Connect with us

a&e features

Well-Strung and far-flung

Gay classical outfit has expanded touring schedule, crossover appeal

Published

on

Well-Strung, gay news, Washington Blade

Well-Strung is, from left, Chris Marchant (second violin), Daniel Shevlin (cello), Edmund Bagnell (first violin) and Trevor Wadleigh (viola). (Photo courtesy of Well-Strung)

Well-Strung

 

Sunday, Aug. 6

 

6 and 9 p.m.

 

Clear Space Theatre Company

 

20 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.

 
clearspacetheatre.org
 

$35-100

Well-Strung, an all-gay singing-string quartet, has a musical library that might raise some eyebrows.

Chris Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, Edmund Bagnell and Trevor Wadleigh are known for mixing Lady Gaga and Rihanna hits with the likes of Bach and Vivaldi. It’s a combination not often found in a music performance but Well-Strung wants to introduce classical music to the masses through a more familiar genre — pop. Not only are they known for their cross-genre performances but their youthful presence and good looks have also been a big crowd draw.

The foursome are bandmates and roommates; they all live together in New York City, which makes for easy practice sessions. When not practicing at home, they are on tour sometimes in a different city every day of the week. The hard work has paid off as they have performed for big names such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and were invited to perform at the Vatican. They’ve also shared stages with Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and Audra McDonald.

The Washington Blade was able to speak with second violinist and group co-founder Marchant as they prep for their Rehoboth Beach, Del., show this weekend. Marchant revealed why he thinks classical and pop music are the perfect match, why Britney Spears tweeted their performance and the pressures of being a sex symbol.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Why did you first start playing music?

CHRIS MARCHANT: My mom made me. I was playing T-ball at the time and I was really bad at it so I wanted to quit. She said I could do that if I played a musical instrument for awhile. So I said OK and I picked violin.

BLADE: How did you get involved with Well-Strung? 

MARCHANT: I co-created the group with our manager Mark (Cortale). In 2010 I was up in Provincetown and Cape Cod doing another show because I used to do musical theater prior to this. I would play my violin on the street just to make extra money in the summer time. Mark was a producer in town at a theater and he saw me playing. So we started collaborating on what making a show together might look like. And we started looking for other people who would be interested.

BLADE: Is Well-Strung everyone’s only job or do you have side projects?

MARCHANT: It’s our only job. We kind of transitioned into that at different times. A couple of the guys used to cater or teach music or take freelance gigs. I used to bartend. But nobody really has time anymore.

BLADE: What do you think classical styles bring to pop songs?

MARCHANT: One of my favorite things that we do is explore the crossover between pop and classical music. Classical music is kind of intimidating for the average music listener because the library is just so wide. There’s just so much material. So it can be a little bit daunting to try and get into it. So what we try to do is highlight some of the crossovers in our covers between classical pieces and the pop songs. It’s always amazing to me when a chord progression used in a Bach partita lines up with something that is a mega hit by Taylor Swift today. People don’t realize that the underlying bed of music can be quite similar at times. That’s not always the case. But it’s surprising how often that is true. Also, I think the different textures that classical music creates is a little more different and intricate than pop music today. But we try to show what the past has offered musically and that is not irrelevant by any means.

BLADE: Has anyone told you that after listening to your performance you got them more into classical music? 

MARCHANT: Absolutely. That’s one of my favorite things to hear after a concert. That’s one of our goals in a concert is to show people that there’s room on both sides of the aisle. There’s room for people to like both. We can show someone that classical music isn’t this lost, old art but it can still be relevant today. But, also I think it’s really cool when sometimes we play student concerts or do student workshops and they realize that, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to play this one variety of music to play the violin.” It can be whatever you want it to be. That’s also really cool to me.

BLADE: Do you find yourself frowned upon in the classical music community for doing pop covers?

MARCHANT: If that’s the case, I’m unaware of it. I would say some non-fans have written in response to some of the stuff we’ve done and say that we’re destroying the classical piece with something that was written today. But that just seems close-minded. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It should be both as often as it makes sense too.

BLADE: What’s your favorite song to cover?

MARCHANT: My favorite song that we do is Radiohead’s “Creep.” Our violist arranged that one with “Ave Maria” and (a prelude from) “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” So, it’s actually like Bach wrote “The Well-Tempered Clavier” then a hundred years later Gounod wrote “Ave Maria” over top of that and then we took both and we put Radiohead over it. So it’s like multi-century.

BLADE: Any musicians that have reached out to you about songs you’ve covered from them?

MARCHANT: Britney Spears tweeted a clip of us playing “Toxic” in the hotel lobby of Planet Hollywood where she was doing her Las Vegas residency. And then the Charlie Daniels Band posted our cover of “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

BLADE:  Are your fans mostly gay, straight or a mix?

MARCHANT: It’s a good mix. It started out as more heavily gay because we got our start in Provincetown which is a mostly gay community. From there, the people who saw us there would bring us to their hometowns for concerts. So that’s how we started touring. It did start as a stronger gay demographic and I think that is still very present and we’re grateful for that. But we find our demographic just gets wider the more we tour. We tend to have the most engaged audiences when we’re with suburban families. That’s when we find the most successful concerts.

BLADE: You’re known for your music but you’re known for your looks as well. Is it weird being seen as a sex symbol? 

MARCHANT: It is weird. We have always said music comes before anything or any of us looking the way we want to look. We always put the music as a priority and everything else comes second to that. But it is very important, for me anyway, to be consistent while we’re on the road. I always try to get up and find a gym before sound check so I can focus my day a little bit. When we’re in different cities all the time, it can be draining in a certain way. Having a routine at the gym is really good for my sanity.

BLADE: What can people expect from your show in Rehoboth?

MARCHANT: We’re so excited for Rehoboth. That community has been so supportive to us from the beginning. There are really sweet people down there. We have a lot of new music that Rehoboth hasn’t heard yet so we’re excited to debut that there and hopefully see a bunch of our old friends. It’s definitely going to be a fun show. They’ve always been a very supportive community. A lot of energy from the audience. Some audiences I think they feel like, “Oh, we’re seeing a string quartet so we should be quiet and respectful of the classical music.” But we would rather people be loud and engaged just having a good time.

Well-Strung (Photo courtesy of the ensemble)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

a&e features

Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

Published

on

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!!!!!”

Continue Reading

a&e features

As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

Published

on

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)
Continue Reading

a&e features

Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

Published

on

‘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

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular