Cathy DiToro: The HERA behind HERAFest

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Cathy DiToro: The HERA behind HERAFest

by Kimberly Shires

Cathy Di Toro, of Baltimore, MD, is firing on all cylinders while decked out in her badass 80s/90s inspired outfits. Cathy regularly gigs with one of her many projects, writes her own originals, and runs a music-focused non-profit called ProjectHERA, based out of Washington D.C. Cathy is a superwoman with an infectious warmth who is full of passion to empower others. Cathy claims her superpower is her innate ability to memorize lyrics, but her real superpower is her ability to lift others to realize their own dreams.

Cathy founded ProjectHERA in 2017 and affectionately calls herself the Chief Empowerment Officer “CEO”. The non-profit empowers and creates visibility for local female musicians, particularly young girls. Cathy’s business partner, Juliet Maggio, is the Director of Events, and Rachel Levitin is the social media Goddess. ProjectHERA is also greatly supported by a cadre of passionate volunteers. ProjectHERA hosts the annual music festival HERAFest, networking events, fundraisers and open mics, all featuring local female talent. 

HERAFest is on Sunday, September 22 from noon to 9:00 PM. ProjectHERA has partnered with The National Center for Children and Families and will be accepting donations of unused toiletries. Make sure to bring a few items to contribute at the door. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hera-fest-2019-tickets-63884723929

HERAFest is a DMV Roots/Lilith Fair style festival and is headlined by Jill Sobule. Jill is known for her single “I Kissed a Girl” and “Supermodel” from the soundtrack of Clueless. The festival, hosted by City Winery, will showcase 36 talented local women on three different stages. The performers range from seven years old to fifty. Cathy said, “This is really to showcase women being badass musicians at any age in all genres, including DJs. It’s a celebration of the arts in the DC scene. Some are returning artists, most are new to the festival.”  City Winery approached Cathy to host HERAFest, and she is eternally grateful for the opportunity to work with such a wonderful venue.

The festival will include a game area for kids and a vendor corner for local women-owned organizations such as Femme Fatale DC, which is a collective of local female creatives and entrepreneurs. There will also be vendors selling jewelry, candles, clothing and art. HERAFest is partnering with ArtFarm Annapolis, who will bring their youthful Fearless Female photography class to shoot the whole festival. 

Cathy is miffed that “nobody has reached a Lilith Fair festival since the 90s”. She thought back to advice given by her father to “find a need and meet it.” This gap in the region bred the idea to host an all-female music festival in DC. Cathy told us, “this is clearly my purpose and I am passionate about it. It is how I’ve come to find my place in this area to use the connections I have made.” Cathy continued, “Women are a minority. When I was little, I was scared to touch certain instruments, and I was made to feel like I couldn’t do certain things and I don’t want it to be that way…We perpetuate these stereotypes…but we should all be on the same level, because we are.” Cathy wants HERAFest to normalize women in music, encourage women to pick up instruments and create a more equal playing field than what is felt in the industry today. Cathy said, “We need this to grow.”

Putting on a music festival takes a village; from planning, to booking a venue to hiring the lighting and sound engineers (mostly ladies of course), to the identification of like-minded sponsors and local women-own vendors, to running the promotion campaign and finally to engaging volunteers to pull the whole thing off. Cathy and the team realized, through the collaborative energy generated during festival planning, “that it was important to give back…and do good for the community.” 2019 marks the first year that HERAFest has leveraged its visibility to connect with local charities to give back to the community.

Cathy has big dreams for the future of the festival. Cathy’s instinct is to think big. What does that mean for HERAFest? Cathy said, “I want to take it to Merriweather”. She continued, “I think end-project first and then dial it back.” Cathy is also actively exploring bringing in national acts to create more visibility for the festival and generate more sponsorship and to potentially expand beyond the local level. Ultimately her goal is to “celebrate and bring attention to women in music.” 

