| Tiffany Salter
| Jeffrey Wise
The Columbus music scene continuously hums across the city. No matter what kind of live music interests you, you can find it in this city—jazz, rock, folk, hip-hop, pop, soul, classical, R&B, singer-songwriter, punk, bluegrass, rockabilly. Any night of the week, music spills out onto the streets from restaurants, bars, venues and galleries.
Central Ohio is a great place for music lovers. And it is supportive of music makers. We have radio stations that play local musicians—WCBE 90.5 and CD 102.5 are always supportive. We have audiences who show up and pay to hear and see live musicians, often making it possible for the musicians to make a living doing what they love—as several of the musicians profiled here speak about, music can be a day job in Columbus. And they have so many places to play: the Short North, downtown, each of our historic neighborhoods, and all over the suburbs. Our city may not be New York, Nashville or Los Angeles, but it’s a lot friendlier than those places, a lot more livable and a whole lot less shallow. And it’s home.
Quorum Columbus connected with some folks in LGBTQA community who are making music and playing live in the Cap City. Some you may never have heard of, some have been playing ComFest and Pride for years … even a few decades. We spoke to established names and up-and-comers in the music scene to find out how they feel about the venues, the other musicians, the music they make and the support of the community.
These six musicians are the tiniest tip of the iceberg—there are so many musicians in Columbus that you should check out. Pick a venue and see what’s coming up. Ask co-workers about local bands they love. Ask friends where they last saw a local musician play in town and go there.
In the meantime, here are some of the music makers, the dreamers of dreams…
“I have been absolutely in love with music ever since I was a kid.” Nicole (UNECC) Williams was that kid walking around with headphones and a backpack on at all times, listening to every kind of music she could get. UNECC says if she could sing, she would be making very different music. Since she can’t, she decided to start rapping in middle school—she even started an all-girl group called The Fly Guys. After graduating from high school she decided she wanted to pursue music even though she had two scholarships to play basketball in college. She started off making mixtapes and by 2008 she put out her first album, Life is Beautiful.
UNECC then took a break to go to college to study production. Now with her production degree in hand—she finished this past December—UNECC has been working on a new album, It’s a Beautiful Life, expected to drop this summer. She’s been listening to older music while writing and producing for her new record: Stevie Wonder, The Doors, The Temptations, Hall & Oates, Smoky Robinson and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Since she gets to be the primary producer on her album she has a lot more control over the sound. She wanted to return to really solid musicians who believed in the craft of music and metaphor. She recently built a studio in her house, right across from her bedroom so she can work when she is most feeling it.
The other benefit of production is working with other musicians. When she produces a track that she likes but may not be right for her, UNECC can give it to another artist who is a better fit for the beat. And while she is beginning to charge competitive rates for her studio time, these tracks she gives to fellow musicians are given freely. Quality means future work for her when people go looking for a solid producer. And UNECC enjoys letting the light shine on other talent. She has never been in the business to become famous. At Pride every year, she plays the Gazebo Stage on the second night. People ask why she doesn’t play the main stage. “Why do 10 minutes when I can do two-and-a-half, three hours and bring out people who I want to showcase?” Why, indeed?
“I gave up dating for Lent four years ago,” explains singer-songwriter Ashleigh Vig. To fill her newly freed time, Ashleigh decided to teach herself guitar. A friend took her on a road trip to buy a Craigslist guitar and her music career began. Ashleigh has long been a poet and diarist, so she took quickly to writing lyrics. But when she performed at her first open mic, her leg was shaking so hard that the guitar was moving. “It was literally like reading my diary at an open mic.” But then the bar went silent and Ashleigh explains it was the most amazing experience ever.
Though she still occasionally performs solo, her time these days is spent practicing and recording with her new band, Stone Jelly. And a few years ago, she started the annual TWAT Show—The Women’s Artistic Talent Night—where women comedians, burlesque dancers, singer-songwriters and local artists can perform. It happens once a year in the summer—this year, the TWAT Show will be in August at King Avenue Five. Ashleigh focuses on showcasing people who perform in their living rooms but have never been on stage. She remembers how special her first performance moment was and essentially she is giving them that moment. “I know they are good. I want them to feel the same thing I felt when I first performed on stage.”
Giving is part of Ashleigh’s identity. She works as a day habilitation specialist with developmentally disabled adults. “It is incredibly humbling and I love my job. I get to teach a songwriting class, and my music gets to be incorporated there too. I love to go to work on Monday.” Ashleigh believes in the power of music to bring people together and in the power of music to heal. “I am a free-spirit hippie.” She shares that she would love to purchase a crappy RV and travel the United States. She wants to “get around and get music made and learn from people and be free.” She would love to stop at any day habilitation program for developmentally disabled adults along the way and perform for free.
Teddy Martin is a compact, energetic guy with a dazzling smile and a penchant for Batman—you can’t help but notice the Gotham City crime fighter’s logo on Teddy’s belt buckle, necklace, and even tattooed on his arm. But this Columbus native is friendly and a sincerely nice guy who wants to help people through his music. “I try to inspire people to do better,” he shares. “I’m not perfect, but we all have things that we can work on.” This out-and-proud musician/dancer/performer wants to be an inspiration to LGBTQ youth through his music.
If you listen to his work, you can tell that Teddy grew up on a broad spectrum of musical styles. His step-father was a DJ and music was always playing in the house—everything from Janet and Michael Jackson to Britney Spears and even country music. “I want to incorporate the music I listened to growing up into what I am doing now.” He describes his sound as predominantly pop and hip-hop, and he loves to dance when he is performing on stage. Teddy began taking dance lessons at age 10—swing, hip-hop, everything. He still knows the choreo for Oops, I Did It Again and says he would love to open for Britney Spears. Or Childish Gambino. Or Drake, T.I., Kendrick Lamar…His list of influences and musical loves is long.
