“Legendary bills.” That’s how Washington, D.C. transplant Rob Stokes refers to music performances of epic proportions. An avid supporter of the DMV creative community, Stokes uses this expression in regard to the talented individuals who have become his comrades in the District’s locally-based, globally-minded music scene. But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Stokes’ own iconic programming. Since the last time we checked in with the Pittsburgh born musician, he’s notched performances at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the world’s smallest live set held at the cheeky Los Angeles retail joint, Virgil Normal.
On January 4th at Songbyrd Music House, the classically-trained jazz drummer/hip hop producer/emotive crooner debuted a new body of work and band bearing the same name, October ‘71. Described as a house band, it features familiar players from Stokes’ previous bands and collaborations. They’ve been given codenames to elevate the heist style of music they portray. For example, “Mr. Biggs,” really Ledroit or Jay Z, hides in plain sight, donning a trench coat, Kangol cap, and Wayfarers. He shreds the guitar like the turntables aren’t his real get-off. Maybe they aren’t. Enigmatic as ever, he was missing from Songbyrd. Sir E.U, however, was conspicuous in his vintage suit—appropriately rockstar-chic as he graced the drum-kit for the first time live.
‘71 is not necessarily a who and when, though, rather a where. The songs on the album build up this image of a retro Steel City, smog-ridden and "steeped in sin and a MLB Championship.” As a fellow Pittsburgh native, it gave me chills to not only hear this narrative in a whole other city but to also hear listeners not from Pittsburgh react to these lyrics enjoyably.
There’s much more to come from Stokes and the October ‘71 unit in 2019. For starters, the project has not been released on streaming services, so keep an ear tuned for that, but we’ve also heard that there are some visuals that have yet to be shared.
Browse the brief photo recap of his performance at Songbyrd below. Polaroids by Maxwell Young