In addition to all of Cathy’s work with ProjectHERA, she is also a full time musician, gigging many nights of the week with one of her tribute bands covering hits from the 80s, 90s or 2000s. Cathy is a nostalgia addict and has created a niche with each of her projects. The Legwarmers is an 80s guilty pleasure cover band, complete with 80s costumes. Party Like It’s… is a Ska band that covers popular songs, mostly from the 90s. So Fetch is a 2000’s tribute band, wearing full-on vintage tracksuits while covering artists from Eminem to Ke$ha.

Cathy DiToro is not just about cover bands. Cathy’s original projects include her solo act, Cathy D and The Can’t Evens. Cathy will maintain there is no shame in a cover band. She loves to bring her audience back to a decade through the songs that were popular on the radio during that time. This is a source of pride for her. Nostalgia is something that allows people to let go of their day and have a great time. Cathy said, “We’re giving them that nostalgia. We’re giving them this fun energy. That’s not wasted on me.” 

Cathy regularly writes for her original projects and is working on a few videos. She is planning a mini-tour for next spring. Her goal is to get her original songs out and bring her act to South By Southwest. Cathy has a hard time focusing on herself, however. She wondered out loud, “What if I were to take the time for myself and my brand” to empower her own work in the same way that she empowers others constantly on a daily basis. One word: Superwoman.

Cathy began working with teens in schools after receiving her Master’s in counseling. She was also gigging each night, and the lifestyle became too much. Cathy realized that to keep her sanity, she needed to find a way to marry her two passions: helping teens and playing music. Cathy made a decision to transition from her job as a counselor to pursue music full-time, but with a bend towards youth empowerment through ProjectHERA.

Cathy said, “I’ve always known I was going to do something with music. My parents were both music majors. It’s just always been in my blood since I touched a piano and was able to sing and harmonize at a young age. It’s what I feel like I am most connected to.” Cathy continued, “ is the most powerful connector. It crosses all boundaries and races and genders and brings us to our human core.” Cathy is certainly pulling her weight creating meaningful connections and spreading the musical spirit throughout the DC and Baltimore regions.

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Kimberly Shires

Kimberly Shires is a native of the DC Metropolitan area. Kimberly is a freelance writer, music degree holder, road bike warrior, songwriter, corporate ladder climber, and a Subaru driving nature enthusiast.

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People’s Blues of Richmond @ Pasture Palooza Music & Arts Festival

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People’s Blues of Richmond @ Pasture Palooza Music & Arts Festival

People’s Blues of Richmond is a heavy-touring, blues-psych power trio from Richmond, Va. In the past two years, they’ve signed with Management Anonymous and Madison House Booking, recorded their third full-length studio album, played Red Rocks with ZZ Top and Gregg Allman, released a 7-inch single with sought-after rock & roll producer Mark Neill (Black Keys, The Hives, J. Roddy Walston & the Business), toured the US coast to coast 3 times, they have another 7″ on the way, and have been featured at outlets such as PopMatters, Guitar World, CraveOnline, Relix and more. People’s Blues of Richmond managed to fit in their recent studio work while constantly touring the U.S., packing clubs and theaters full of amped-up fans, selling out The Hamilton in D.C. as well as NYC’s Bowery Ballroom, Brooklyn Bowl, The National in Richmond, a dozen festivals around the country including Red Rocks and massive outdoor festivals like Electric Forest, LOCKN’ & Gasparilla, Sweetwater 420, and sharing bills with legends & critical favorites like The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Modest Mouse, Tom Petty, Gary Clark Jr., Gogol Bordello, Dinosaur Jr., SCI, and WSP!

Friday, September 13th, 2019
9:00 PM

Pasture Palooza Music & Arts Festival
339 Minniewood Ln, Berryville, VA 22611

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Justin Trawick – The 9 Songwriter Series at Hill Country BBQ

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Justin Trawick – The 9 Songwriter Series at Hill Country BBQ

Justin Trawick – The 9 Songwriter Series at Hill Country BBQ

The 9 Songwriter Series is back at Hill Country BBQ for another night of great music and collaboration! Come hear:

Justin Trawick
Allison Balanc
Mike Scoglio
Sol Roots
Sharnice The Singer
Femi
Broke Royals
Ballad Of
Big Like Bear

Thursday, September 12th, 2019
8:00 PM

Hill Country DC
410 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

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The National Parks w/ WILD @ Songbird Music House

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The National Parks w/ WILD @ Songbird Music House

The National Parks is a folk infused Indie Pop band formed by frontman Brady Parks in early 2013 in Provo, Utah. To date, the band has independently released three full-length albums (and a standalone single, “As We Ran”), which together have amassed more than 30 million Spotify streams and garnered praise from press outlets such as NPR’s All Songs Considered, CMT Edge, Baeble Music, and Pop Matters.

