Phasefest’s internal manifesto could be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The queer indie music festival, the only one of its kind in Washington, is back next weekend for its fourth installment at Phase 1, the S.E. D.C. bar that started it.
Angela Lombardi, Phasefest founder and manager of Phase 1, says it can be a bit tricky balancing the lineup each year between bands that went over well in previous years versus wanting to provide a space for new bands.
“We never want it to feel like the same old festival,” Lombardi, a lesbian, says during a phone call from the airport where she just flew back from Greece this week. “I think we have about eight acts that have played here before. Some, of course, we bring back every year.”
This year’s lineup sounds appropriately eclectic. On Sept. 25, the band Men will headline. JD from Le Tigre, Tayisha Busay, Shondes, Rad Pony, Clinical Trials, Mitten, Renny Sanz, Tiik w/ Guts, Erin Brown and Candi Hearts will also perform sets. On Sept. 24, Hunter Valentine, Jen Urban and the Box, the Pushovers, Mzery Loves Company, the Athen’s Boys Choir, Lost Boi’s and Terrance Williams will play. And on Sept. 23, Wicked Jezebel will headline with Melissa Li, Kit Yan, Jenny Grind, Nikki Smith and Alex Voegele also performing sets.
Sexual orientations and genders are ambiguous with some of the bands. Most are lesbian or have lesbian members but male and trans musicians have played Phasefest before. Phase 1 is a lesbian bar but Lombardi prefers the more-inclusive word “queer” for the fest.
And it’s obvious talking to Lombardi she’s as excited about hearing the bands as anyone.
“This year we’re focusing more on indie queer music,” she says. “There are a bunch of new and exciting acts as well as people who’ve played before. Men are just amazing. And JD from Le Tigre is an alt radical queer band from the past. There’ll be lots of awesome stuff.”
She’s especially excited about Hunter Valentine, a Phase veteran who played at last year’s fest for the first time and also at Phase’s (the bar) 40th anniversary party in February.
“They’re our headliner for Friday and it’s been so exciting to watch them,” Lombardi says. “They’ve really grown by leaps and bounds and they’re just gathering more steam by the minute.”
Hunter Valentine’s lead singer, Kiyomi McCloskey, who doesn’t want to get into specifics but says her band is “definitely queer,” says Phase offers a unique experience on the touring circuit.
“We’ve played a lot of different Prides and OutFest, but Phase has its own vibe,” she says during a phone chat from Brooklyn where the Canadian-based band splits its time. “The staff is just great there and it’s like this little family. It’s very inviting and you can tell they really put their heart and soul into the festival.”
Lombardi says she was ill-equipped to handle Phase’s wildly successful first year but now has the event mastered. It typically attracts about 800 attendees over its three days, a figure she hopes to see bump up to about 1,000 this year.
All the events happen at Phase 1. The bar’s back patio area is converted into an are for queer artists and crafters to set up their wares. Lombardi says all the proceeds go to pay the bands and to run the festival.
“They’re the only ones making money,” she says. “We’re just putting the money back into queer music.”
So in this day and age when it seems almost chic for artists and singers to be vague about their sexual orientation, why have a queer-specific musical festival?
“It’s 100 percent important,” she says. “If you love the arts and music, why not support queer music? We’re trying to offer a totally safe space for these performers.”
Tickets — weekend pass available for $40; Tickets for Thursday (starts at 7 p.m.) are $10 and will be sold at the door; tickets for Sept. 24 (7 p.m.) are $15 and available online; Tickets for Saturday (6 p.m.) are $20 and available here.