Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rachel Levitin live - Saturday 7/24 - Tonic Lounge DC

Please note: This show is 18+.

The drought is over. New music, new merch, new performances:

Join Rachel for her second Jam Sessions performance live from the Tonic Lounge (in the heart of GW's campus) along side R&B vocalist Shelita Vaughns and other rockin' local DC acts on Saturday 7/24!

Need more info as to why you should come?

A new compilation album/EP entitled "The Bourbon Taster EP" will be on sale in limited quantities (for the time being). The taster features a sampling of brand-new songs produced by Paul Derlunas and four tracks from previous recording sessions, including two from my 2005 debut album "Come As You Are".

Prices of the albums range between $5-$15 and the proceeds made off the taster and "Come As You Are" will be donating in my late-father's memory to support organ donation awareness.

Also -- if you are currently a DC, Maryland, or Virginia resident and are NOT an organ donor, you will be able to sign up to become one at all of my upcoming performances.

So come out and be a part of something good with Rachel Levitin live at the Tonic Lounge Jam Session!

Again -- A portion of all album proceeds will be donated to the National Kidney Foundation and the Donate Life campaign.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rachel gets a Canjo at Dollywood

American Idol: Making Dreams Come True For Those Who Never Thought It Was Possible

One of the last things the American Idol producers tell their prospective contestants before auditioning in a collective group of 10,000+ in a giant arena nearly filled to capacity is to not get yourselves down if you're not selected. It doesn't mean you can't sing, it just means you're not what the show is looking for -- that's it.

The hardest part is shoving all your hopes and dreams into a once-in-a-lifetime, seat-of-your-pants, whirlwind weekend of fulfilling your loftiest personal goals and then being shot down.

It took me until 26 hours after the fact to realize why being denied a spot on American Idol was quite easily the biggest compliment the show's producers could have ever issued me upon being cut from the first round of auditions. Sure, the initial blow stung my body, brain, and heart with the force of a million knives prodding every orifice of my being, but the pain subsided. The numb feeling led to a few shed tears while listening to one of many Glee tracks off the CD's my friend had created for our 11-13 hour road trip from DC to Nashville as we drove off in the sunset toward Sonic to drown our sorrows in greasy, heartburn inducing comfort food.

For whatever reason, I left Bridgestone Arena after being in or around it from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. heartbroken and pained. I shouldn't have, but at least I knew I cared.

I could choose to go on tirade and trash everything American Idol stands for, but that wouldn't be doing the show justice. At first, I almost went as far as to say that the show's place in popular culture could be a detrimental to the hopes and dreams of the individuals the show seeks as contestants. That isn't the case.

I now believe I know the truth -- American Idol is the best makeover show that isn't marketed as such -- or at least, not in an obvious fashion.

Think about the faces you've seen over the past nine season of American Idol. Often times, if not every time, the final two contestants are people no one would have ever imagined being on the cover of a magazine or staring in their own music video, let alone end up with a major record deal. That's the point of the show.

American Idol takes the underdog, the unlikely candidate, and allows them the opportunity to seek a future greater than their wildest dreams could have ever imagined. They let thousands of people audition in order to have them feel like they have a place in all of the pomp and circumstance of it all, but it's really just a show allotting a dream to someone who wouldn't have been offered a chance by modern social and entertainment standards.

Try to remember all the faces the on the American Idol stage since 2000 -- Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo, Fantasia Barrino, Bo Bice, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, David Cook, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Crystal Bowersox, and Lee DeWyze. These aren't your everyday pop stars. Each individual grew immensely during the process and were by no means the "text book" definition of a pop star when they started out, no matter how much talent (or lack thereof) they portrayed.

That's why singers who took the time out of their busy and routine driven lives can't get too down on themselves for having auditioned and not making it past the preliminary round of American Idol auditions. Those young performers with years of practice, natural talent, or anywhere in between have to know it's not that they can't sing. It's just the opposite. You have what it takes to pursue the music industry on your own, unassisted by FOX or American Idol. That's why the producer's cut you. You can make your dream come true on your own, it's just about the timing and execution.

