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15 Things To Do Around DC This January

The events, concerts, and shows worth your time this month.
Photograph of Kankouran West African Dance Company by Lawrence Green.

1. From U Street to the Cotton Club

Source Theatre, January 5–20

DC’s jazz history gets its due with this musical ($45). Before each performance, local historian Tim Wright will lead a companion tour of U Street’s musical past. We asked him to talk about some of the city’s key tuneful moments.

1923

Sidney Bechet’s Howard Theatre Gig

Photograph of Bechet by PF-(Bygone1)/Alamy.

A young Duke Ellington was in the audience when seminal jazz musician Bechet came to town for a show. “This performance propelled Ellington to pursue greatness in the world of jazz,” Wright says. “He got the inspiration here.”

1939

Marian Anderson’s Easter Concert

Photograph of Anderson by World History Archive/Alamy.

After the Daughters of the American Revolution wouldn’t let a black performer play DAR Constitution Hall, Anderson gave a historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “It created a statement about civil rights in America. This was before what we think of as the civil-rights movement, but wheels were turning.”

1951

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Wedding

Photograph of Tharpe by Pictorial Press/Alamy.

The gospel performer played at her own nuptials, which were held at DC’s Griffith Stadium and attracted a huge crowd. “I just love this story. It’s black people in DC creating their own cultural, economic, and educational institutions because they were locked out of them.”

1972

Marvin Gaye’s Return to DC

In the wake of his transformative album What’s Going On, the Washington native played DC for the first time in years, at the newly opened Kennedy Center. “It was just a phenomenal, cathartic experience for everyone involved.”

1979

Chuck Brown’s Breakthrough

When his song “Bustin’ Loose” and the album of the same name both hit big, DC’s homegrown sound became established as a significant genre. “It’s not the beginning of go-go, but when you get certified gold, it puts you up there.”

2. Noname

9:30 Club, January 8

The rising rapper Noname—who does have a name: Fatimah Warner—has a conversational vocal style and a chill stage presence, but her work is filled with subtle lyrical fire. Though originally known as a Chance the Rapper collaborator, she has quickly expanded her own audience after releasing the contemplative album Room 25 in September. $25.

3. American Moor

Anacostia Playhouse, January 9–February 3

As an African-American actor and playwright who has long loved Shakespeare, Keith Hamilton Cobb feels a connection to the Bard’s most prominent black character, Othello. In this one-man show, Cobb reflects on his experiences with the role, such as the time he was fired from an Othello production for disagreeing with a white director’s vision. $30 to $40.

4. Taking Up Serpents

Kennedy Center, January 11–13

An opera about snake-handling fundamentalist preachers? Sure, why not. Librettist Jerre Dye was inspired by his childhood growing up in an evangelical church in Mississippi, where parishioners would speak in tongues and writhe on the floor. We’re just hoping the reptile gets an aria. It ain’t over till the slithery creature sings. $35 to $45.

5. Cartography

Kennedy Center, January 11–13

An experimental theater piece that wants to make you think about refugees and migrants differently. One cool way it does that: through an interactive exercise in which audience members trace their families’ migration histories on their phones. The results are projected onto a screen for everyone to see. $20.

6. Movie Theaters of Washington, DC by Robert K. Headley and Pat Padua

Politics and Prose (Connecticut Avenue), January 12

Washington hardly lacks places to see the new Marvel movie, but today’s cinema scene is nothing compared with what it once was. “What surprises a lot of people is how many theaters there were in the District,” says Robert K. Headley, co-author of this visual history. “Many, many theaters, and most of them nobody’s heard of because they were short-lived.” In advance of Headley’s P&P appearance with coauthor Pat Padua (free), here are three lost venues featured in the book.

The Cosmos

919 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Photographs of theaters courtesy of Acadia Publishing.

Though the space had several facades, this one was the most elaborate and enduring. It debuted in 1909 and remained for almost 20 years (although the theater’s name later changed to the Mutual). Here, it’s decked out for what appears to be Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.

The Arcade

3134 Park Rd., NW

Photographs of theaters courtesy of Acadia Publishing.

You could do much more than just see movies at this entertainment hub. Opened in 1910, it also featured 14 bowling alleys and a skating rink, according to the authors. For a time, the building served a more serious purpose: The US Army Signal Corps occupied space on the third floor.

Keith’s

619 15th St., NW

Photographs of theaters courtesy of Acadia Publishing.

Opened in 1912 as a vaudeville theater, it eventually switched to films. This photograph was likely taken in the early 1930s. The movie showing in the photo—The Unwritten Law—came out in 1932.

7. Ari Shaffir

Sixth & I, January 15

Photograph of Shaffir by Michael S. Schwartz.

