On the heels of a successful show at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Texas, self-styled “hood-rock” band Black Alley is preparing to play its biggest D.C. gig yet: a slot at the Verizon Center.
Tonight, the D.C. band opens the Radio One Holiday Jam with Grammy-winning vocalist Jill Scott, R&B group New Edition and songwriter/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. It’s the latest step in the band’s progression from small neighborhood venues to big stages.
Black Alley has steadily played local spots like Bar 7 and the shuttered Indulj, moving up to larger venues including Merriweather Post Pavilion and now, the nearly 20,000-capacity sports complex in downtown D.C.
“Verizon Center was on my bucket list, so for it to come this soon is amazing,” says Black Alley’s Josh “Josh on Bass” Hartzog.
It’s a major plus that headliner Jill Scott “is someone we all listened to growing up,” Hartzog says. “Just to be on the same stage as her is pretty dope.”
A hybrid of rock and R&B, Black Alley has never lay claim to one genre. But its heart is in go-go. The band appreciates that Scott is no stranger to D.C.’s homegrown sound: she brought go-go swing to “It’s Love,” a highlight on her 2000 debut album, and she recorded with go-go godfather Chuck Brown before his death in 2012.
Go-go has been on a slide in the D.C. region, with gentrification taking a toll on the scene and local law enforcement cracking down on venues that host the music. Black Alley pays homage to the genre inside its chameleonic tunes.
“We are lucky that we can cater to more crowds and slide go-go in,” says drummer Danny “Animal” Henderson.
For Black Alley, getting to the Holiday Jam has required a lot of diligence. They take it “one show at a time,” Henderson says.
Authenticity may have played a role, too, says lead singer Kacey Williams.
“I feel like if you are going to enter the music scene in D.C., you really have to be honest and do what you feel is right for you with the music, as opposed to doing what people expect,” Williams says. “Because I feel like D.C. fans — more than any other — can tell when you’re faking.”
Black Alley is currently working on a followup to its 2012 debut album, SOUL.SWAGGER.ROCK.SNEAKERS. It’s expected out before the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of Black Alley.