This past weekend in Washington, DC was a blast! June 4-5, 2011 was the inaugural Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival, a 2-day event that showcased independent music from the Mid-Atlantic area.
Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie, abbreviated as STPP or “STeaPP” as my wife and I began to say it (as in steeping iced sweet tea?) … is the creation of David Mann. The mouthful of a name is self-referential as it is also the name of his booking agency. And the name of his music blog. And the name of his former band. And it will probably be the name of his future line of lingerie (if he so chooses to take on yet another project).
OK, so maybe I was kidding about that last one. Maybe.
The STPP Music Festival featured over 125 bands and performers from DC, PA, NY, VA, MD, NC and beyond for an indie (but genre defying) music marathon. One performance every hour from noon to midnight for two days across six venues around U Street and 9th Street in Washington, DC! Even better, the entire festival was FREE, but you had to be over 21 to attend.
I had volunteered to work the door at Dukem (a very nice Ethiopian restaurant owned by equally nice Tefera Zewdie) on Saturday night, so I didn’t get to see the majority of the acts at the other venues. But I don’t feel like I missed out, because the variety and the caliber of musicianship did not disappoint me or the, at times, standing room only crowd.
Starting when I arrived on Saturday at 5pm, New Yorker Matt Singer was already well into his set, but what I heard was already a good sign. He was charming, witty, slightly folksy, but with a sort of Caribbean vibe to match his bright red pants! He was sometimes joined by his vocalist and xylophone partner (and her mom in the audience).
Jonathan Wood Vincent took the stage next and began auspiciously with a monolog and an a Capella number which hardly prepared us for the journey that we were about to take. With a clear command of his piano, his extended songs were both hilariously verbose and upbeat, taking sharp turns into deep solemnity, and quickly back without apology.
When someone got up to leave he pleaded, “Don’t go! The next song’s about a penis!” And true to his word, it was. And I’m fairly certain he might have made it up right on the spot, but who cares? He’s one of those artists (and I use that term intentionally here) that you either love or hate. But isn’t that what art is all about?
Jokingly, Alec Gross followed up by admitting that his terrible name, “Alec Gross,” is the exact opposite of a great name like, “Jonathan Wood Vincent.” It is safe to say that his set was also probably the antithesis of it as well. But it was oh, so beautiful.
Alec, like Vincent and Singer before him, also traveled from New York City to be with us. And I for one am glad he did. True to his singer/songwriter roots, he bills his music as “Cinematic Americana,” which is as apropos as anything I could have written about him. Please, please check him out.
At times, during their set, it seemed that the duo known as Sequoya from Durham, NC had brought their own fan club with them. Bonnie, who sang and played guitar and Matthew on bass and banjo admittedly said they don’t play out much anymore but you’d hardly tell from the crowd’s reaction.
Charlie Harrison, who took the Dukem stage next to play a solo set in front of a standing room audience, was a last minute replacement for Dandelion Snow, originally scheduled for the 9:00pm slot. And it turned out to be a good thing too, because country music might not have been properly represented otherwise!
He also played a full band set on Sunday. Clearly a songwriter’s songwriter, you could imagine Harrison being a featured artist at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, but he lives right here in DC, by way of Texas. Good news for us, so we can all be sure to catch his next act.
Also representing DC that night was Rene Moffatt, who has been performing for the past four years, made the audience literally swoon! Moffatt whose wild hair, sweet voice and fingerpicking dexterity can’t help but win you over is still no match for what a bright and nice guy he is off the stage.
Closing out the night, Amy K Bormet and her amazingly tight 3-piece jazz band displayed impressive skills. They had just come off from performing at the DC Jazz Fest which was still going on until June 13.
The crowd changed over frequently all night as people sauntered in and out. At times it was standing room only, sometimes bustling with life and at other times, you could hear a pin drop with the audience focused entirely on the performance.
There has always been a strong music culture in Washington, DC (including jazz, punk rock and bluegrass), but it’s often not viewed the same as other DIY music cities like Austin, Boston or Athens. But the 2011 Inaugural Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival has proven that indie music is alive and well and that people WILL come out to see it thanks to Dave Mann, who almost single-handely put the thing together seemingly by force of sheer will alone. Not to rest on his laurels, Mann is producing a documentary about the festival with filmmaker Patrick Ryan Morris and has already committed to doing it all over again this October 2011.
Even though everyone I spoke to all throughout the night had positive things to say, I’ve also learned quite a few lessons that I’ll be sharing with Mann for the the next event. For example, we could have benefited from a schedule of performances on each table as well as handouts of the same including a map of the venues. People, not familiar with the area, were enthusiastic but often confused as to where to go. Additional volunteers assisting on the street in between venues would also help guide people.
Coordinating between 6 separate venues, even though they’re within walking distance to each other, is no piece of cake. It required a lot more logistical help than we had. But surprisingly, everyone was cool, calm, collected and professional. Bands helped each other with sound. Audiences entertained themselves in between setups and breakdowns. It was everything you could hope for from a city that supports independent music.
I only highlighted a small portion of the acts that played this weekend. A lot of credit goes to the many bands that I didn’t see who traveled far and wide to participate even though they weren’t being paid (since the event was free). It was as if they could sense that this may be the beginning of something big. Many took the opportunity to sell some albums and t-shirts and build their mailing lists. Some even passed around the tip jar. It may not make up for a 10-hour round trip drive, but it sure was an adventure.
Credit also goes to the restaurants and bars of Little Ethiopia that displayed the enthusiasm and foresight for the opportunity to bring an event like this to life. Most established music venues, understandably, weren’t sure how the STPP Music Fest was going to play out. But due to the pioneering spirit of Dukem, 1920, Ghion, Queen Makeda, Bella and Almaz, we’ll hopefully all be on the cutting edge of a new music landscape that could define a city.
Will that happen? You’ll just have to attend the STPP Music Festival in October to find out. See you there!