In the relatively quiet Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington sits a relatively quiet bar and grill, ironically called The Library Saloon.
The 2009 Hip Hop Theatre Festival kicked off at The Library with an extraordinarily talented collective of local painters called AM Radio. They are part of the city-wide ART Unplugged – an eight week series consisting of over 35 acts, with the purpose of bringing art to interesting and unusual environments. [AU began June 17th at Artomatic, and makes several more visits back to The Library before ending Aug 14th.] The collaboration of ART Unplugged and The Hip Hop Theatre Festival promised an extravaganza of art, and culture unlike any the city has seen in a long time.
I didn’t see or hear an extravaganza as I walked up 12th Street in search of The Library Saloon. The charming wooden door didn’t appear to be the entryway to much in the way of art or hip hop, but the atmosphere inside was another story. Happy hour was well underway and the busy bartender alternated between handing out mixed drinks and dinner fare, while DJ Two Tone Jones kept the energy of the room upbeat and engaged by mixing classic hip hop from the 90’s while the rest of AM Radio took turns creating a masterpiece in front of the audience’s eyes.
The audience was encouraged to interact with the artists as they created the painting, although it took some time for the crowd at the Saloon to become accustomed to the unusual scheme of the night.
AM Radio has been merging the unconventional, painting together in unconventional environments for four years including being commissioned to work with Nike and Scion among others. For the record, the driving hip hop beats that play while AM Radio puts paint to canvass is more than background music and filler for a primed happy hour audience.It is inspiration for powering through the piece. Although the themes of the pieces are given thought before hand, much of it is freestyle art as the music and energy of the crowd move the artists’ fingers just as much as their collective plans for the painting.
Meanwhile the members of AM Radio remain down to Earth, posing for photographs after the painting is complete and even laughing and talking with audience members. After tonight, DC audiences have a new hunger for the AM Radio experience.
reviewed by Porscha “Lyrik” Coleman
The Hip-Hop Theater Festival in DC continues around town all this week, ending Saturday, Jul 11. Details are here.