Lifestyle

Festival at Walter Reed Uses Music as Healing Tool

Some of D.C.’s most successful musicians and artists came together for a new music festival called Down in the Reeds, hosted on the campus of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, now known as The Parks at Walter Reed.

The historic campus is being developed into mixed-use housing, business and retail along with green, public, and performance spaces. One of the public’s first opportunities to view developing space layout was the Down in the Reeds festival, created in part by Dom Flemons, more popularly known as the “American Songster,” as well by Christopher Naoum of Listen Local First, the producer of the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival as well as the DC Funk Parade.

“For me three things are really important for a music festival — it has to highlight the musicians and the amazing local talent in the community, it has to come together with as many different community members and stakeholders as possible because that’s what brings the community together and creates success, and the third feature is the unique location,” Naoum said.

Flemons, a Grammy Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee, assisted with the selection of performers at the event and created a diverse lineup with local talent ranging from the African worldbeat-inspired Crank LuKongo to the acoustic finger-style guitarist Yasmin Williams. He also wanted to ensure D.C.’s blues community was represented.

“The blues is really prevalent within D.C. but it’s also not necessarily the most prominent scene in people’s minds,” Flemons said. “They would think of somewhere in the deep south but D.C. has always been a place where people have come into town and they have presented different styles of blues for the people in the community.”

The largely self-taught Williams, who hails from Northern Virginia, at just 24 years old has already begun to receive praise as a leader and innovator in the acoustic music scene and has been featured on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” as well as its “Tiny Desk” series.

“It’s always been kind of tough for me to describe my music,” he said. “I don’t go into writing music thinking I want it to sound peaceful or relaxing, but people tell me that it calms them and makes them feel happy. I guess I would describe it as easy listening, even though it is not easy to play.”

While the event focused on the community, it also sought to highlight the innate healing power of music.

“It’s very subtle, but if people go out and enjoy music at a concert that’s a good time and there’s healing that comes from that,” Flemons said. “When you actually go to a festival that has healers teaching techniques these are things that people can apply to their lives.”

Looking to next year’s event, Naoum is already thinking about ways that the connections between music and health can be further explored.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the scientific stories you hear about the person with Alzheimer’s and how it brings back their memories or changes their whole behavior, or helps people with PTSD and depression, or helps children with autism,” he said.

Naoum points out that NIH has recently partnered with the Kennedy Center to create a $20 million program called Sound Health, which aims to expand knowledge and understanding of how listening, performing or creating music involves intricate circuitry in the brain that could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life.

“Look, it’s a music festival, it’s a fall festival, but it’s a little bit for everyone,” Naoum said. “How you want to approach it and deal with healing through music is up to you. However, as we grow from year to year, we hope to incorporate more of that and expand upon this mission.”

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