerings: experimental cornetist and electronics wizard Ben Lamar Gay, vocalist Cecily, and avant-garde bass icon William Parker. There will also be a full slate of humanities programming at the adjacent Josephine Butler Parks Center.

Correspondingly, CapitalBop has once again expanded its own ranks. In this case, they’ve brought in a full-time executive director: Jeanette Berry, a singer-songwriter, educator, and activist. Her job is the overarching administration of the organization’s activity, with the festival naturally being a large part of it.

However, her very presence suggests that CapitalBop’s growth is still in progress—with NEXTfest on its way to becoming the centerpiece. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s our core quite yet, because it is so new,” Berry stresses. “Right now, I think it is a major player in the annual programming. But eventually, it’ll get there.”

NEXTfest 2022 returns for two days on Sept. 24 and 25 at Malcolm X Park. capitalbop.com.