By Alex Tebeleff
The first In It Together Fest starts this weekend in DC, with tons of houses and spaces participating in a citywide creative event for charity. To celebrate and help raise awareness for the festival, I spoke with two of the founders of the festival — Geoff Shobert and Mike O’ Brien — to get their thoughts on the festival, why it started, and what it means for D.C.
Why did you start doing shows, and how did it lead into the idea for In It Together Fest?
M: The main reason we started doing shows in the first place was to create an opportunity for people who are making cool stuff to have people see it. My main motivation for putting on big group art shows at Hole In The Sky was to experience work in a way that was different from other shows I was seeing, and to get artists who were doing cool stuff in the area to see each other’s works and hopefully get to know each other better.
G: I had always been involved in the DIY scene where I grew up in Lakewood, OH. I also went on to live at a house venue in Athens, OH called The Crystal Castle while in college. When I came to D.C., naturally the first thing I did was try to find a house where I could host shows, and the people that I had originally been helping to find shows in Ohio were already asking about playing here. The Dougout became the outlet for that. At a certain point, after about two years, we just had too many shows and we couldn’t put them all on, and we also were doing bigger shows, so we needed a bigger outlet.aWe started to talking to other venues. The fest idea came out of that. Originally the idea was that it would be a big night at Hole In the Sky and the Dougout together.
M: Originally it was going to be a more focused NE DC fest because that’s where HITS and the Dougout are located, but it kind of ended up expanding into something bigger as more folks around the city became interested in getting involved.
Why did the idea for In It Together Fest expand into a citywide event?
G: If people wanted to do something, I wanted to help them do it – give them an outlet. Let people play to their strengths. It made sense for everyone to set up their own thing and then have everyone promote it together. There’s been a drowning out of information recently with too many shows; it made sense to have everyone do their own things and promote it together. We also wanted to have crossovers — let things that normally aren’t at venues have the opportunity to be there.
M: When you think of the various micro-scenes in DC, they tend to be centered around particular spaces, and involve the people who organize shows and attend shows at them. These folks have a specific interest in the type of culture they’re producing and consuming, but they tend to have a general interest in independent culture, so aiming to expose those micro-scenes to others who are doing pretty much the same thing but with a different genre or art form seemed logical. We figure folks are generally doing things in the same spirit and will potentially enjoy what others are up to.
Why do you think In It Together Fest is something D.C. needs?
G: Part of our mission statement is to highlight the under-appreciated, whether that’s new spaces, music, or through art events. It helps people to be lifted up by having a community. If you look at The St. Stephens schedule, there might be some bands that people haven’t heard of, but if you were blindfolded and taken to the show you would probably have a new favorite band or two by the end of the night.
M: There are a lot of really good bands and artists living in DC and producing great work, and a lot of it doesn’t match up with an audience that patronizes and supports them. Hopefully, the fest will get more people paying attention to what these artists are doing.
G: Highlighting the under-appreciated also means highlighting the under-connected. DIY in DC means punk, it has since the late 70’s, and so not every scene here has caught up to that. This is trying to expand what punk really means. Punk has changed over time in general. This is just another evolution. Now the DIY part has proliferated enough so it doesn’t have to be punk to be DIY. A lot of it is taking control of your own art, and connecting with a community, whether you need people or people need you. People shouldn’t feel like they need to toil alone in their studio until some art critic picks them up. A grassroots level movement is the perfect solution to these types of problems that artists of every kind are facing today as they look for new outlets.
Can you speak on community and how it impacts artistic output?
M: On the topic of community, I can say that becoming connected to a community of artists in DC and learning about the history of communities in DC has personally had a tremendous impact on the work I produce. For a while I was screen printing posters by myself in my basement apartment studio, and eventually I started stagnating. When I moved my screen-printing setup to Hole in the Sky and met all these other artists I gained new ideas for what to do with myself, and my work, which essentially sent me down the path of forming a more coherent voice. Currently my work is based around street-level promotion altering the urban landscape. A lot of it is based off what I saw at the Pump Me Up show at the Corcoran awhile back, especially the Globe Posters for go-go shows, because they created a recognizable a street level visual identity for the culture that was being produced in D.C.
The visual presentation of In It Together Fest is based on this, and also is very influenced by punk and hardcore fliers, melded with hand-drawn illustrations and lettering. The map itself is a major element, because we wanted to give a bird’s eye view without specifically mentioning where places are, but give a broad view of just how many spots are doing things.