If you want your dream bad enough, you can achieve it. American Idol isn't for people who know they have exactly what it takes to make it big. American Idol is for the people who never thought being a musical superstar could ever happen. American Idol is an outlet to keep what's good about America alive, it keeps that hard-work ethic and the whole "happy endings DO come true" ideal alive in our imaginations.

So if you've ever been cut from the show like I have and feel like you weren't given your fair shot at fulfilling your dreams, know that it's the opposite. American Idol just handed you your dreams and said, "Take your talent, stage presence, and passion and use it the way you know how. Carve your own path. You know how to do it. Why are you here? You don't need us to write your story, you can do it on your own."

For those of you who have made it through to the additional rounds of auditions and will be on the tenth season of American Idol, I hope all your wildest dreams come true. You deserve it. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tad bit jealous.

I hope to cross paths with you one day. If we both keep it up, I'm sure we will.

So thanks American Idol, for proving to me that I have what it takes to make my dreams come true and thanks for giving those who never thought they had a chance an opportunity to succeed. That's pretty gosh darn nice if you ask me.


A personal aside: I really have to take a moment to say how grateful I am for the amazing and incredibly touching amount of support you all shared with me since announcing my decision to audition for American Idol. It's something I honestly never thought I would do and if it weren't for this experience I wouldn't have found this additional source of inspiration to continue doing what I love to do (all of you really showed me that my love for music does more than inspire myself but it inspires all of you as well, so thank you) plus a new found confidence in performing. If I can belt out the best performance of my life in a 60 second period in front of the American Idol producers then nothing can stop me. You all know who you are so I don't need to name names, just know you've all touched me more than you could have thought possible. So for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Much Love,

Rachel Levitin


There are also two photo albums of my journey /// one /// two

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Road to Nashville

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This time last year I was sitting on my couch, staring at Craig's List on the daily, unemployed, bored out of my mind, and border-line broke.

What a difference 12 months makes.

Tonight my friend Shea and I will depart from the Nation's capital for a close to 11 hour drive toward Nashville to audition for the tenth season of American Idol. The show's changed a lot in a decade but so have I. My dad's heart transplant was still something my family was getting used to back in 2000. Grammy award winner Kelly Clarkson would go on to become American Idol's first winner. I hadn't even entered high school yet.

My younger self had a bedroom plastered with Justin Timberlake and Drew Lachey posters (most of which still lay in pile on a bookshelf). I had more CD's then I knew what to do with. A strong obsession with pop music and a desire to fit in encouraged this shy young'n to start pursuing what really made her tick -- music.

I still remember the day I was home alone with my dog watching a Backstreet Boys special on what was then called ABC Family Channel. That's what inspired me to take my love for music, teeny bopper tuneage, and pop culture and apply it to my life. My goal in life quickly transformed into being a pop star.

Hell, when I was 12 I wrote a short story for English class about how Will Smith would present the Grammy for Best New Artist to me by the age of 16. A girl can dream, right?

Well here I am on the cusp of a life changing event. Will the producers at American Idol find me marketable and talented enough to receive the illusive yellow sheet of paper sending me to Hollywood or will I be shot down for "not having what it takes?"

If I get shot down, that's their loss. I've been at this for far too long and I happen to know the show would be lucky to have me, if not for my "talent" and hard work put in to maintain that talent then for the wonderful story behind my inspiration.

You see, the doctors told my parents I would be lucky to survive being born back in the day. I was premature by five weeks, 3 pounds 5.5 ounces at birth, and in dire need of immediate surgery upon being born a blue baby.

This has really been a long time coming and let me tell you, the timing is everything. I can almost guarantee the producers will ask me why I haven't auditioned before if I have all this musical background. The answer is simple: the timing wasn't right yet. Sure, dreams are great and all but if I hadn't gotten a college degree those dreams wouldn't have meant much to me.

