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Photos By Miranda Hontz, Words By Leon Hontz

DC9 is one of the most intimate venues that DC music lovers can go to experience their favorite rising artists in an extremely personal way that is hard to duplicate within the DC music scene. Sunday evening showcased the quality of DC9’s setting as it played host to SOAK and her opener Marian McLaughlin.

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Marian McLaughlin is a talented guitarist who layers her classically oriented style alongside a truly unique approach to the lyrical elements of her songs. There are equal aspects of Pepe Romero, Joanna Newsome, and Jefferson Airplane in her set – such is the peculiar nature of McLaughlin’s music (she also channeled Les Claypool for about thirteen seconds). Her style is undeniably captivating and quirky, feeling as at home at DC9 as I imagine she would at a renaissance fair. McLaughlin thrives in the precise ways that you would hope that she would, telling enthralling tales with devoted natural and supernatural elements. She makes modern Druidic music (at least as I imagine it) treating rivers, beasts, and the Fae as personalities worthy of capturing and revering in song. Suffice to say, I have never experienced this type of music before within the DC music scene. Combine this with her evocatively beautiful voice and her obvious craftsmanship on guitar, and you are left with a performer of quality and consequence who offers a praiseworthy deviation from the standard fare that can be expected from the indie music soundscape.

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While Marian McLaughlin flirts with the haunting elements in her songs, SOAK thrives in this central component of her music. SOAK, the stage name of Bridie Monds-Watson, is a performer who channels a calm confidence beyond her 18 years. Simply put, she was stunning. SOAK channels the tender moments between sleep and wakefulness, of the quiet mornings in winter that seem otherworldly. The lilting textures of her guitar provide an apt backdrop for velvety vocals that mingle to create compositions that range from bitter-sweet to bone chilling. SOAK’s performance contains a deep sensitivity and terrible honesty that is deeply affecting. Her music is pervasive and irresistible, and I am excited for what the future holds for her. I could not help but be reminded of early Damien Rice performances, perhaps due to their shared roots as Irish buskers, a sound whose quality merits a warranted appetite amongst music lovers.

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There is a quality captured in the bare bones shows like those of McLaughlin and SOAK on Sunday that draws the artist into the audience; it’s an inescapable intimacy that is utterly compelling. I have no doubt that these performers will thrive in the larger setting with full bands behind them (as evidenced by McLaughlin’s work as Strathmore artist in residence and SOAK’s shows in Europe) but future audiences will be genuinely missing out on the personal connection that these smaller venues provide. Until SOAK’s talent catches up with her as it surely will, providing the resources to bring her band along with her, we will be treated to these delicate, honest, and intimate experiences akin to the one at DC9 on Sunday. For us, the audience–the lovers and seekers of these moments–venues like DC9 will continually provide this unfettered access to new and blossoming artists for as long as we are there to welcome them. What more could we ask for?

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