It was also very important to me to use one of Ahmad Zaghal’s image for the photo background of the visuals for the festival, because he’s a guy who goes out to shows and takes photos despite the fact that he is legally blind. It’s the most unexpectedly awesome thing and it shows his dedication and commitment to enjoying and documenting independent culture in D.C.
It seems like DIY is a way of communicating to both of you.
G: My number one way of promoting is putting something in people’s hands. I’ve always felt strongly about having a real physical presence for anything. It’s all about connecting with people. The strongest thing for me since being in D.C. is the DIY community. Outside of my work it’s most of my life. It helps bring more people in and it gives a face to an idea. The fest itself wouldn’t be where it is if so many people in D.C. hadn’t been so easy to communicate with.
M: When you physically give someone a flyer, it gives you an opportunity to get know somebody, and one-on-one get someone excited about something. Once people start seeing you and asking what’s going on next, it means you are effective at establishing someone who is working hard to make cool things happen.
What do you hope to see happen as a result of the festival?
G: I hope people are encouraged to be involved in the scene, want to have their own spaces, and not be afraid to try anything. It’s also my hope that we raise good awareness for The Way Home campaign and the charity causes the festival is donating to: Positive Force, We Are Family, and Casa Ruby LGBT community center. I think after this, the plan is to do an In It Together zine, and do more interviews like this and have a list of shows. The first one will be people writing up their own responses to In It Together Fest.
Continuing an awesome recent trend of Latin American-focused rock shows in the D.C. area courtesy of organizations like Apuesta Por El Rock, this show presented by Alumbra D.C. features Colombian punk band Sind Pudor and Puerto Rican metal band Zafakon, plus D.C. hardcore band I Against Eye, and local metal from Bueno Crusher.
Great bill at The Electric Maid in Takoma Park with a diverse set of rock being represented; highlighted by local shoegaze outfit The Escape Artist, and Baltimore instrumental post-rock band Time Columns.
InFest opens with tons of good music from Vundabar, ACME, Wanted Man, Spoonboy, and Paperhaus, with comedy from Robot Butt, all at the most active current house venue in D.C., Ft. Loko in NE.
Golden Looks is a band worth keeping an eye on. They are developing one of the more interesting sounds in D.C. right now. This show is their album release show!
Erasable Inc. is a really talented local improv comedy collective; this show is guaranteed to kill it.
Good luck deciding where to go on this night, with two awesome art shows, an incredible collection of musicians at Union Arts, and one of the best heavy bills ever at The Dougout. All I can say is do not miss Pile; you’ll regret it. D.C. Bike Party is hosting an after party at Bardo, too.
Another really interesting bill from Select D.C. This show mostly showcases artists from Chondritic Sound, a great LA experimental electronic label.
Just in case you missed the killer Boston band Vundabar on Thursday at Ft. Loko, make sure to check them out at this show at The Lab.
The main event! Besides the obviously fantastic showcase bill at St. Stephens Church, there isn’t a single show on this day that isn’t worth checking out. Some special highlights for the day include Jebiotto from Japan @ Bathtube Republic, St. Louis two piece Sleepy Kitty at The Beehive, an array of very imaginative performances at The Communiverse, the alleycat bike race around the festival hosted by D.C. Bike Party, and of course, Pat Walsh’s drone brunch, also at The Beehive earlier in the morning. Those fucking croissants are INCREDIBLE.
One last house show at 1824 featuring local D.C. mainstays Shark Week and Laughing Man, with DJs going late afterwards.
A nice late show if you are looking for something to do after the St. Stephens InFest showcase!
La Luz is one of the best bands breaking out of Seattle right now; local Rockers Lindsey Buckingham Palace open.
Northern VA DIY booking group Block Fort Booking presents this show at CD Cellar.
The final day of InFest features a day show 12 – 7 at The Paperhaus, a skate demo at Bridge Spot, and an afternoon BBQ show at Crack Rock Creek Church House. I highly recommend checking out all the events — the bands are all worth checking out this day, and the skate demo is the kind of event that really helps this be about much more than just the music community. Make sure to check out the Playback The Tape event later in the evening.
Ras Nebyu is my favorite current rapper in DC, and this party at U Hall celebrates the release of his new mixtape, “Ras Griffin III.”
A well-deserved showcase for Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists as part of the local showcase series hosted by Listen Local First on the Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center.
Another great Sunday matinee show at The Pinch.