Is it live or is it... Best venues for live music

Alle Listen ansehen
Gotta be honest, cover bands and the venues that book them make me want to eat boiled spam with a side of canned cheese and lima beans. If you're an independent musician touring through, local band, or someone who enjoys live original music, here's some places for you to drop all that disposable income and support....
  • 3988 University Dr
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    Vereinigte Staaten
    5.0 Sterne
    Erster Beitrag

    I used to live in Athens, Georgia many, many moons ago. Let me put it this way: I saw Nirvana at The 40 Watt Club for $5.00 and R.E.M. was still "alternative."  The DC music scene is a bit different. It's like comparing apples and oranges... or Dubya to a Mensa member. Anyway, up here the establishments and people who dedicate their livelihoods to being independent and supporting local, original music deserve all our support. These are people who will hit you with tomatoes the minute you start playing the first chord of "Margaritaville" or "Brown-Eyed Girl." One such place is The Firehouse Grill in Old Town Fairfax by George Mason University.

    Go figure, The Firehouse Grill is actually a renovated old firehouse. There's an upstairs bar where they have private parties, and I believe a Hold 'Em poker tournament every Saturday. It wasn't a place I frequented until Joanna Nueno took it over about two years ago. She revamped the menu (awesome wings), got a new PA system and opened her stage up to ONLY original bands. She also allows bands to keep 100% of the door. If you're a performing musician, you know what a bonus this is.

    The bar staff is FUN. Our band always looks forward to playing The Firehouse because it feels like coming home. One night a couple weeks ago after we finished our set, she let us get back up there for an impromptu blues jam where anyone in the audience could get up and play along. Isn't that what it's all about anyway?

    If you want to catch up and coming bands in the area, have some frosty brews, sizzlin' wings, and a chimichanga to keep you full for a month, spend an evening at The Firehouse... but don't challenge Joanna to Golden Tee because she'll have you running home crying for your mommy.

  • 1101 Kenyon St NW
    Washington, DC 20009
    Vereinigte Staaten
    5.0 Sterne
    Beitrag des Tages 9.6.2007

    You've got to try the Motor City chili dog. The only mistake I made was that I had one before we began our set (Sorry to Corey from the Fed who used my mic after us).  We've played here twice and really had a blast both times. The staff is incredibly helpful and very friendly. I think Ed, our bassist, would play for free just to try all the beers. I noticed once this summer when we were loading in that there were quite a few tots scampering about in the upstairs bar. Apparently they do a baby happy hour (teach your children to drink good beer while they're young). It's actually a smoke-free, child-safe happy hour that the Wonderland does on Wednesdays from 5-8 p.m. Although I'm not one for multiplying, it's something my friends with tiny offspring seem to relish.

    I read Matthew D's review below about his experience and the one unfriendly, unhelpful bartender. I remember that bartender, too. I heard from a friend in another band that she has been let go. All the other staff there are incredibly cool and the beer garden is a blast in the summertime. It is in a "transitional" neighborhood, so I don't suggest walking alone or parking far away.

  • 5.0 Sterne

    Brian from DC9 has got it right here in the Atlas District. My first visit to The Red & Black was to see The Jet Age play the DAMFEST (The District's Awake Music Festival). I didn't spend much time in the downstairs bar, but here's what I took from the upstairs bar (where the bands are):

    1. Super cool bartender. This guy was very friendly and on top of it. It seemed he was also running the PA from behind the bar.

    2. Cool black and red "Big Easy" decor with tin ceilings.

    3. Decent size stage. Kind of reminds me of the Velvet Lounge as far as layout goes.  Here's something good to know for musicians (especially bass players): the stairwell up to the band area is much wider than about 99.44% you find in the city so hauling your rig up is not as much of a pain in the rear. Still a pain in the rear, but not as much.

    4. I happened to be one of very few women at that particular show so the bathroom was very clean.

    5. I haven't tried the famed gumbo yet, but plan on doing it tonight. Come check out our band if you get a chance this evening and support local music and original live music venues!

    6. There was a store next door called Stella Bleu that I've heard a lot about. It's supposed to be a tres chic clothing boutique.

    Will have a review on what it's like to play there tomorrow...

    UPDATE 11/14/06

    Playing there was fantastic. Great crowd. We played stage volume except for the mics. Anything else would've been deafening and probably still was. Steve, the upstairs bartender/PA guy, was very cool. The downstairs bartender was also very, very friendly. Be warned: she will card EVERYBODY. Even your grandmother.

    We had the jambalaya and it rocked. It had a nice kick to it, too. Ian from The Fed had the red beans and rice and he said it was very good, but I didn't get to taste it (selfish jerk). JUST KIDDING.

    We're really looking forward to playing here again.

  • 1811 14th St NW
    Washington, DC 20009
    Vereinigte Staaten
    5.0 Sterne

    Some of the best performances I've ever seen have been here at The Black Cat on 14th. Catch your favorite indie touring nationals on the main stage upstairs and a melting pot of parties and local indies in the "backstage" on the other side of the Red Room bar. Even if there's not a show billed that you'd like to see, hanging out in the Red Room is just as entertaining and there's no cover. You'll see a lot of local artists and musicians belly up.  The poseur quotient is quite low, so it's diverse and laid back.