My love for music started early and undoubtedly stem from my dad and my Uncle Tim. My Uncle Tim was a music teacher and bought me my first coronet (a smaller version of a trumpet). My grandma (my mom's mom) on the other hand bought me my first "guitar" before the age of five. It was a red ukulele that I legitimately thought WAS a guitar. My dad and I proceed to start writing songs shortly after, the only title I remember is "Pink Flamingo" but it was a good time for what I remember of the experience.

Dad was a singer throughout high school and college, often landing lead roles in musicals like Guys and Dolls (he played Nathan Detroit) and Fiddler on the Roof (he played Perchick). He was a singer/songwriter/guitar player himself ... guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

What got me through my dad's heart transplant? Music. What kept my hopes up during middle school and high school for feeling out of place in a social scene that revolved around who was invited to so-and-so's party on the weekend? Music. What makes me smile when I'm having a bad day? Music.

Music got me through three funerals in one summer (last summer that is) -- my dad's, my grandma's, and my bubbe's. I played "You've Got a Friend" in honor of dad because he absolutely LOVED James Taylor. I played "New York, New York" for bubbe because nobody loved old Blue Eyes more (plus she was from Brooklyn). I played taps on my coronet at my grandma's funeral at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Music is the light in the darkness shed from life's curve balls.

Lord knows my family has had horrendous and occasionally uplifting curve balls thrown at us throughout the years. That's why this trip to Nashville is more than something to make me happy about my own life. This trip is about my family and all that we stand for. What do we stand for? I'm not entirely sure I have an answer to that. What I do know is nothing would make them happier than to see me doing what I love, sharing it with others, and telling our family's uplifting story that it is possible to overcome even the harshest of blows.

So thank you to all who have supported me in this adventure. I hope to make you proud.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Filligar: The Voice of Rock's Next Generation

Filligar's Stray Dogs Tour, live from The Red &The Black Bar in Washington, D.C., October 2009.
Pictured (left to right): Teddy Mathias, Johnny Mathias, Pete Mathias, Rachel Levitin, Casey Gibson.

It's nice to know I wasn't alone in having to contain myself upon receiving an advanced copy of Filligar's 2010 release "The Nerve." I popped the record into my television/DVD combo (it has stellar speakers, I kid you not) and blasted the volume to a decibel that wouldn't get me kicked out of my apartment complex. It was then it dawned on me -- Filligar has the potential to be the Rolling Stones and Beatles of our generation just as long as people start to take notice of their evolving sound after nearly a decade of song-crafting.

Instead of rambling on about why I love these guys (we did go to high school together and have shared a stage together more times than we can count), I'll share my initial takes on some of the standout tracks of their new album.

Please note, these are all simply my opinion. You're left to your own devices if you disagree:
Guilty Good Intentions – Gentlemen, I present you with your break-out single. If it’s not then please feel free to call my bluff at our Five Year High School Reunion. Can’t you hear it now? “Would you believe me if I say the boy who cried is innocent,” being sung by every down and low fella out with the guys to get back from a soured romance at the top of his lungs? How about those mid-20’s dudes out at Happy Hour after a long day at the office busting a tune to this latest jam on The Mix and Kiss FM. And those high school girls who are looking for the next young man on the charts to obsess over? Oh they’re ALL over this. Can you blame them? 3 brothers and a pianist who sings with a keyboard? You better believe there’s a Teen People cover story spread in Filligar's future. This song gets everyone on their side. It convinces the listener that they couldn’t possibly NOT like all of you. You’re the good guys.

Robbery (Shocking Love) – Catchy, happy, great way to start off a record. Seal of approval granted in this case. Which reminds me, Slow Night at the Red Sea end’s this baby right where it should, on an uplifting note that highlights more is to come from the fine lovable goofs that comprise Filligar at its best.

