The DMV offers incredible cultural opportunities, many of them at no cost. One of those is The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, which brings highly regarded artists and bands to our for free, early evening concerts. Recently, Hurray for the Riff Raff played an excellent full-band set there.
Hurray for the Riff Raff is centered on the work of Alynda Segarra, a Bronx-born and raised singer-songwriter of Puerto Rican heritage. Early in their career, their albums leaned toward a sparse, indie-folk sound. More recent albums, especially last year’s Life On Earth, have expanded their production to a fuller, more pop-oriented approach, even including sound samples and electronic elements in the mix. This is a common path for many artists in this vein; I recently covered First Aid Kit and The Weather Station, who have evolved in a similar fashion.
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s songs include both deeply personal, intimate numbers and more political, outward-looking tunes. Hurray for the Riff Raff explored those themes at their performance at The Kennedy Center on July 20.
In 2019, they told the audience, they became a visitor for immigrants stuck in limbo in the asylum system in Louisiana, where they live (they settled in New Orleans in 2007). “Precious Cargo” tells the story of one of the immigrants they met, and some of the harrowing things that man went through in the system. The line “seventeen days sleeping on the floor” is especially haunting. Fortunately, they shared, this person has made it through the system and is out now.
Stream “Precious Cargo” by Hurray for the Riff Raff on YouTube:
At the other pole of their music was “SAGA.” Introducing the song, they said, “If you relate to this song, I love you. I’m sorry.” It deals with the trauma and loneliness they faced as a child, which is something I can relate to. I didn’t really have friends when I was growing up, and there was a lot of violence.
The set began with “Alibi,” followed by “RHODODENDRON,” “PIERCED ARROW,” and “Jupiter’s Dance.” “The Body Electric,” they said, is “an old one that’s still relevant. Hopefully, one day it isn’t.” Released on her 2014 album Small Town Heroes, the song takes its title from the Walt Whitman poem “I Sing The Body Electric.” It interrogates the long history of murder ballads and other songs that tell stories of gendered violence. The set continued with “Nightqueen” and “Good Time Blues (At Outla’s Lament,” and “Rosemary Tears,” closing with “Living In The City.”
It bears saying again: we’re very lucky to have cultural resources like the Kennedy Center, and even more lucky they put on these concerts free of charge. I always catch a number of them every year; last month, I saw the excellent singer-songwriter Chris Smither.
A number of notable artists are slated to appear later this summer at the Milennium Stage: Margo Price on August 11; Blitzen Trapper on August 16; and the Watson Twins on August 18. These are three exciting performances!
The concerts are free, but you’ll want to reserve a ticket through the Kennedy Center’s website, as some of these shows will be in high demand. Tickets can be reserved two weeks before the show date.