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Local rocker unveils live album

Tsaggaris celebrates release with 9:30 Club engagement

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Laura Tsaggaris, gay news, Washington Blade
Laura Tsaggaris, gay news, Washington Blade

Laura Tsaggaris felt the muses calling despite pursuing a more sensible-sounding career in law. (Photo courtesy Tsaggaris)

CD release party

 

Laura Tsaggaris vs. Justin Jones and the B-Sides

 

Wednesday

 

$20

 

Doors at 7 p.m.

 

930.com

 

Many dream of spinning hobbies into careers but those who manage to do it successfully are uncommon.

D.C.-based singer/songwriter Laura Tsaggaris may not be a household name, but with a co-headlining date slated for next week at the 9:30 Club, which will double as a release party for her fourth album, things are progressing nicely.

“Live from the Atlas” is her first live album and is different from anything she has worked on before. The process was much more hands on than she was used to and required her to step back from trying to make everything sound immaculate.

“Sometimes when you’re in the studio you have the tendency to want to be able to make things perfect because you can,” Tsaggaris says. “So with this it was like, ‘No, we’re going to rehearse and we’re going to be ready and we’re going to see what the audience brings and how the music is inspired and we’re going to go with that.’”

Tsaggaris, a lesbian, had to invest a lot of time and effort into the live album more so than her previous works. She raised the money, found musicians and the venue, looked for corporate sponsors and more to make this album possible. It was work she felt was well worth the effort at this time in her music career.

“I’ve been doing this for a little over 10 years and some of the artists like, Ani DiFranco, that I really admire had a really great live record in their catalogue, maybe even a couple of them. So it felt like it was a real challenge I could undertake.”

Tsaggaris is no stranger to a challenge. She began teaching herself to play guitar at her home in Pittsburgh when she was 15. Her life consisted mostly of playing sports, so in her spare time she would sit down with her guitar and play music. She continued to play during her off-time playing sports at the College of William and Mary.

“It was really good me time playing music and playing guitar,” Tsaggaris says.

After graduating, Tsaggaris took a job outside of New York City. Feeling unhappy with her job and location, she decided to make the move to D.C. in 2000. D.C. was a place she had felt a connection to during her days at the College of William and Mary.

“I had some friends that went to George Washington University. And every time I would come up I just really liked D.C. I just felt really comfortable here,” she says.

Tsaggaris moved to D.C. and began working at a law firm as a legal assistant with plans to go to law school. After a couple years, she began to realize she wanted something different and began to focus on her music part time.

“Right after I moved to D.C. I challenged myself to go out to open mics. I had terrible stage fright. Once I did that I kind of got the bug to just keep writing.”

From fearful open mics to playing the 9:30 Club with Justin Jones and the B Sides, Tsaggaris is well aware of how far she’s come.

“I’ve seen a couple shows there that were really awesome. I’ve seen Coldplay there and I saw Justin Timberlake there. So I’m totally psyched to play there. ‘Live at the Atlas’ has a lot of acoustic bass so it has a chill and mellow vibe. But also we’re going to do a lot of rock arrangements which will be really fun and in this venue it’s just going to be really great.”

Fellow singer-songwriter Victoria Vox believes Tsaggaris is set apart from other musicians by her drive and commitment.

“Laura Tsaggaris is a true artist, the real deal,” Vox says. “Her vocals are spot-on, backed by her strong and tight guitar playing, and she’s never afraid to be emotionally invested in her songs.”

Songwriting led Tsaggaris to record three studio albums: “Proof,” “Keep Talking” and “Everyman.” The third album helped her to open herself back up creatively.

Tsaggaris took to recording songs on her iPhone voice memo app when she was struck by inspiration during the creation of “Everyman.” If a person had inspired the song, she would send it to him or her. Reactions to her music in that way made her realize why she had started making music all along.

“I felt like I needed to go back to the positive part of music and the positive reasons why I’m doing it,” Tsaggaris says. “I was feeling really beaten down by trying to get press and trying to get XYZ. This got me back to, ‘Oh this is how I connect with people.’ Their reaction really instilled in me the desire to keep doing it.”

That connection with people is also what makes Tsaggaris feel that she has a responsibility to the LGBT community. Even if her songs are not explicitly about her sexuality, she feels it still plays an integral part in her music.

“I think one of the reasons why I had so much stage fright at the beginning was I felt that all of that is a part of me. That’s something that is part of my core. By putting myself out there, it is putting that out there for people to judge or consume or reject. But it only made me stronger.”

Tsaggaris, who has been married since 2012 and has a year-and-a-half-year-old son, feels her experiences should be shared with the LGBT community.

She contributes her desire to showcase her life as a possible example for other members of the LGBT community to how little she knew what could be possible for her when she was looking at LGBT life when she was younger.

“When I was growing up there wasn’t really any protocol. You didn’t really know that people could get married and that they could have kids and do these kinds of things. It really helps to see that it can happen now and that people are really happy.”

Ultimately, though, she hopes for broader appeal.

“It’s a tug because I also want to be just like my straight friends who have kids or like my straight musician friends who have songs. It’s like you want to obviously relate to people who are like you in certain ways and in ways that people are different from you,” Tsaggaris says.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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