Mumbling Girl – Catchy, has the potential to be heard as one of those “songs of summer” guys get excited about when rocking out with friends in the car. I can totally see a guy hearing the opening lick and be like “Sweet, Filligar’s on the radio dial” and then start serenading his buddies piano bar style.

Early Riser - Johnny's vocals and acoustic playing on this track are beautiful, haunting, and pure. I could see this being used in a film, can't you? I see it set to black and white, completely classic in every way.

New & Old – Who thought of adding harmonica to this? Whoever it is, can I have your babies? But no really, awesome touch that I wasn’t expecting AT ALL. It makes me feel like I’m the female version of whatever a combination of Bob Dylan and Jack Keroac would be if the main character in a song. Definitely a nod to that slight cowboy, folk mentality of hitting the road by foot with the sole intention of just moving on. Love it. Well said.

Ticket Line - Won’t lie. Love this track. It goes way back to our high school days. The melody is memorable, the heavy guitar is a tribute to rock, which differs from the rest of this album (in a good way). Which leads to my next point …

Why I Love This Album - The reason this album works is two-fold: Filligar knows how to craft an undeniably good song after years and years of practice (it shows) and they continue to highlight one of their band’s greatest strengths – Casey’s classical piano training (boy, you’ve got mad chops, never stop playing). Filligar goes from college rock to classic rock, from grunged out to classy in what feels like a zero to sixty fashion giving fans what they want to hear while leaving them unable to guess what’s coming next. Each record, but this one in particular, is a musical riddle waiting to be solved and is worth every moment spent trying to figure it out.

All in all, my summary is simple: If I could request who would be the next memorable name in Rock History text books, I would pray on bended knee that Filligar become The Rolling Stones of the next generation.

Filligar is now on a U.S. summer tour to support "The Nerve" and has numerous stops in all sorts of major cities and small towns across the country. For the latest Filligar updates visit their website.

"The Nerve" is available on iTunes and in hard-copy form.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life Lessons From Matt Capps

[Portions of this post were mentioned in "Matt Capps: An All-Around All-Star" for We Love DC.]

Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Nationals News Network

It's easy to forget that professional athletes are regular people in disguise. In some ways, they get to have all the fun all for signing a contract stating: "You are now the best of the best in a particular crop of others who we've deemed worthy. For this we will provide you with a hefty salary. In return, all we ask is that you accept the fact that you are now, and forever, a public figure no matter if that is what you want or not."

Until this week, Lebron James was among the crop of individuals American's have deemed worthy of calling "the best" and worth spotlighting via every news outlet imaginable. Others before him include Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks, Nolan Ryan, Michael Phelps, Reggie Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, Walter Peyton, and many more.

There are lessons to be learned from the laundry list of professional athletes who make more money than most of us will ever accumulate in our lifetime all for being really really good at a sport that for the majority of American's remains something we did with our time after school as a kid. Extra curricular activities aside, the men (and women for that matter) who put themselves out there into the public sphere for the love of the game are still just as human as any one of us.

Matt Capps is a man we could all learn a lesson from.

And to think, just one year ago Capps was regarded by his team at the time as being on the outs of his favorite game to play.

Adam Kilgore's article in the Washington Post regarding Capps and his father.

There was a revealing piece, compliments of Nationals beat writer Adam Kilgore, in Sunday's Washington Post shedding light on the importance of Capps making his first All-Star Game appearance of his career this Tuesday.

Before this piece, it was a known fact that Capps lost his father whom he was very close with last October. To gloss over this part of Capps' life when thinking about the context in which it lies would be a mistake.

Capps continues to post stellar numbers as the Washington Nationals' closer, but it's the rough outings in which the game's outcome doesn't go his way where fans could easily get upset and begin raining on his parade.

A professional athlete's career depends on performance, but what happens when occurrences in one's personal life begin to take a slight toll on a players performance level.