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019
7:00 PM

Songbyrd Music House
2475-2477 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

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Jazz In Baltimore

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Jazz In Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, September 10
Drummer Mike Kuhl has one of the killingest trios out there. It’s as simple as that. “Killingest” isn’t even a word, but there’s no better way to describe them. Kuhl himself is a skilled and cunning technician, one who subtly pushes ahead of the beat when he’s playing inside and thumps playfully around it when he’s outside. This is not to say that he goes whooshing outside during every set—Bertha’s isn’t that sort of a venue, per se—but it does happen, even at Bertha’s. And when Kuhl is leading his trio, which features the relentlessly adventurous trumpeter Dave Ballou and game-for-anything bassist Jeff Reed, a fanciful trip out of the lines is that much more likely to happen. Actually, anything and everything is bound to happen with this fierce enmeshing of players, venue, and spectacular moment. The Mike Kuhl Trio performs at 9 p.m. at Bertha’s, 734 South Broadway. Free (but order something!)

Wednesday, September 11
One of the most delicious Italian restaurants in Baltimore (Disclaimer: I haven’t eaten at an incredible number of Italian restaurants in Baltimore) just happens to have one of the most delicious jazz duets in Baltimore in the house on Wednesdays! For a few Wednesdays, anyway. Nico Sarbanes (yes, he’s the Congressman’s son) is a Baltimore native and a trumpeter—AND a vocalist—who studied at the prestigious McGill University in Montreal before returning to his hometown to put in some time on the local scene. Sarbanes is now in New York (they all end up in New York, don’t they?) Of course, Chet Baker is the white singer/trumpeter that immediately comes to mind when trying to draw comparisons; Sarbanes bears a slight resemblance to Baker in that he has a tenor singing voice (though his phrasing is far more Frank than Chet), but he has a hell of a lot more oomph. As for the trumpet, he sounds nothing like Baker at all. He’s simply a fluid, fluent player who’s got more swing than this paragraph has parentheticals. Sarbanes performs in a duet with bassist Blake Meister at 6 p.m. at Sotto Sopra, 405 North Charles Street. Free (but order something!)

Friday, September 13
“Carl Allen is a thinking man’s drummer,” wrote the Harmony Central website a few years ago. “He’s articulate, well-informed, and certainly in-tune with every aspect of the Jazz drumming institution.” He can also play damn near anything. Allen trained with the masters of bebop, old school (he spent nearly a decade with trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard) and new school (he also worked with the Terence Blanchard/Carl Allen Quartet in the same decade). He is more immersed than most in the younger generation that is determined to transcend bebop: He spent many years as the director of jazz studies at Juilliard. That said, given his druthers, Allen tends toward a hard bop-infected, straight ahead jazz thing. Which is why he would form a quartet that features the brilliant Sharel Cassity on alto saxophone, Richard Johnson on piano, and Herman Burney on bass. Swing? Check. Groove? Double check. Soul? Infinity check. The Carl Allen Quartet performs at 8 p.m. at An Die Musik, 409 North Charles Street. $10-$25.

