Live Review: DC Music Rocks Festival @ 9:30 Club — 8/17/19

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Eli Lev performs at the DC Music Rocks Festival on Aug. 17, 2019. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

I’ve been following the District of Columbia’s live music scene for several years yet I’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of the diversity, variety and joy that so many musical artists bring to this region. The same could be said about the third annual DC Rocks Music Festival recently — despite the line-up of a wonderful array of 12 bands and singer-songwriters, there is so much more to discover in our own backyard.

The DC Rocks Music Festival took place on Aug. 17 at the 9:30 Club with five bands that spanned the musical spectrum from salsa and funk to pop and rock. The Eli Lev Collective opened the show with Eli’s special mix of heartfelt country and Americana. The exuberance and energy that Eli brought to the stage was highly infectious and got the evening’s proceedings off to a great start.

Indeed, later in the set, the show’s Master of Ceremonies, hip hop DJ/artist Jarreau Williams, joined Eli for some animated cross-genre collaboration. As Eli’s been quoted, “The most meaningful thing for me is being able to express through my music what I’ve always felt about humanity. I want to bring people in, make them feel special, and break down the walls that keep us apart.”

Watch Eli Lev perform “To the Stars” live on YouTube:

The drumline from The MusicianShip took the stage next. A portion of the Festival’s proceeds benefited this charitable nonprofit organization that facilitates music lessons, experiences and opportunities in the DC metro area. Targeting, but not limited to, underserved communities and young people, The MusicianShip creates a healthy environment fostering positive peer relationships, providing strong role models and building students’ self-esteem. To learn more about The Musicianship and to consider supporting the arts in our community, please visit its website.

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Next up, More AM Than FM showcased the area’s hard rock tradition, with this female power trio making a solid and lasting impression on the 9:30 Club audience. I’ve long marveled at the ability of three piece outfits to produce such sonic power but Selena Benally, Mel Mast, and Anjalee Sharma lock into a groove-part power pop, part punk, and completely accessible — that can melt paint off walls.

See More AM Than FM perform “Wild” live on YouTube:

Between the five scheduled bands’ 40 minute sets, six area singer-songwriters each performed a song. Although one might hear the term “singer-songwriter” and think of merely one type of music, the Festival’s featured singer-songwriters represented a diverse array of styles, material and backgrounds. The first two, Jahnel Dalia and Daniel Warren-Hill (as well as the four that followed later), made the crowd forget about the scurrying techs onstage switching out amps and instruments, with the singers’ arresting tunes and gorgeous vocals.

Third in the line-up, Sub-Radio didn’t just take the stage, they exploded into the room. The DC based band of six childhood friends makes infectious indie rock that at first might seem like typical ear candy, but after a few minutes listening becomes highly nutritious, healthy for the soul, dance pop. Adam Bradley, the band’s lead singer, with his overflowing charisma, boyish good looks, killer dance moves, and powerhouse vocals seems destined for superstardom.

Watch Sub-Radio perform “Better Than That” live on YouTube:

After performances from singer-songwriters, Jasmine Gillison and Lauren Calve, the all-female funk and jazz band Iza Flo took the stage. Led by founder and drummer Isabelle De Leon the seven-woman group stomped, shook and danced their way through a setlist of originals and covers that had the 9:30 crowd boogying non-stop. Special guest lead guitarist Beth Cannon added some tasty solos while vocalists Jillian Willis and Dior Ashley Brown traded singing and rapping duties. All the while, De Leon led the killer rhythm section that held it all together.

See Iza Flo perform “Free Fallin’” live on YouTube:

Karen Jonas, along with musical partner Tim Bray, and Gabrielle Zwi, with Anthony Del Grosso, closed out the singer-songwriter mini-sets before the Latin jazz/salsa group Empresarios brought the evening’s festivities to a rousing end. Hailing from Puerto Rico, band leader Javier Miranda and lead singers Frankie Rosado and Felix Perez bring a potent musical mix of salsa, reggae, cumbia, dub and house, they call “tropicaliente.”

Watch Empresarios perform “Con Las Manos Arriba” live on YouTube:

Providing a taste of the DC region’s cornucopia of musical offerings for the past three years, the DC Rocks Music Festival serves both a dedicated audience as well as giving local bands an opportunity to play the storied 9:30 Club stage. At fifteen bucks a ticket, there’s no downside to this annual show. And this year’s partnership with The MusicianShip, shaping the region’s future generation of musicians and leaders made it a clear win-win for everybody.

The next DC Rocks Music Festival is a year away but until then you can stay clued in at DC Music Rocks’ website with a database of local bands, upcoming shows, podcasts, and lots more info. Here are some pictures of the DC Rocks Music Festival at 9:30 Club on Aug. 17, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.

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