Go to Teddy’s Facebook page and you can hear some of his influences on the first few tracks from his forthcoming mixtape, A Classic Hollywood Story. He released Going Hard featuring J Booch this past December and Broken featuring Ms. Lindsay in February. These are two very different tracks that show his range, from hip-hop with a hard-hitting beat to rap over a pop beat with R&B backing vocals. If you like what you hear you can check out Teddy’s Mixtape Listening Party on March 14 at Summit Church. Some of the artists featured on the mixtape will open before Teddy takes the stage to play five or so of the songs from the forthcoming mixtape. If you can’t make it to that, he’ll also be performing at benefit hosted at Axis Night Club on March 6 for Franklin University scholarships for LGBTQ students. Of course you can always check him out in June at Pride. Teddy has performed at several Columbus Pride Festivals and it is always his favorite!
“Her name is a promise, her music is a testimony to her name.” This introduction summarizes who DJ Moxy is and what she does spectacularly. An evolving artist originally from Cincinnati, DJ Moxy has called Columbus home for much of her career and has become a force in the audio universe. Her focus on the “soul” of the audio medium has allowed her work to be recognized on the national and international levels.
As a young adult, DJ Moxy was exposed to club music through her friends. It was by listening to a Body Rock Thunderpuss Remix that the sparks of her own creativity began to emerge. In that particular moment listening to the remix, in her own words, “The music became alive and seemed to emerge from my chest, filling the room. It allowed me to see my future in music. It was like a visionary epiphany - it was profound.”
It took her four years to develop her art to the point of making a public appearance, but in the spring of 2005 she spun her first set at the Saks Fifth Avenue at Polaris. Using only her equipment connected to computer speakers, that first taste of what it felt like to connect music to people was the start of this incredible journey in her life. Part of her art is her ability to read the audience and weave the beats from a wide range of genres into a single show. She shows how we are all connected through music. Her music is meant to be a source of inspiration and purpose and, if you listen carefully enough, it is as if she is playing just for you.
Dasan Valentine is a Columbus native who first found his singing voice in the sixth grade. It was while singing along to Alicia Keys that his mother first recognized his potential in music. Although he has never had formal training, music has become his passion. With Christina Aguilera as an inspiration, he practiced extending his range and vocal control to the point where he is now. In high school at Marion Franklin he was in the choir and marching band. Dasan played in the low brass section. He loves zombies and it was while playing Resident Evil that one of his friends referred to him as Valentine and the name stuck. Dasan met his fiance/business partner Myster Masquerade in September 2011. Together they have supported each other and motivated each other to always strive to be the best they can be and it shows in their work. Between Dasan, Myster Masquerade and their mixer, Ian Malachai, they have come together to bring an inspiring message to excellent music.
Dasan’s first public performance after high school was at the Basement at Promo West in 2012. He has performed there regularly, building his fan base. Dasan opened for the Friday night performance for Columbus Pride in 2014 a mere two months after being signed by the Activate Entertainment record label. In the coming months they hope to announce the release of their new album Vigilante. Dasan’s love of superheroes has inspired many of his new songs. The theme of a vigilante coming in to combat the roots of bigotry and bullying is peppered throughout the upcoming album.
Dasan’s journey has only begun. What started as singing at home, in high school and at Union Cafe’s karaoke nights has become a passion and a medium for him to express his message of love and acceptance for all. Dasan says, “Sometimes superheroes sing.” Through his efforts to share his gifts to lift those who might be in need of such a hero, perhaps Dasan may be becoming the singing superhero to bring a positive message to our community and the world. Stay tuned for the release of his album and see where his journey leads to next.
If you want to know what the Columbus music scene was like in the 70s, ask singer-songwriter veteran, Donna Mogavero. She’ll tell you what it was like when Columbus was a young city for music and there was no competition for gigs. While Donna will tell you she didn’t become a quality musician until the early 90s, she was a trailblazer and has been a staple in the scene for a long time. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because Donna has established herself in Columbus, she has had some fans for decades, and they support her wherever she goes. “I’ve had the fabulous support of the gay community and the straight community all my life.” She explains that her straight fans have come to LGBTQ bars for her and the lesbians will go to the straight clubs. Donna plays between two and four gigs a week and has never had to have a day job—she loves that Columbus has given her the opportunity to be a full-time artist. “You can make a decent living here. You can have a craft and pay your rent. It’s accessible.” But of course, it is easier to make a living if you are a solo act. There are bands who are packing the clubs but Donna admits that it is much easier for one person. She lived for a while in Nashville and for a while in Los Angeles. Those towns are impossible to make a living in, even as a solo artist, and everyone is constantly scrambling all over everyone else. You never know who is sincere and who wants something from you. “Columbus lets you be who you are. The other places are so superficial.”
Donna loves the diversity of the music scene here. She explains that “Columbus doesn’t have a ‘sound’ because the scene is so diverse… bluegrass, country western, hip-hop, punk, rock… and singer-songwriters.” Other cities have a definite musical identity—Chicago has the blues, Nashville has country—but in Columbus, you can go into different venues and hear such a wide range of sounds. Donna also appreciates the gems Columbus has in their radio stations. WCBE 90.5 and CD 102.5 are both great supporters of local musicians, making sure to play local music during the programming, and QFM96 sponsors events with local musicians all the time. Donna has also been playing Comfest for decades, which always does its job to feature a huge cross-section of the sonic landscape in the Cap City. Donna’s is a long-lasting love affair with Columbus and its music and musicians, and we would all do well to follow her lead and immerse ourselves in all the music our city has to offer.