Shaffir’s wry humor draws from his experiences growing up as an orthodox Jew in Rockville. With the comic, now based in New York, set to bring his act back to town ($25), he shares the funniest thing that happened while he was a student at the University of Maryland.

“I was in the library trying to Xerox [a book] for a project. I couldn’t get it done, so I was like, ‘I’ll just take this book.’ I ripped the [sensor] out so it wouldn’t go off when I went through the turnstile. Apparently, though, that thing is on the inside of the binding. The turnstile locked. They asked if I had anything in my bag, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this book I stole.’ They called the cops and put me in cuffs. It was so embarrassing. I was like, am I going to jail? Then I was thinking: Can I bring the book to jail to do the research? I still need to do the paper.”

8. School of Rock

National Theatre, January 16–27

Photograph of School of Rock by Evan Zimmerman.

The cute 2003 Jack Black movie might seem like strange source material for EGOT-winning theater behemoth Andrew Lloyd Webber, but his head-banging stage adaptation proved to be a significant hit on Broadway. Come raise a lighter and sing along. $54 to $154.

9. Renée Fleming and the National Symphony Orchestra

Kennedy Center, January 18 and 20

This concert probably won’t be quite so emotionally charged as when Fleming sang “Danny Boy” at John McCain’s funeral in September. (How could it be?) But the revered soprano should still provide plenty of goosebumps when she trains her magical pipes on a Schubert-focused program conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. $15 to $89.

10. Interfusion Festival

Westin Alexandria, January 18–21

This arts festival is literally touchy-feely: It offers more than 100 ways to “connect with like-minded spirits,” according to its website. Events range from ballroom-dance parties to—shudder—group cuddles ($30 for a one-night pass). Why get so close to strangers? Founder Christian Rodriguez explains.

So what’s Interfusion about?

Our values are based on universal love. Nonjudgment is a very large part. It’s not just a bunch of workshops—it’s the energy. It’s this sort of buffet of different things to try, all framed in a collective experience.

That sounds . . . kinda intimate.

It makes you connect with people in a deeper, authentic way. Are [attendees] going to feel comfortable cuddling with strangers? It’s up to them. Ultimately, the goal is for them to remove their inhibitions and find their self-expression.

How would you convince DC’s more buttoned-up residents to jump in?

I don’t know, actually. That’s my challenge right now.

11. KanKouran West African Dance Company

Dance Place, January 19–20

Trained as a ballet dancer in his native Senegal, Assane Konte moved to the US and founded an African-dance troupe with late drummer Abdou Kounta, a childhood friend. Thirty-five years later, their creation continues to thrive—a high-energy, djembe-driven mix of rhythm and movement. $15 to $30.

12. Just Giving by Rob Reich

Politics and Prose at the Wharf, January 22

A Stanford political scientist and ethicist, Reich argues that Big Philanthropy—the business of donating private wealth, often to influence pol­icy—can actually be more of a threat than a benefit. Here he’ll discuss this provocative idea with the New Yorker’s chief Washington correspondent, Jane Mayer. Free.

13. Kacey Musgraves

The Anthem, January 24

Photograph of Musgraves by Jamie Nelson.

One of Nashville’s most thoughtful songwriters, Musgraves recently won Album of the Year at the CMAs for her latest work, Golden Hour. Though she has described the collection as “space country,” to us it just sounds like well-crafted, heartfelt pop. Maybe she’ll get more psychedelic onstage? $55 to $150.

14. U Up?

Sixth & I, January 24

Need help with your dating-app profile? Wondering how to respond to texts from your ex? At this appearance, Jordana Abraham and Jared Freid—hosts of a popular relationship-advice podcast—will offer assistance to audience members. We asked them for guidance on a particularly thorny subject: dating in DC right now.

Can you stalk app matches before a date?

“You can do a light stalk,” says Abraham, but “you want to leave something to be uncovered about the person.” A quick Facebook snoop is okay, for example, but checking to see which political campaigns he or she has donated to is taking it too far.

What should you do if a date leans toward the other party?

Try to resist immediately storming out of the bar. If you had enough in common to agree to a date in the first place, give the person a chance. “Living a life where you only meet people just like you is not that interesting,” Freid says.

How about if you disagree with a new flame’s family?

If you’re an MSNBC fanatic and you discover you’re dating someone whose parents have a Tucker Carlson shrine, don’t panic. Says Freid: “You have more in common with people [on the other side] than you want to believe.”

15. Neko Case

Lincoln Theatre, January 26–27

Photograph of Case by Emily Shur.

One of the emotional highlights of Neko Case’s latest album, the female-empowerment anthem “Winnie,” prominently features guest singer Beth Ditto, who presumably won’t be appearing at this gig. So before you go, spend some time listening to the original. That way, you can be sure to shout along: “We were warriors! We clothed ourselves in the guts of our enemies!” $46.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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