Sunday, September 15
Speaking of hard-swinging, rhythm-section virtuosi who cut their teeth with Freddie Hubbard! It’s certainly hard to put a finger on a greater, more prominent jazz bassist than Christian McBride. It’s safe to call him powerful: He’s powerfully built, powerfully aggressive, powerfully imaginative. He’s also extremely eclectic, with an amazing range of styles that come one after the other. Electric-bass-powered funk that showcases McBride’s love of James Brown will give way to his big band, which will give way to his Inside Straight Septet, which will give way to his piano-bass-drums trio. (That covers his last decade, and that’s not counting his solo recording, 2011’s Conversations with Christian.) His latest self-iteration is a chordless quartet featuring the great young saxophonist Marcus Strickland and great young trumpeter Josh Evans, as well as the not-quite-so-young, but still great, drummer Nasheet Waits. It’s a band called Christian McBride’s New Jawn (Philadelphians will know that word instantly), and it dances along the cutting edge in all the best ways. They perform at 5 and 7 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street. $25-$45.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a freelance writer, editor, and jazz journalist who has been covering the Washington, D.C. jazz scene since 2009. He spends most days either hunkered down in the clubs or in his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.

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Dot Dash @ DC9

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Dot Dash @ DC9

The band took its name from a Wire song, but rather than leaning toward Wire’s jagged, art-damaged punk, Dot Dash bore more similarities to the jangly, mod-inflected sounds of unofficial ringleader Terry Banks’ former groups Glo-Worm and the Saturday People. The group continued to play out regularly around D.C., opening shows for Urge Overkill, the Trash Can Sinatras, and Chameleons Vox. The summer of 2011 saw the release of the band’s first full-length endeavor, Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, a 14-song collection recorded in three afternoons.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
8:00 PM

DC9 Nightclub
1940 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Fortunate Youth @ Hightopps Backstage Grille

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Fortunate Youth @ Hightopps Backstage Grille

Fortunate Youth is a collective of six outstanding musicians/producers who have taken the worldwide music scene by storm. Spreading inspirational messages of Peace, Love, and Unity, Fortunate Youth connects music lovers from all over the world, creating a global family of positivity and progressive ideals. FY was born in Hermosa Beach California, a popular beach town in Los Angeles County. Four members attended high school together (Jered Draskovich, Corey Draskovich, Travis Walpole, and Greg Gelb) linking with Mississippi transplant Dan Kelly (singer). The band has toured heavily since 2009 with over 27 tours nationwide and abroad. Fortunate Youth has released 4 full length studio albums, Three of which hit #1 on the Billboard and iTunes Reggae charts. “It’s All A Jam” (2013), “Don’t Think Twice” (2015), and “Fortunate Youth” (2017)

Saturday, September 7th, 2019
3:00 PM

Hightopps Backstage Grille
2306 York Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093

TICKETS

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Two Ton Twig @ Gypsy Sally’s

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Two Ton Twig @ Gypsy Sally’s

A quartet hailing from the DC area, Two Ton Twig draws from Bluegrass, Folk, and Rock to put their own style into American Roots music. Influenced by good times, love, loss, booze — like so many other musicians and bands before us.

Friday, Sept 6, 8:30pm
Gypsy Sally’s
3401 K St NW,
Washington, DC 20007

TICKETS

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Engineers Without Borders Benefit Show featuring Mystery Friends, Big Like Bear and The Ferns @ Pie Shop

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Engineers Without Borders Benefit Show featuring Mystery Friends, Big Like Bear and The Ferns @ Pie Shop

Mystery Friends
Mystery Friends is a dance-rock and synth-pop band based in Washington D.C. Combining powerful vocals from frontwoman Abby Sevcik with woozy synths, angular guitars, and funky rhythm section, Mystery Friends creates a truly danceable, truly unique sound experience. Since forming in 2016, the band has performed in venues across the country with notorious acts like De Lux and Hey Ocean! In their first two years, the band has released various recorded works, including their debut EP “This Is Not What I Expected,” hailed as “a captivating journey, swinging from melancholy to euphoric and back again over a spectacular series of dance rock tunes.” The evolution of the Mystery Friends sound comes full-circle with their debut full-length album, “Past And Future Self” available everywhere now!

