Among some peers, Mann also has a reputation for self-aggrandizement—a perception undoubtedly buttressed by this press release for Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie (the June festival), which was written by a member of another band but mailed by Mann:
When Mann showed up on the DC music scene in 2008, he was a godsend: An unflappable musician with good taste who decided to skip the politics and attitude and just went out and found his own venues to book. “I didn’t have any experience other than getting my own band(s) booked,” says Mann, “But I wasn’t under any impressions that it was difficult.” Ahahahahaha!
Sherwood cautions against over-examining Mann’s motivations, which he says are quite simple, maybe even childlike. “Dave wants there to be awesome music being made, and he wants to be involved with that,” he says. “What drives Dave is really quite as simple as that.”
Mann has a 9-to-5 data-entry job at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but he’d rather be doing indie rock full-time. “Whatever capacity within the confines of music,” he says. “If I could live off writing jingles full time, I’d do that, as long as it’s not for some shitty corporation.”
Mittenfields, his main band, isn’t about to become a touring act—the members have careers, and one of them just had a baby—but Mann would like to see it sign with a reputable indie label.
Meanwhile, most of his extracurricular efforts—booking shows at the Eritrean restaurant Dahlak in 2008, attempting to manage bands in 2009 and 2010—haven’t panned out. “He’s tried several times to create a stable of acts,” says Sherwood. “With the exception of the festival and his various forays into booking at Ethiopian restaurants, nothing has really come of those efforts.”
Mann puts just about every moment of his free time toward making, promoting, booking, or writing about music (Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie is also a blog)—a source of great frustration, he says, to his wife, who declined to be interviewed. At the June festival, when I asked him how much he’d spent to make it happen, he asked me not to write how much, so Elise wouldn’t get mad at him.
June’s festival was a lot of things, but mostly it was strange. Mann wanted to showcase up-and-coming artists—way, way up-and-coming artists—using a bunch of hole-in-the-wall spaces in close proximity to one another. He booked his bands, and his friends’ bands, and his friends’ friends’ bands. He reached out to contacts in New York and Philly for still more acts. After he figured out that he couldn’t pay them—a realization that probably surprised no one in the established indie-rock circuit Mann was trying to work around—only about five bands dropped out, according to Mann.
The bands that remained weren’t all pleased, of course. “I gave Dave a lot of shit about that,” says Eric Tischler of Silver Spring power-poppers The Jet Age, who headlined one of the Sweet Tea shows. But Tischler doesn’t think many of the other, smaller bands were disappointed.
At Sweet Tea 1.0, there was indeed some terrible music—bro metal, calcified roots rock, blue-eyed soul in several hues. There was also a handful of surprises. At almost any moment from noon to midnight over the two days, there were six bands playing at a time. If you weren’t there to see any band in particular—and odds were, you weren’t—the lack of entry fee and easy walks between venues meant you didn’t have to prioritize. When bands sucked, you moved on.
Some bands played to near-empty rooms. Other played to crowds of what looked like mostly other bands. Some spaces filled up; on Saturday night, people were spilling out onto 9th St. NW. Mann admits he has no way of really knowing, but hazards that 1,000 people, maybe 1,500, came out for the festival.
Sound was a problem, mostly because there was no one there to do the hard work of engineering the P.A. systems. Out of desperation, Mann paid a sound engineer from Velvet Lounge to man the boards at Bella, the festival’s flagship space.
But for the most part, Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Festival happened without incident. “Dave took some things on faith,” says Sherwood, “that bands could handle stopping when they were supposed to and loading their gear when they were supposed without some club owner yelling at them. And he made it happen.”