H Street Concert Easter Weekend Sparks Outcry From Irate H Street Neighbors
Lack of Notice, Poor Judgment Fit Larger Pattern of City’s Indifference
by Larry Janezich
It probably seemed to be a good idea to all concerned in the planning: a secret, free concert on H Street Easter weekend where recording artist Wale could promote his new album. The organizers behind the event included Events DC and the partly city-funded* (see below) Washington, DC Economic Partnership, H Street Main Street, and &pizza among others. WestMill Capital Partners provided the venue: the Auto Zone Parking Lot on H Street between 11th and 12th.
Whatever good publicity Wale generated among his fans – many of whom appeared to be out of state and brought in by tour bus – the brief afternoon concert on Saturday came at expense of the nearby residents of H Street, a dynamic that fits a larger, disconcerting pattern whereby the city prioritizes business over the quality of life of city residents.
Residents of Linden Place, the block backing up to the parking lot, already feel under siege by an ongoing battle with the city over enforcement of rodent control and sanitation and access regulations in the abutting alley behind H Street, which includes restaurants and ongoing construction. (See photos below)
But on the Saturday afternoon before Easter, the quality of life for these residents near H Street sunk to unprecedented levels.
With absolutely no notice given to nearby residents, several thousand concert goers gathered in the lot on H Street. According to ANC6A Commissioner and Chair Phil Toomajian, no notice of the event was given to the ANC. In response to complaining constituents, Toomajian said, “I too was disappointed to hear the loud noise from this event inside my own home 5 blocks away when I brought my newborn son home from the hospital this afternoon.”
The noise was disruptive to many, but even more offensive was the character of some of the lyrics the neighborhood was subjected to, which one poster to a local listserv described as follows: “I was walking by and heard some of it. A lot of “n word this, n word that. Eat that puxxy! Fxck that bitch!” Not once in awhile but nonstop – every other word…Not appropriate music to blast in public.”
Respectfully setting aside the fact that, for many, when used in the specific context of modern rap, the n* word does not carry the offensive character that it does elsewhere, the remaining lyrics still raise questions about the judgment used in scheduling this event. Any woman, any child, any person close to this location in the middle of the day on a holiday weekend heard lyrics which they would be well within reason to regard as offensive.
The concert started at 2pm and went until nearly 5:00pm. After the concert, a large crowd, which some neighbors characterized as intoxicated, remained on the site until three vans of Metropolitan Police, called by a resident, arrived to disperse them.
Residents who complained to Councilmember Charles Allen and to Mayor Bowser’s office received the following reply from Allen:
“Thank you for adding me to this email chain. After getting your notes, I contacted Greg O’Dell, head of Events DC, this afternoon to let him know about the issues and complaints, as well as the lack of notice to neighbors and the ANC. He committed to me that he will have his staff review their event and get back to me with how they’ll change moving forward. They do not have another pop-up concert scheduled at this site (although they do apparently have one scheduled for Yards Park – which is probably a more appropriate venue to begin with given the weekly concert series already taking place there). Thanks again and I’ll work with neighbors and the ANC on more follow-up.”
Allen did not raise the possibility of a fine or penalty of any kind for the poor handling of this event. The debacle poses serious questions about how community norms relate to issues that affect the character of public and private space and what is the process by which such a discussion should be undertaken. Also, as has come up repeatedly on this blog, just how much of a burden must nearby residents be forced to bear as the city encourages the development of commercial corridors devoted to restaurants and bars while maintaining a stony indifference how this development affects the quality of life of neighboring residents.
From Wikipedia: “Olubowale Victor Akintimehin (born September 21, 1984), better known by his stage name Wale (/ˈwɔː leɪ/ wah-lay), is an American rapper from Washington, D.C.. He rose to prominence in 2006, when his song “Dig Dug (Shake It)” became popular in his hometown. Wale became locally recognized and continued recording music for the regional audience. Producer Mark Ronson discovered Wale in 2006 and signed him to Allido Records in 2007. While signed to that label, Wale released several mixtapes and appeared in national media including MTV and various black magazines.” Wale performed at an event celebrating Mayor Bowser’s inaugural.
The City has provided token response to neighbor’s complaints about trash, rodent, and access issues in the alley behind Linden Place to seemingly little effect.
* Washington, DC Economic Partnership, according to a representative, is in public/private partnership with the city. As a nonprofit organization, some of the initiatives are partially funded by city grants, but they are not wholly funded by this.