Big Like Bear
Big Like Bear rocks the DC music scene with great vibes and a blend of funk, blues, and pop tunes

Thursday, Sept 5, 8pm
Pie Shop
1339 H ST. NE 
WASHINGTON, DC 20002

TICKETS

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Jazz In Baltimore

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Jazz In Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, September 3
As soon as the legendary jazz venue Keystone Korner put down roots in Baltimore, trumpeter Sean Jones — the director of jazz studies at Peabody Conservatory — made his move. Jones wanted to get top-flight local musicians onto the stage on the regular, something that hasn’t been easy in Charm City for quite a long time. Jones and Keystone Korner Todd Barkan thus put their heads together, and out came the Baltimore Jazz Collective, an assemblage of the city’s best players working out their stuff together. Among the stars who work within the Collective are bass clarinetist Todd Marcus, vocalist and tap dancer Brinae Ali, pianist Mark G. Meadows, guitarist Matt Stevens, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Quincy Phillips. But it’s not limited to them: Their weekly Tuesday night set is always capped off with an open jam session. Bring your instrument! The Baltimore Jazz Collective performs at 7:30 p.m. at Keystone Korner Baltimore, 1350 Lancaster Street. $10-$20.

Thursday, September 5
There’s really not a bad reason to pay a call on Bertha’s Mussels in Fells Point. (The mussels in Guinness and Old Bay are a spectacularly good reason.) Nonetheless, here’s another really good one: They have live jazz. Thursday nights, that live jazz consists of the trio led by bassist Jeff Reed. Reed is one of those cats who seems to be able to do anything on his axe: any style, any flavor, any tempo, any harmony. In short, he’s a heavyweight, a regular and beloved presence on bandstands around the area (and, let it not be unnoticed, a hellacious soloist). When he’s the one at the head of the band, the personnel can vary a bit; recently, it’s featured guitarist Jonathan Epley and a drummer (either Todd Harrison or Mike Kuhl). Don’t be surprised, however, if there’s a piano in that scruffy little corner by the bar. The Jeff Reed Trio performs beginning at 9 p.m. at Bertha’s, 734 South Broadway. Free (but order something!)

Friday, September 6
Let us assume, temporarily, that what you really want in your live jazz first and foremost is groove. (In which case, you are correct.) What you’re looking for is a unit with the tightness and breadth of Jazzffluenza. It’s a quintet led by bassist Edward Plant, and it swings like hell thanks to his gut-level drive and the effortless power of drummer Timothy Ghiz. (And that’s just the pulse — we haven’t even gotten to the brawn of trumpeter Eric Heavner and saxophonist Steve LoGrande or the jabbing grace of pianist Phil Heileger.) What’s wonderful about them, though, is that they take on a tremendous range of concepts, especially rhythmic ones. You’re going to hear that pocket spang-a-lang for sure, but also a hefty amount of thudding Latin interchange and a solid dose of the Mid-Atlantic funk beat. All the good stuff, when it comes down to it. Jazzffluenza performs at 8 p.m. at 13.5% Wine Bar, 1117 West 36th Street. Free (but order something!)

Sunday, September 7
One of the traits that Baltimore has going for it — although the city, as a whole, sometimes seems unaware —is a remarkable scene for pre-war jazz styles. They’ve even got some people playing what should never be called “Dixieland” (and I will never call it so again; I just include that execrable term here to give freshman jazz fans an idea of what I’m talking about). In the spirit of jazz tradition from the beginning, though, bands like Tongue in Cheek Jazz Band mix the classic repertoire of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and others with the modern jazz songbook. Thelonious Monk gets the banjo, tuba, and violin treatment just as surely as “Muskrat Ramble” does. (For good measure, there’s also trumpet, drums, and Bridget Cimino’s brassy-yet-playful vocals, too.) Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Of course it does—and it’s all danceable, to boot. The Tongue in Cheek Jazz Band performs at 7:30 p.m. at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles Street. $10-$12.

Northern Virginia based alt-rock and indie-pop band, Frontier will be performing at Chapala Restaurant this Friday, August 23rd at 8:00 pm. Frontier has just released a brand new EP, Luminescence on June 28, 2019, which is currently available on their Bandcamp page (www.thefrontierband.bandcamp.com), along with two other EPs and a handful of singles.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a freelance writer, editor, and jazz journalist who has been covering the Washington, D.C. jazz scene since 2009. He spends most days either hunkered down in the clubs or in his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.

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