For Matt Capps this is not the case. His personal life is at the core of his personal motivation no matter the outcome of the game on a daily basis.

This is why there are lessons to be learned from Capps.

So what's the lesson? As someone who lost their father a year and a half ago I can attest to the fact that all you want to do is break down. Your life feels stunted. To continue living your life without your go-to person available on the other end of a phone call leaves a hole in your heart. But no matter how big that hole is, you don't let it defeat you. In essence, you have to do that person's work for them now that they're no longer with you.

my dad and me...yeah yeah
My father and myself, June 2005 at RFK Staidum for my first Nationals game.

I still hear my father's voice in my head on the daily even though we haven't had an actual conversation since about January 15, 2009. I didn't let his death defeat me, I utilized it as a tool and source of further motivation. So does Matt Capps.

Capps spoke to his father every day over the phone, often times more than once according to Kilgore's article "All that's missing is his father". His father's absence hits him the most at his most joyful moments Kilgore wrote. All Capps wanted to do after being named to the the first All-Star team in his professional career was call his dad, but he couldn't.

Capps will join baseballs biggest names of the modern era Tuesday for the mid-summer classic in Anaheim, California.

"You learn a lot about yourself as a person, as an athlete, through your failures," Capps told Kilgore. "It's easy to play this game when you're good, you're pitching well, you're playing well. You really learn about how much you love the game, how much it means to you, when you're fighting through those hard times."

"It's part of life," Capps said. "I'm moving forward and doing what I want to do. That would make him proud to know. By going out and playing and working hard off the field, preparing every day, that's the best way of remembering and representing the name that I carry."

Imagine going into a work each day with thousands of people watching, coaches breathing down your neck, and media outlets digging for quotes. None of these things are necessarily bad, but it sure doesn't make life much of a cake walk.

Matt Capps continues to go into work everyday, despite his heartbreak, and hones his pitching as best as he can. That's all he can do. He, like all of us, is human after all.

In this era of human self-involvement and narcissism seen in sports (cough cough ... LeBron James ... cough cough), a lot of these "feel-good" human interest life lessons get lost in the world of sports.

Here's to Matt Capps and his touching story behind why he plays the way he does for the Washington Nationals. Here, here.

Pictured: Matt Capps, myself, and Craig Stammen at Nats FanFest 2010 at Nationals Park.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rachel Levitin Live at Civic Plaza

Wristbands are in, more to come!

The wristbands from Gift of Hope (Illinois) arrived in time for today's first show in the effort to raise money in honor of my father for the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life campaign in addition to raising organ donation awareness in the DMV area.

These are the first in many donate life promotional items that will be handed out for purchasing a record or making a donation. Pretty soon, you will also be able to sign up to be an organ donor at any of my shows. So stay tuned for that!

Happy holiday weekend all! Hope to see you at the upcoming shows!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Picking Up Where Dad Left Off: Raising Organ Donation Awareness One Day At A Time

The past few days have been very productive. I've made contact with Donate Life Illinois' Gift of Hope (a group my dad worked very closely with shortly after his transplant until 2009) and the Washington Regional Transplant community to get them in on this organ donation awareness musical project I'm embarking on.

"The Bourbon Taster EP" will debut tomorrow at the Columbia Heights Market Place when I hit the stage at 1 p.m. I don't have "donate life" paraphanila to hand out with the albums yet, but should have something for the rest of my gigs from here on out.

Residents of the DMV regional area will also be able to sign up to be an organ donor at my gigs as soon as I receive these materials, which I think is the most important thing besides the proceeds from album sales going to the National Kidney Foundation and Donate Life campaign.

I'm very excited to embark upon this project and can't believe that it starts in under 24 hours.

I'm picking up where dad left off. This is only the beginning.

Note: Those "Bourbon Taster EP"'s won't be limited edition for long, still gotta get the album work done at Kinkos. It should be ready by mid-month. So look forward to that!