By Chris Teale (File photo)
Preparations are gathering speed ahead of the city’s second Live Music Week, slated to be held at venues across Alexandria from September 30 through October 8.
The festival made its debut last year and saw more than 170 musical performances from a variety of genres at a total of 37 participating venues. Last year, established music spots like The Birchmere, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub and Daniel O’Connell’s and newcomers like waterfront restaurant Blackwall Hitch hosted a variety of musicians and bands.
Organizers said last year the event followed a similar model to Alexandria’s Restaurant Week, which raises awareness in a short period of time about local cuisine and year-round dining options.
This year, plans are even bigger for the festival, which will run from September 30 through October 8. Lead organizer Scott Fallon said around 60 venues will host performances in the 2016 edition, with the city’s vibrant music scene taking center stage.
“Last year, the idea was, ‘Well, hey, there are a number of restaurants that already have this stuff going on, so let’s just highlight this even more so,’” Fallon said. “That went beyond expectations. This year, the idea is: Let’s not just focus so much on existing places, but let’s really put the emphasis on the musicians and try to expand upon the local music scene and let people know what’s out there as much as possible.”
Of those approximately 60 venues, Fallon said there are go- ing to be a number of new hosts that join the old favorites. The Hooray for Books! bookstore on King Street is slated to host a children’s program, while a number of the city-owned recreation centers also are set to host showcases of local artists.
Fallon said he also is excited to partner with the organizers of the Alexandria Film Festival, which will host a screening of a soon-to-be-announced musical film at Murphy’s. A greater diversity of venues is rewarding, Fallon said, especially as many have approached him with questions on how to participate.
“This year, I’ve had a number of venues reach out and ask about how they can become involved,” he said. “There’s a little bit more diversity as far as the types of venues that we have as a result of that. … There’s music taking place at so many different places as a result, I think that’s what has been organic for us. People have reached out a lot more from different places, but I think it caught on because of last year.”
From the festival’s debut in 2015, Fallon said he learned plenty of lessons, including simple logistics. Last year’s iteration took place in mid-July, meaning the heat was an issue for performers and audience members alike, so it was pushed back to fall this year.
“Trying to get people out in the city [last year], it was simply too hot,” Fallon said. “This year, we moved it [back], and I think that’s a little more beneficial. Everyone I’ve talked to thus far has been very happy about that. I know we had a couple of Gospel acts performing last year in 100-degree heat — that’s just not something that goes over well.”
Another lesson Fallon said he took from last year was the need to put the emphasis on local music and ensuring that local performers have the chance to perform that they may not otherwise get. A musician himself, Fallon said he wanted to give as many people as possible the chance to be discovered.
“That’s a very specific point of emphasis, and a mistake we made last year,” he said. “We didn’t do that enough. Sure, I want the restaurants to do well. I want the hotels to be filled in Alexandria, absolutely. But as a musician myself, I want to ensure that local music gets heard and people that don’t necessarily have as many opportunities get an opportunity to play.”
Last year’s iteration was hailed as a great success by Patricia Washington, president and CEO of city tourism authority Visit Alexandria. She said at the conclusion of the 2015 edition that it was the quality and range of acts on display that made Live Music Week so good to be a part of.
“I think what made it so good was the community embracing it passionately,” she said at the time. “We have a really strong core group of restaurants that offer live music, and that list of restaurants that offer live music is growing all the time.
“Then, the fact that the musicians, the quality of bands and the quality of the musicians who are playing in those venues is high. The music is very interesting; it’s very diverse genres. I did the scene this weekend and I heard everything from jazz to Celtic music to rock to pop music.”
With the festival fast-approaching, Fallon said that this month he plans to put the finishing touches on the schedule and release it to the public, while also ramping up the event’s marketing.