EDITORIAL: Inaugural Suburbs Fest Proves that Not All Bad Came from the Pandemic

This is a story about friendship. Actually, several friendships. On the weekend of October 1-3, 2021, a group of friends gathered in the nation’s capital, most of whom were meeting for the first time in person. 

These people come from all walks of life and from all parts of the U.S. What brought all of them together was the brainchild of Jim Lenahan and Patrick Foster, co-hosts of the Rockin’ the Suburbs podcast. Yes, a podcast brought all of these people together from various parts of the country. And while not all fans and friends of the podcast from the U.S. and beyond were able to attend this October gathering, all were there in spirit, celebrating their mutual love of music and the friendships they have developed. 

Jim Lenahan and Patrick Foster of Rockin’ the Suburbs podcast (Photo: Barret Ries)

Our hosts originally came together in podcast form in 2015 as Dad Rock, a weekly USA Today-produced podcast that covered topics familiar to many music nerds of a certain age, mainly, the 40-60 demographic, dads who still rock. 

For those growing up in the formative years of MTV, a lot of different types of music were brought into suburban households all over America. Music that didn’t get airplay on regular FM radio. To say that MTV was an eye-opener for teens of a certain age in the early ’80s is quite an understatement. Much of what was being played was foreign to a lot of ears. 

This writer ate up everything MTV had to offer. From the strange hairdos in Flock of Seagulls to DEVO’s energy dome hats to late ’60s weirdness like The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, I didn’t want to miss a video. The TV was tuned to channel 23 as much as was allowed in the Kohli house. 

I particularly took a liking to the “pub rock” sounds of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Dave Edmunds. I still regularly listen to “Cruel to Be Kind” to this day, to the bewilderment of my friends. 

I discovered the Dad Rock podcast after hearing the term used in reference to the band Wilco. A quick Google search returned this podcast, which I quickly dove into.  The hosts waxed eloquently about the aforementioned Wilco, REM, The Replacements and so many other bands in my wheelhouse. They also interviewed guests such as Bryan Richie of The Sword, a band I had heard of but hadn’t listened to. I quickly became a fan of The Sword’s heavy sound. 

Then, out of nowhere, Dad Rock disappeared. Where was Dad Rock? It had become a part of my life and <POOF!> it was gone. I was again saved by the Google machine. Entering Jim and Patrick’s names into the search resulted in something brand new to me, Rockin’ the Suburbs. And there it was, my EVERY DAY obsession was born. Jim and Patrick were now available every single day. I quickly caught up on missed episodes and felt one with the music gods again. 

Earlier, I mentioned the pub rock bands I was into as a teen. I always felt like an oddball in my peer group for liking this type of stuff so I kept it to myself. Many years later, I discovered that Jim and Patrick — and many of their podcast’s listeners — shared my fondness for Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds and Elvis Costello and Graham Parker and…

I didn’t feel like such an oddball anymore. 

As the podcast continued, a larger community began to build around it. Listeners called in with their new music picks. Patron episodes allowed listeners to become actual members of the podcast crew. 

Social media helped grow this community, specifically through the Suburbs Pod Fan Club group on Facebook. Over the years, the Suburbs universe expanded to include overseas listeners and more and more people across the U.S, many of whom could be considered “Left of the Dial,” to use a Replacements reference Jim made on episode 1 of Rockin’ the Suburbs. 

I have always considered myself “Left of the Dial” and I found my people with this group. 

When the pandemic shut everything down in early 2020, the world became much more familiar with Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. The Rockin’ the Suburbs group did as well. And while so many of us were conducting our daily work through these video conferences, many of us were still eager to hang out together via this forum anyway. 

Patrick is a member of the band Wingtip Sloat and they often practice on Friday nights. The pandemic prevented those practices from happening so Jim came up with the idea of gathering listeners for a video conference on Friday nights to talk music, perform music and just hang out. It became known as the Friday Night Hootenanny. It became a weekly thing and it certainly was a hoot and something each of us scheduled our week to attend. 

