By Eric Althoff
Even though she is both vaccinated and careful, musician Cathy DiToro nonetheless had a run-in with COVID-19 late last year. She reckons the virus found her at a D.C. acoustic show at Crimson, as it was one of the times she had been able to perform live during the height of the pandemic.
DiToro is now fully recovered and looking forward to a year of possibilities in 2022. “January and February are normally a really busy time for us,” DiToro said during our phone chat. “I gig every weekend, so [I’m] just hoping that we can keep doing it through the winter.”
DiToro is now touring under her own name, with gigs coming up in New York this spring after several acoustic shows at D.C.’s Hi-Lawn rooftop lounge in February. She aims to play every weekend, whether with a band or simply the artist herself and her compositions.
DiToro’s influences include many 90s artists she grew up absorbing, including No Doubt, The Cranberries, Pearl Jam, and Alanis Morissette. DiToro spent her early years on Long Island before her family moved to Maryland when she was nine. After college, she returned to the DMV, which has been her musical home ever since.
“Once I came back from college, I realized there were cover bands playing every weekend at these bars I was going to,” she said. “I’m like, that looks really fun.”
DiToro hails from a musical father. Her mother taught piano, and DiToro herself is classically trained on the piano and also plays guitar. “I [knew] from Day 1 that music is going to be a part of my life,” she said. “I’d always written music, but I didn’t really know the opportunities to showcase original music.”
DiToro became a regular on the cover band circuit in D.C., and one of her favorite hangouts was the now-closed Iota club. At Iota, she found both the community and the confidence to start showcasing her own music. Her compositions span the panoply from harder-edged rock to ballads.
“Music-wise, it’s maybe like pop-rock [with] driving beats and layered guitars and harmonies. I write from what I feel and what I know,” DiToro said, adding that songwriting has also doubled as a form of personal therapy.
DiToro performs both as a solo artist as well as with an ensemble. For the new music she has been composing, she doesn’t believe she’ll have a set-in-stone list of musicians to play with, rather preferring that the venue and the show itself dictate the kinds of, and number of, players she will bring on stage. “It’s going to be friends of mine, people that helped me work on the album,” she said.
In addition to her songwriting and performing, DiToro continues to keep busy with ProjectHERA, a nonprofit she founded in 2017 to push for more visibility for the area’s female musicians. DiToro said she is trying to envision the path the organization will chart in 2022 and moving forward—especially after the pandemic required her to take a step back. “It’s kind of on pause right now,” she said. “ProjectHERA is something that is alive [that is] my brand. I don’t want to let another year go by, so I definitely have plans to revamp it.”
She also plans to bring back HERAFest, which has been billed in years past as a DMV version of Lilith Fair. DiToro told Alchemical Records in 2019 that the festival aims to “showcase women being badass musicians at any age in all genres.” She is now optimistic that the event can soon return as infections ebb and large gatherings before more feasible.
“It’s exciting to think about because we had so much momentum for so many years,” DiToro said. “Our last festival was awesome. It was such a high, and then it was an intense kind of comedown. I think it’s important to get it back.”
DiToro said that the D.C. music scene is so close-knit that artists not only run into one another, but also play together live and on one another’s recordings—a phenomenon she describes as “hopping on bills.”
“There’s a sense of community in that way, which is cool when you play locally in bands,” she said. “I know from my experience [that] I’ve seen other people at my shows, and I try to go to their shows. We’re all in it together.”
DiToro said that the twin issues of artistic expression and frustration are identifiable across all performers, including in D.C., and this breeds an esprit de corps. “You don’t get one genre, you don’t get one vibe in DC,” she said. “Because we’re not in a massive city, I do think there’s a small enough community [of] all sorts of musicians. That’s been a big thing I’ve noticed with D.C.: It’s eclectic.”
The songwriter says that she is in the midst of a major personal transition this year, particularly as it comes to her graduating from performing with cover bands and moving more toward playing her own songs. DiToro added that she believes this will be reflected in her own growth as an artist and composer as she finishes songs she started writing years earlier.
“But it’s scary, and I’m judgy. And truly, that’s my flaw,” she said, adding, “I’m a huge critic of the music…and it’s like I need all this validation. But I’m letting that go, [which] is the hardest thing. I’m just going to start putting stuff out.” In the next few years, DiToro aims to continue performing more originals and focusing on her own brand versus being just one member of an ensemble.
“I’m letting the ego go a little. I’m letting go,” she said, adding that she is only too aware of the ticking clock that often pushes artists of a certain age—DiToro was born in 1985—off to the wings as a new crop comes up. “I know how shit works. It’s now or never, and if COVID taught [us anything], then that’s enough. Your ego gets bruised but what do you have to lose? My goal is to put out music that I love, and that other people will connect with hopefully,” she said. “I’m already falling in love with the things that are happening, and that’s enough for me.”
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.
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