The D.C. music landscape is littered with remnants of festivals past. Virgin Mobile FreeFest hosted the likes of Jack White and the Black Keys at Merriweather Post Pavilion until 2013. The Sweetlife Festival essentially stepped up to replace it, luring foodies back to Merriweather with the promise of big-name indie acts and munchies from local restaurateurs before pulling the plug in 2016. And it’s probably best to forget the ill-fated Landmark Music Festival on the Mall in 2015, where Drake fans bought high-priced tickets to hang out in a space that’s usually free and open to the public.
It’s hard to say what, exactly, drove all three to extinction, other than a feeling of being too big, too similar. Like many festivals across the country — from Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo to Coachella — there was a homogenous quality, with many of the same acts making the same rounds.
But these days in Washington, festivals seem to be finding their footing. The dynamic music festivals that have emerged in recent years — Trillectro, Broccoli City and the underground punk festival Damaged City in particular— appear to be thriving not because of their massive ambitions, but because of their tight curatorial focus. Instead of trying to cater to music fans of all stripes, these festivals feel like they were created by and for fans of the music.
The All Things Go Fall Classic — this weekend at Union Market — falls somewhere in between. The festival is in its fifth iteration, and this year’s bill is headlined by pop sprite Carly Rae Jepsen, Maryland indie chanteuse Maggie Rogers and electropop wunderkind Billie Eilish.
The All Things Go lineup has morphed over the years from rap-heavy bookings to an eclectic playlist that could have been sent your way from a close friend. This year’s festival skews toward the latter, with a unifying thread throughout. Night One, on Saturday, is a direct response to the call from discerning fans of the all too common trend of festivals’ bias toward male artists. Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger (who performs as LPX) were tasked with assembling the schedule; it will be female artists, top to bottom.
The inspiration to feature more women, as well emerging artists, came organically from a simple act: going to concerts.
“Live performance is big [in selecting artists] outside of having diverse genre representation,” says Will Suter, who founded All Things Go with fellow D.C.-area natives Zack Friendly, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu.
“Seeing Billie Eilish at [Brooklyn nightclub] Baby’s All Right . . . you can just tell a lot of people have that star quality and really shine — sure, on Spotify and Pandora, but also onstage is where they’re really captivating.”
All Things Go (a reference to a Sufjan Stevens lyric) is the namesake of what started in 2006 as a website, back in the halcyon days of music blogging. The All Things Go guys were simply trying to carve out their own corner of the Internet, pushing their favorite music out into the world.
After the blog started getting traction, All Things Go began hosting club nights at U Street Music Hall, where the four partners could flex their curatorial skills, presenting artists that were driving traffic on their site. This led to some of the first D.C. concerts from soon-to-be-famous bands, including Haim and The 1975 — groups that have since played “Saturday Night Live” and in countless arenas around the world.
“Trying to find emerging artists is really our goal in everything that we do, from the website to the festival, and I think that kind of stems from our smaller U Street Music Hall showcases,” Friendly says. “We try to find these artists that are kind of on the way up, that . . . have an edge that we enjoy.”
When the All Things Go team sits in a room for hours, jostling for favorites to appear on the lineup, it can be unpredictable, but also allows for more experimentation. Dig into this year’s bill and you’ll find the cosmic meditations of R&B duo Oshun and the soulful stylings of Cautious Clay. The selections might not fit the mold of big-name festivals, but they do reflect the discerning tastes of its founders.
“We’ve kind of moved around in terms of genres, and that’s not so much trying to see what works — that’s more [that] our tastes are pretty diverse,” Friendly says. “I think that kind of reflects D.C. — that when you look at the lineups at 9:30 Club, Anthem, Rock and Roll [Hotel] and Black Cat, it’s not all one sound.”
There are some limitations to holding a two-day festival on one stage confined to the back lots of Union Market. But the All Things Go team can’t help but hope for a time when it can compete with the big names by having a larger performance space and more artists, as well as adding their own flourishes, such as street art and exhibitions.
“Because we’re booking eight bands a day, it’s really difficult to just pick eight,” Vallimarescu says. “Being able to expand the breadth and total number of artists would be a really impactful way for us to expand the festival. Still keeping the boutique approach but having a multistage festival — that’s kind of the next step.”
Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE. allthingsgofallclassic.com.
Dates: Saturday and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m.