3-Minute Interview: Joel Bailes, leader of the Capitol Hillbillies

Local,People,Liz Essley,3-Minute Interview

Joel Bailes plays an upright piano on the sidewalks and promenades of Barracks Row and Eastern Market as the leader of a folk and jazz band called the Capitol Hillbillies. He also works at the Library of Congress.

How long have you lived on Capitol Hill?

I love the Hill. Been here since 1980.

What do you enjoy about playing piano on the street?

A chance to play. If you know anything about musicians and cities and venues, there's a ton of people who want to play professionally, and it's really hard to get jobs and venues. There's so much competition. Playing on the street gives me a wonderful venue, and a way I can take my music to the people directly and play all I want. And people are appreciative. I think it makes the street colorful, and it's a little bit like New Orleans. It sort of livens up things.

How have you seen Capitol Hill change?

My wife says it's not race; it's class. Back in the '70s there were more mixed groups -- the urban pioneers and old black families. There was a real mix of people. There were some crack houses nearby. There were more poor people. There was more crime. It's gotten gentrified a whole lot; things have gotten much more upscale as Capitol Hill tries to catch up with Georgetown.

How did you start the Hillbillies?

Charlie Bean, my best friend, heard me playing fiddle one summer in Georgetown in the early '70s. He was trying to stump the fiddler, and he was very friendly. Then when I moved to Capitol Hill in 1980 he came to our house for a Neighborhood Watch meeting. He lived across from me. So we started playing together. I thought of the name Capitol Hillbillies. We played together, fiddle and guitar -- we had a dance in the hall in Eastern Market from 1983 to 1996 every Wednesday. He met his wife there.

- Liz Essley

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