    About once a month they do an event backstage called "Mothertongue." It's a women's spoken word event whose proceeds go to support different community groups. Additionally, you never know when your favorite musician might pop in for an impromptu show. I heard Beck showed up for a surprise set at around midnight last week.

  • 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave
    Alexandria, VA 22305
    Vereinigte Staaten
    5.0 Sterne

    At least once, you have to come see where some of the most legendary singer-songwriters, blues and country musicians got their start and call home. Namely, one of Alexandria's favorite daughters, Mary Chapin Carpenter.

    The Birchmere has moved locations a few times in Alexandria but is now nestled in the Chirilagua neighborhood. The "Listening Room" is just that, with foodservice and seated tables. You're not going to get any stage diving here, but you'll get very intimate performances with unparalleled sound. Every seat is good, though it's a bit of a mad dash to get close to the stage- first come, first serve. Once I saw Betty there years ago and people were up dancing on chairs and then got up on stage.

    Parking is plentiful and the Listening Room is non-smoking. The bar and bandstand aren't. Here's a cool idea if you don't want to pay for tickets but still want to hear great music: Go in and sit at the bar. They televise all performances from the Listening Room in there. You can still have dinner and a show.. just not as close to the artist(s).

    Also, they have a really diverse record store across from the bar. Most performers go in there to meet and greet with fans and sign autographs after the show, so don't leave right away.

  • 4.0 Sterne

    A couple doors down from the 18th Street Diner is original music venue, Stacatto Music Hall and Lounge. James, the owner, is great about giving not-so-known local bands a start. The place doesn't have as large of a built-in crowd as some other venues, so it's truly on the artists to bring the draw.

    It is a fun bar, with two levels. The upstairs has a pool table and is good relief from the downstairs bar, which can be a little too close for comfort at times. In the summer it gets to be a steambath. The PA is run by the bartenders so the best bands will really have their dynamics worked out... for example, if you have a lead guitar player who absolutely feels s/he has to be on 11 at all times, this is not the place to do it. In the past, because of Adams Morgan neighborhood noise laws, they've asked drummers to play with hot rods instead of their sticks.

    I've heard they have a pretty rocking open mic and keep a piano on stage. It's a fun place to check out up and coming bands that are paying their dues. Bar staff is very friendly and the covers are fair. Support local music!

  • 1940 9th St NW
    Washington, DC 20001
    Vereinigte Staaten
    5.0 Sterne

    DC9 is one of the best spots in town for up and coming bands (local and touring).  They also host a couple of dance parties, one being the very popular "Taint." Taint is a queer-oriented electro-indie-rock-dance party with some prominent guest DJ's. They host it about once a month, but their schedule seems to vary. Get on their mailing list at for more info.

    I've never heard a band sound bad at DC9 unless it's truly their intention; for example, guitar players feeling the need to be as loud as possible. I don't know his name, but the sound guy with the cool dreads is top notch. If you play there and he gives you advice, take it. He can hear you as the crowd hears you. You cannot.

    This is the place to see bands and five years down the road say, "I remember seeing them play here back in the day...."

  • 2832 Wilson Blvd
    Arlington, VA 22201
    Vereinigte Staaten
    4.0 Sterne

    Props to Iota for standing tall among the bastardized businesses and buildings of Clarendon. This used to be my absolute favorite place for seeing live music and playing. Now I manage to get out here every few months when a baby national I like comes to town, like Michelle Malone.

    This place is over a decade old and run by a brother and sister. They used to book a lot more local acts but I guess they need to make a living, too, and so you see  more bands that are just passin' through. The food is actually better than you'd expect from a bar and the service is decent in the restaurant portion of Iota.

    If you're a musician just looking to jam, the Wednesday night open mic is one of the better in the area.

  • 4.0 Sterne

    From a musician's point of view, this is a fantastic place to play. You're not going to get much better sound unless the other guys in your band are named Mick and Keith. It's a great stop for touring baby nationals and popular, original local bands. Also, since it's smoke free, your pipes don't end up feeling as wrecked the next morning. If you're trying to book a show there, check out their web site about draw requirements. Be sure you have a following or it'll be a one-off performance. They also provide a very decent green room with your own bathroom which makes you feel like the rock star you really want to be. They'll also record your live performance for a fee....

    Great food! The pork chili and chicken salad are fantastic. I popped in there to see Bitch and Ferron the other night and they were serving liquor, too. Once the show was over they did allow smoking which I hadn't seen before.

    If you're a performing musician in the area you know how DC, VA and MD seem like three different countries as far as crowds. People in DC don't want to make the mecca-trip to the 'burbs and vice versa. If you have a decent metro following, Jammin Java is a great venue to keep in touch with more suburban-based fans.

    Interestingly, the place is owned and operated by a local act, The Brindley Brothers (Luke and Daniel).

  • 915 U St NW
    Washington, DC 20001
    Vereinigte Staaten
    4.0 Sterne

    The Velvet Lounge just celebrated a decade of DIY in DC's come-n-go club scene.  It's a great place for new bands or out-of-towners to get their feet wet. Rob has done a lot of upgrades on the place: moving the stage and running really good sound. They'll do a pretty decent recording of your performance straight from the soundboard for about $25. The mixes are very good. Getting your gear up and down the narrow staircase is like running the gauntlet, though.

    The staff there is VERY friendly and accomodating and I have to admit I do partake in the PBR when frequenting the joint.

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