Electronic song

Songbyrd Music House hosts WMUC’s first music festival

A. Of them. One two three four!

The crowd roared as three-man punk band Curb Alert strummed their guitars and drummed under the bright green lights of Songbyrd Music House. The room was almost completely packed and the audience filled much of the space.

Along with previous DIY shows at neighborhood activity centers, this was Curb Alert’s first true live performance at a venue and its largest audience yet.

“It was a fantastic set,” said Oliver Foley, a sophomore in electrical engineering and drummer. “I’m so proud that we were able to play such a great set in front of such a big audience.”

WMUC 90.5FM, the University of Maryland’s student radio station, hosted a back-to-school music festival Thursday night at Songbyrd in Washington, D.C. The concert featured New York band Deep Sea Peach Tree leading the poster and local artists Jeff Draco, Makeup Girl, Curb Alert and Plastic Sun as supporting acts.

Junior journalism major and WMUC program director Molly Szymanski said plans for the festival date date back to May 2022. Inspired by the success of previous events hosted by WMUC as well as other college music festivals, WMUC staffers Jack Landau, Aidan Appelson, Foley and Szymanski hosted what Foley believes to be the first music festival in the station’s history.

One of the main reasons Foley, an assistant engineer at WMUC, credited carrying out the event was a chance to improve the radio station’s engagement with the university community.

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“It’s not just an opportunity to involve more people in the station, but an opportunity to expand the definitions of what we can do as a radio station,” he said. “From just being on the airwaves to being able to stream music live to people.”

Foley also said that WMUC wants to bring together different communities that make up the local music scene by inviting musicians from various genres. By doing this, Foley said each group can introduce their fans to each other.

The first two bands to play were Plastic Sun and Curb Alert, who had never played a venue like Songbyrd. But this fact was not obvious when they took the stage. Plastic Sun played their “psychedelic indietronica”, which is best described as an electronic, dreamlike sound with an ethereal quality. The crowd seemed enchanted and drawn to the stage by the music.

“For my first performance, I’m very, very happy,” said Appelson, who is a junior biology student and the lead singer of Plastic Sun. “We’re chiller music, and they seemed to take it to the next level.”

Jeff Draco performs at the WMUC festival at the Songbyrd Music House in Washington, DC on August 25, 2022. (Riley Sims/The Diamondback)

With Curb Alert next, all restraint was gone for those who jumped into the mosh pit. This was especially true when the band played a song dedicated to all the baristas in the audience.

“The crowd was really amazing,” said Curb Alert bassist and vocalist Noah Drajem. “They had great energy throughout the set, which was super nice, and that’s always what makes gigs fun as a band.”

Foley said he was initially worried that people in a bigger room wouldn’t have the same attitude as those in a DIY show. This fear turned out to be wrong.

“The pit was active, and it was fantastic,” he said.

The next three musical acts were more established artists from the regional music scene. Makeup Girl, run by brothers Brody and Avery Steck, put on quite a show for the already pumped-up audience. Their songs mostly sounded like a mix of rock and R&B, but the Steck brothers said they were inspired by so many different influences that they simply called their sound “music.”

Makeup Girl moved people like previous groups, but this time with a sense of style that comes with experience and a strong sense of identity. Brody seemed confident and comfortable behind his keyboard, as did Avery as he strummed his shirtless guitar in front of the crowd.

Then came Jeff Draco, known behind the scenes as Jeff Gilman and an alumnus of that college, Draco had a sense of energy for the theater unmatched by other musicians. Her mix of dream pop and indie rock songs had dancing, hugs and even singing.

Draco has previously performed at Songbyrd and was on stage for the venue’s reopening at its current location. He described his previous performance there as electric and said his last time at the old Songbyrd location was a gig where he performed with Deep Sea Peach Tree.

“It’s good to be back,” Draco said. “It’s like a meeting.”

Last came the headliner, Deep Sea Peach Tree. Described as sleepy surf rock by guitarist, singer and songwriter Kristof Denis, the band’s music seemed like a natural progression from Draco’s upbeat dream pop. Their softer, even more dreamy sound seemed to have helped end the night as the audience became more relaxed as the clock ticked closer to midnight.

After the music festival ended, WMUC staff expressed their joy at the success of the event.

“It went way better than I expected,” Szymanski said. “I think it was a really fun mix of genres that was representative of the WMUC community and the UMD community as a whole.”

Appelson said WMUC should do something like this again.

“If I’m still GM next time and it’s time to do it, I do it,” he said.

The musicians seemed to have the same feeling. Josh Poggioli, a college alumnus and keyboard player for Draco, said before the show started that he thought it would be the start of something really cool. Afterwards, he said the main meaning of it all was to give students a taste of the “DC experience”.

“The college scene is so cool,” Poggioli said. “It’s very important, especially at college, because there are so many different people from all over who come to this hub of DC.

Although the music festival was organized by a university radio station, there were members of the public who were not associated with the university at all. Eliza Fletcher and Maddie Cook, two friends who weren’t students, came to the event and said they loved it. They said they look forward to future WMUC events in Washington, D.C.

“We would come to all of them,” Cook said.

“Everyone,” Fletcher added.

After the music festival was over and almost all of the attendees had left, the members of the Curb Alert group still stood in front of the white walls of Songbyrd and reflected on their night. Their final thoughts were about the people who came to listen to their music.

“Well done to the crowd and thank you,” Drajem said. “You really made the show great for us.”