That idea did something none of us had ever thought possible. We were no longer just words on a screen or voices guesting on a podcast, there were now faces to the names. Friendships developed. 

Fast forward 1200+ episodes later. It is now October 2021. The RTS faithful gathered in the suburbs of Washington, DC for a weekend of music, chat, drinks, baseball, and geeking out.

Attempting to describe to my friends why I was making a trip to DC was a difficult proposition. How do you explain a trip hundreds of miles away that isn’t a work-related conference? How do you attempt to explain how you are friends with these people even though you’ve never met them face-to-face. Eventually, it just became me saying I was going to a music conference. That isn’t so out of the ordinary for me. 

The first night in DC was a live Hootenanny at a weekly open mic night held at Settle Down Easy Brewing Company in Falls Church, Virginia. As attendees began arriving, it was like a family reunion. We all knew each other, but mainly as two-dimensional images on a screen. Many were seeing each other in person for the first time, commenting, “You ARE real!” 

Jim Lenahan (Photo: Barret Ries)

Running into these people was like picking up where we last left off in the cyber. Inside jokes were shared, hugs were had. It was beautiful. The party continued at the hotel bar where many of the out-of-towners were staying for the weekend. To say we left some of the normal bar-goers scratching their heads but also singing along would be accurate.

This continued throughout the weekend. As it wore on, we became even closer than we already had been. 
We attended, and some even participated, in a four-band show at the American Legion in Silver Spring, Maryland on Saturday night, where we were able to see Wingtip Sloat perform. Patrick, Ange, and The Bish tore it up. They were joined by Kevin Clement from Louisiana on washboard and closed their set with a cover of one of our favorite bands, Guided By Voices. 

Hoot favorites Frank Muffin followed the Sloat and crushed it as expected. Husband and wife duo Brittany and Hans are regular attendees at the Friday night Hoots and have become great friends of the podcast. Their performance with fellow Muffins, Jerome, and Joe was every bit as good as we all expected. 

Following the Muffins was Dot Dash. This DC-area trio is also friends of the podcast and threw down an incredible set of punk-infused power-pop for the Suburb faithful. 

Closing out the show were the night’s official hosts, Apollo 66. This garage rocking, rockabilly band absolutely slew, leaving attendees wanting more. Alas, there was a curfew at the legion, and the night of music was due to come to a close. But not before a Lenahan-led all-star group took the stage to close things out with a cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe,” a hat tip to a group video made early in the Hootenanny that featured many of the Hoot regulars, the icing on the musical cake. Jim belted out the lyrics with help from those in attendance and was bum-rushed by his proud and loving wife when finished. 

Sunday of the event saw a bunch of the fest-goers attending the Washington Nationals-Boston Red Sox game for the final game of the Major League Baseball season. Despite the unfortunate outcome of the game, this writer still had a fantastic time. 

The weekend closed with a performance by Frank Muffin (from INDIANA!) at Ned Devine’s Irish Pub in nearby Herndon, Virginia. The Muffins again performed a stellar set that featured some equally stellar skanking to their version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” by some of our younger, more nimble Hooters. 

Recapping a weekend like this is tough to put into words, but then again, this group wasn’t put together with words. This group was formed through hearts. Hearts of music nerds that have grown to become the best of friends. Friends that would have never met if it weren’t for two men with a podcast vision and unfortunately, a pandemic that brought us together every Friday night for 18+ months. 

I don’t know if this thing could have come together if it weren’t for the pandemic, but I’m sure as hell glad that it did. I’ve made friends for life through that weekend and I cannot wait for the next gathering with these people. Thank you, Jim Lenahan and Patrick Foster.


4 Comments
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  4. […] through the Suburbs Pod Fan Club group on Facebook,” wrote Mike Kohli, one of the travelers on the 315 Music website he curates about music in central New York. “It was like a family reunion,” he […]

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