Phase 1 started having live music only a couple years ago, but just one night a week. It was, as the bar’s manager Angela Lombardi explains, ”a very casual thing.” The response, however, was overwhelming. ”We had a bunch of bands contacting us,” continues Lombardi. ”And we had a bunch of bands coming through. We were like, ‘Why don’t we put on a festival?”’
This weekend, the bar in Capitol Hill will put on PhaseFest — and there’s nothing casual about it. Only in its second year, Lombardi says this diverse festival of musicians and spoken-word artists is already ”the largest queer musical festival on the East Coast.
”Originally, the concept was just to give our local musician friends and local artists a place to showcase their work,” says Lombardi. ”[But] we realized we could make it bigger, we don’t need to keep it on a local basis. We could pick up national acts, which would in turn give our local friends even more publicity.”
Nearly 40 performers are scheduled for this year’s festival, which continues tonight and Friday night, and ends with an all-day Saturday blowout. Lombardi expects about 2,000 people overall to attend the festival, a nonprofit affair put together with help from volunteers. All ticket sales go toward paying for the performers. Spoken-word artist Alix Olson, electroclash provocateur Nikki Click, rapper Shunda K of Yo! Majesty and folk-rocker Bitch are some of this year’s better-known national headliners, many of whom were recruited from the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the godmother of queer festivals. Local performers include the band Odd Girl Out, the drag act the D.C. Kings, Mara Levi and Natalie E. Illum.
Occasional Phase bartender Kristin Beers performed as the bassist in the band Pariah Piranha at last year’s festival. She liked it so much she came back this year as a member of the steering committee, helping plan the whole shebang. ”I’m excited that there’s such a huge variety of performers this year,” Beers says. ”And I hope the festival brings people out to be part of the community who maybe don’t [normally] come out.”
For her part, Lombardi is excited to be ”showcasing a ridiculous amount of queer talent, and also seeing the looks on people’s faces when they get to experience something like this in D.C.” She says the plan is for next year’s event to be even bigger, moving to the revived and relocated Ziegfeld’s. In fact, she says they had hoped to have it there this year, but the new space isn’t ready yet. So instead, the money from this year’s festival will go toward making next year’s move a reality.
”Everyone that comes out will help make next year’s festival even better,” she says, adding with pride, ”We’re making the D.C. queer-music scene a place to be.”
PhaseFest continues all weekend through Saturday at Phase 1, 525 Eighth St. SE. Tickets are $15 per day. For a schedule of performers and more information, visit www.phasefest.com.