Music to fly by: Performers beguile travelers in concert series at local airports

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Chelsey Green and The Green Project perform live at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday as part of an ongoing series of performing arts programs at Washington's airports. This February, performers celebrate Black History Month.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 1:03 PM

As travelers hurried through Terminal C at Reagan National Airport one day last week, something unusual caught their attention, prompting a mix of confusion and amusement.

The diversion was Christylez Bacon, who was playing the string guitar and African drum, while beat-boxing in a unique form of hip-hop. His 75-minute jam session was part of a new, lunchtime concert series at Reagan and Dulles International Airport in recognition of Black History Month.

"Our goal is to just give our passengers something to enjoy," said Courtney Mickalonis, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which controls Dulles and Reagan National.

"There are so many talented people in the D.C. area; we wanted to tap into that for our passengers," she said.

Bacon, a cheerful 24-year-old from Southeast Washington with a broad smile, played on the album "Banjo to Beatbox," which was nominated for a Grammy last year. He released his debut album, "Advanced Artistry," in 2008. He describes his music as "progressive hip-hop," a blend of storytelling, rapping and beat-boxing - producing musical sounds, such as drum beats, with his mouth.

Bacon said he is used to performing in unconventional spaces. The most unusual place he has rhymed in? "An elevator!"

On a recent Wednesday, he performed in front of a terminal window with views of airplanes prepping for departure. His tall, lanky frame was dressed in a vest, navy blazer and a mocha tie paired with jeans and black boots.

Bacon said he was honored to help launch the concert series.

"Black history, in how we're taught, stops at the civil rights movement," he said. "There are cats today making history."

As he began his set, a small group of airport employees gathered to watch. Most of the hurried travelers passed by the musician, but Azia Patrick of Los Angeles stopped in her tracks, entranced by Bacon's beat-boxing.

"I'm a huge fan of this kind of music," she said, smiling.

A few minutes later, a man in a business suit stopped briefly to watch Bacon, nodding his head to the music. "My flight's at 1 p.m.," he said as he started to walk away. "But I think it's very good!"

Art has played a significant role at National and Dulles airports, where sculptures, exhibits and paintings are featured in the terminals. National is recognized for its floor medallions and stained-glass windows. The main terminal at Dulles is considered a work of art, with its sloped roof and glass walls. It was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and has been described as "structural poetry."

The concert series is an expansion of the airports' art program, which will also include three sculptures, mixed-media art and portraits by local art students that will go into the international arrival facilities at Dulles this year.

The airport is still working on a schedule for the next concert series, officials said.

Rotating collections, paintings and sculptures can also be found at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. The airport also features live concerts periodically.

"The art and the music provide a positive, relaxing atmosphere for travelers at the airport," BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

Nationwide, 63 airports offer art displays and 31 feature live music, according to a recent survey of 89 airports conducted by Airports Council International-North America, a Washington-based trade group.

Back at National, Lee Helfrich of Annandale parked her luggage to watch Bacon perform "Mambo Sauce," a song referring to the popular condiment found in Washington's Chinese restaurants.

"It made me happy," Helfrich said after the song ended. "It was the beat that was uplifting."

Bacon later whipped out a pair of spoons, juggling and clapping them together to form a rhythmic beat. At that point, Jim Hughes, a district attorney from Vermont, hopped out of his seat and began recording the performance on his digital video camera.

"He pulled out the spoons, and that really pulled my interest," said Hughes, who had about an hour to kill until his flight departure. "Instead of reading the Washington Flyer Magazine cover to cover again, this was very nice."

The next Black History Month performance series will be held Wednesday and Feb. 22 at Dulles and Feb. 23 at National. Performances are from noon to 1:30 p.m., with an intermission from 12:45 to 1 p.m.


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