The up-and-coming campus rock band E-19 brought their signature theatrical energy to the University Student Center last Saturday to open GW Palooza’s inaugural spoof pageant event.
Behind the shade of his tinted sunglasses, keyboardist and singer Bryan Fischer opened the performance with suspenseful, slowly pulsing chords complementing the steady beat by drummer Blake Ewing. The lights brightened when guitarist and singer Cliff Khowara entered the stage sporting a black, cut-off tank top and dark eyeliner to dramatically strum his guitar, sending shockwaves through the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre as Ewing’s drumbeats hastened.
The group burst into their opening song, performing a cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones to a crowd of about 200 people. Then entered stage bassist and singer Marco Pacheco, who jumped up and down while belting out the vocals, setting the vibe for an exhilarating set.
“We’re not the best musicians honestly, but I think we’re some of the best performers,” Fischer said.
E-19 has a knack for bringing electric energy to a breadth of rock genres, catering to a wide audience with popular songs that crowds can dance and sing along to at the top of their lungs from the likes of Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Dire Straits and The Rolling Stones. Since last spring, the band has performed in venues all over campus, including Lisner Auditorium, the pop-up stage on the first floor of the University Student Center and the City View Room in the Elliott School of International Affairs.
Even when performing to a seated campus audience at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, they bounced, spun and rocked out to create an entertaining and energetic musical spectacle, moving through the aisles to rouse the crowd, sometimes passing off the mic to audience members in the front row.
“I think it’s just how we dress, how we present ourselves,” Fischer said. “It’s a boy band thing. We always put that extra effort into the presentation. Whether or not it pays off is up to the audience, but we try and put the effort into how we move, how we do things. Marco’s great at that. Cliff’s great at that.”
The four members of E-19 bring a range of rock music influences, from the classic and hard rock of the 1970s and 80s to more modern rock influences, like Nirvana, and Latin rock, like Santana.
Each member said they got their start playing their respective instruments in childhood lessons before discovering a sense of freedom when they learned to play their favorite music. The creative liberty performing and writing helped reinforce their love of music.
“It felt so liberating,” Pacheco said. “I did not like playing classical piano at all. It was like I needed them, I needed those years, but at the same time I didn’t because once I entered the band in high school, it was the music that I like. And then I just self-taught myself how to play.”
Guitarist and singer Khowara and keyboardist and singer Fischer met each other as freshmen living in Mitchell Hall last year and teamed up to create the band, naming the group after the intersection of E and 19th streets located at the adjacent edge of the residence hall’s block. Since meeting during their first year, now-sophomores Khowara and Fischer said they’ve become close friends, bonding through the music they play.
“Cliff, he is the heart of the band,” Fischer said. “He just keeps it. We would not be here without him.”
Khowara helped recruit drummer Blake Ewing to the band in September after meeting him in a geology lab. In a chance encounter, the two bonded over music.
“I was just sitting in a geology lab, trying to get through a three-hour thing,” Ewing said. “And he comes in 30 minutes late, no laptop, no backpack. He just had a guitar, and I had a Fender sticker on my laptop, and he’s like ‘Yo, do you play music?’”
Pacheco joined the band in October as a freshman after seeing them play at First Night in University Yard.
“He’s been with us for not even six months, but we already are like ‘The chemistry that we’ve developed over time has already been awesome,’” Khowara said of Pacheco.
Ewing said he and the other members all joined looking for an outlet to practice and perform music at GW. They wanted a place to rock with no rules, unlike sitting in a structured music class or wasting time listening to music while waiting for the next opportunity. Ewing said they missed the freedom of jamming out in high school and wanted to find a way to bring that to GW.
“I kind of just wanted to keep playing again because I really enjoyed doing it, and I didn’t get the chance, basically at all,” Ewing said. “I like the dynamic of being able to really have a say in what we do instead of just being told what to do. There’s a lot less pressure, and it’s also just a lot more fun, more freedom.”
Despite mostly performing cover songs, E-19 also has three original songs, “Out of the Orphanage,” “Only the Clouds” and “Cause We’re Up.” The group is currently working on moving to online platforms, like SoundCloud, to expand their reach.
“It feels like if I’ve written something that’s kind of like my brainchild, something I’ve worked on for hours and hours,” Khowara said. “And when it’s ready, I can show it to the world. And maybe somebody feels the same way as the message I’m trying to portray. And it’s just satisfying to know that somebody else can relate to what is going on here.”
They’re now working to increase their following through social media and local collaborations to reach off-campus venues like DC9, Black Cat and 9:30 Club.
“I’m excited for more shows, and I want to try and get us into places off campus,” Ewing said.
Khowara said that soon E-19 plans to record an EP titled “Out of the Orphanage,” named after their roots in Mitchell Hall, which rests on a lot close to where an orphanage once stood.
“It’s just really cool because this is our little project and to see it getting more and more and more well known, even though it’s still quite small, just to see it grow, it’s very satisfying,” Khowara said.
This article appeared in the February 13, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.