On Sunday afternoon, Ethiopian music blared from speakers in the first floor dining room of 1920, a Habesha restaurant in the heart of Little Ethiopia. But the sound of a woman crooning in Amharic was overpowered by Bake Sale, a post-pop rock band playing on the second floor.
All up and down the U Street Corridor this past weekend, bands representing an eclectic range of rock music played in Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants as part of the first Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival. Six Habesha-owned or themed restaurants took part.
Organizer Dave Mann said when he first hatched the idea to hold a two-day rock music festival, he asked the city’s more traditional rock venues to host shows, “but they weren’t into it.” Some already had booked calendars and this was the first STPP festival, so it was uncertain how much revenue it’d bring in.
Then Mann met Mike Naizghi, the Eritrean owner of Bella Café, who was looking for music to fill the second-floor of his café that serves American and Eritrean fare. He then introduced Mann to more Little Ethiopia restaurant owners, and soon six were on board. The restaurants made money through drink and food sales, the bands made money through merchandise sales and all shows were free. Mann brought more than 100 bands to the restaurants and he plans to hold a bigger festival in October.
“The consensus of all of the owners of the Ethiopian restaurants is, they say to me, ‘Look, there are tons of Ethiopian places in D.C., so obviously a lot of them aren’t going to have the same amount of business as the others. We need a different clientele,’” Mann said.