Photos by John Shore
Losing someone is never easy. In fact, the older I get the more it seems to become something that appears more frequently in our lives. I’d like to dedicate this series to the Fort Knox Family and, in particular, Jon Horvath.
Jon’s loss really hit everyone in the DC music community and across the world hard hard. I’ve been thinking about this whole thing, how music has inspired me and how my friends have, for the most part, supported me, my bands and my other musical pursuits. To me, music is a vital source of happiness. A vital source of celebration. Sometimes, it is a therapeutic source for one’s mind just as writing is my therapy right now.
Eighteenth Street Lounge and Fort Knox Family are an integral part of my life here in DC so creating a series is something I’ve long wanted to do. After Jon left us it became apparent that the best way to get feelings out was to write music and begin this series.
Let’s go backwards in time for a bit.
I’d been trying to be actively involved in the Dallas music scene while in college and worked in DC during the summers. Next to my temporary residence in the GW City Hall dorm was an apartment. One day my friend Doug and I passed this apartment, as always, and we pointed to the music posters of classic rock legends hanging on the wall. “I bet I meet them by the end of the summer,” I said jokingly. “I bet you will actually,” he said laughing, yet sincere in his tone.
A few days later, I was walking by the same house. This time, a band was playing. I stood still and listened. “You’re listening to the music aren’t you?” a voice said. I turned around. Someone had their head barley ajar just outside the door. “Why don’t you come in?” I walked in and before I could introduce myself a cold Rolling Rock was in my hand and a nod of approval was given. Not many words were spoken. Vinyls including the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty” hung on the wall. A band was jamming in the living room. They handed me a guitar and we played “Fire on the Mountain” and a few other songs in the living room.
“You gotta come check out our friend Flex Mathews at Reggae Night,” they said. They went on to explain that they ran the GW Radio station. I felt the need to go catch some good music, but it was a Wednesday so I didn’t plan on staying out late. (If you are reading this message me online or something, I lost your phone number years ago)
We approached the lounge. From the outside it isn’t all that obvious what exactly is up those stairs, but it must be cool since there is a decent line out at 10pm on a Wednesday. What ensued was one of the best musical discoveries in my life. Eighteenth Street Lounge was not just a some average bar with music nor was it just an upscale lounge. ESL is a house party. The back porch bar is always blaring amazing disco/funk/Motown, the back room before that is for dance floor make outs and grinding, there’s the lounge area, and then there is the Gold Room (there’s a few other nooks in there). See-I was throwing down of the best musical performances I’d seen that year. Ashish Vyas was standing on top of the PA system ripping the bass as Jeff Franca (Congo Sanchez) and his dreads flailed away on the kit.
Flex Mathews, as promised, was present, but he wasn’t just there to go through the motions. Flex’s audience engagement is a critical part of the See-I introduction to the show. So is Candice Mills, a soulful reggae singer blessed with a voice from up high. The talent was undeniable, the atmosphere was top-notch, and I was floating on cloud nine. It took me a second to realize that two of the main singers Rootz and Zeebo, known for their work with Thievery Corporation, were just joining the party with uncanny stage presence. Salem Steele was bringing the reggae organ vibes, Frank Mitchell was singing with his saxophone as Rob Myers chilled out in his shades and a Les Paul house stage left. I wasn’t sure how to react. This was the best act I’d ever seen at a bar/lounge and in fact it was one of the best times I’d have seeing music in quite some time.
This night would lead in the years after to a great appreciation for See-I, the lounge, Fort Knox Family, and DC as a whole. What a genuine welcome to DC. The DC scene is unique and we’ve lost a person who was in the DNA of the scene, a special part of the piece. While the official celebrations of Jon H. have taken place across the country and we gathered at Local 16 in DC. I can’t help but also keep him in our thoughts as the 20th anniversary of the lounge. Much love and respect to celebrating his legacy alongside the lounge’s this Friday. Tickets for tonight with See-i, All Good Funk Alliance, and Fort Knox Five are available here.
More to come on the role Eighteenth Street Lounge has played in the history of DC music scene, stay tuned for part 2.
*Special thanks to Andy Cerutti & Rob Myers
In loving memory of Jon H.
“May the good lord shine a light on you, make every song you sing your favorite tune” – Rolling Stones